30 October 2014

Ann Putnam Jr. and the aftermath of the Salem witch trials

Danvers Witch Memorial. Photo by Robin Mason
Whether your ancestors took part in the Salem witch trials or heard about them second-hand, the emotional toll and the potential hardships they experienced no doubt lingered well beyond 1692. Consider their roles in the witch hunt and how that may have affected their political, judicial, and religious views as well as how they felt about particular individuals and their communities as a whole. Not surprisingly, some of the accused moved away, to start a new life, while some of the afflicted girls married and had children.

It took a few years before Reverend Samuel Parris finally packed his bags in 1697. He was replaced by Reverend Joseph Green, who helped rebuild the community of Salem Village. A new meeting house was built and the old one abandoned, the excommunication of church member Martha Corey was reversed, and, in 1706, Ann Putnam Jr. was accepted as a full church member.

Though the people of Salem Village probably never forgot 12-year-old Ann Putnam’s role in the witch trials, the church members apparently forgave her—or at least put her fate in God’s hands—when they accepted her confession 14 years later.

“I desire to be humbled before God for that sad and humbling providence that befell my father's family in the year about '92; that I, then being in my childhood, should, by such a providence of God, be made an instrument for the accusing of several persons of a grievous crime, whereby their lives were taken away from them, whom now I have just grounds and good reason to believe they were innocent persons; and that it was a great delusion of Satan that deceived me in that sad time, whereby I justly fear I have been instrumental, with others, though ignorantly and unwittingly, to bring upon myself and this land the guilt of innocent blood; though what was said or done by me against any person I can truly and uprightly say, before God and man, I did it not out of any anger, malice, or ill-will to any person, for I had no such thing against one of them; but what I did was ignorantly, being deluded by Satan. And particularly, as I was a chief instrument of accusing of Goodwife Nurse and her two sisters, I desire to lie in the dust, and to be humbled for it, in that I was a cause, with others, of so sad a calamity to them and their families; for which cause I desire to lie in the dust, and earnestly beg forgiveness of God, and from all those unto whom I have given just cause of sorrow and offence, whose relations were taken away or accused.

“This confession was read before the congregation, together with her relation, Aug. 25, 1706; and she acknowledged it.”

The Delusion of Satan

In Ann Putnam’s confession, she doesn’t exactly take responsibility for her actions of 1692. Instead, she repeatedly calls herself an “instrument” of Satan—as if she too made a pact with the Devil and acted on his behalf, much liked the people she accused. Written with the help of Rev. Green and reviewed by Samuel Nurse, son of Rebecca Nurse who was hanged in 1692, Ann’s confession gives little insight into the motives behind her actions that fateful year. From the history books, it does not appear as if she were coerced, but rather prompted, into accusing certain people of witchcraft. Undoubtedly, Ann was well-versed in local gossip, since it appears as if rumors of others’ behaviors (such as Rev. George Burroughs’ verbal abuse toward his wives) as well as unsettled disagreements (including land disputes between the Nurse and Putnam families) influenced who she targeted. At times, her dramatic fits and words seem deceptive, yet family members, neighbors, and magistrates did not call her bluff.

Throughout the 1692 trials, some people openly criticized the court for giving credence to the words, visions, and actions of the afflicted accusers. Reverend Samuel Willard, pastor of Boston’s Third Church, said the accusers were “scandalous persons, liars, and loose in their conversations and therefore, not to be believed.” Several accused witches, including Martha Carrier, chastised the court by saying “it is a shameful thing that you should mind these folks that are out of their wits.” It seemed, the more a so-called witch complained against them, the worse torment the afflicted showed.

When one of the afflicted girls, 20-year-old Mary Warren, claimed she had recovered and suggested the other girls “did but dissemble,” they accused her of witchcraft. Caught between two worlds, Mary confessed to being a witch and accused others, namely her employer, John Proctor and his wife Elizabeth. Teenager Margaret Jacobs, who was accused of witchcraft and in turn accused others, asked for forgiveness, admitting, “What I said was altogether false against my grandfather and Mr. Burroughs, which I did to save my life and to have my liberty.” Unfortunately, not enough credence was given to these admissions until after Governor William Phipps put a halt to the court proceedings in late fall.

Providence of God

Through her confession, it’s obvious the guilt Ann Putnam feels and her status of a pariah in the neighborhood must have weighed heavily on her. Unfortunately, her recorded confession does not include her Puritan conversion experience—or what turned her from being a sinner into a saint—which was a two-part requirement for becoming a full member of the Salem Village church.

After being the center of attention in 1692 by accusing 62 people of witchcraft, Ann Putnam’s position in society and her circle of friends no doubt diminished greatly. Five years after the witch hunt started, in 1699, Ann’s parents died within weeks of each other, leaving 19-year-old Ann and several guardians to care for her siblings, ranging in age from 7 months to 16 years. Unlike most girls of her age, Ann never married. In 1715, “being oftentimes sick and weak in body,” Ann wrote her will. She died the following year at age 37. She’s buried with her parents in an unmarked grave in the Putnam Cemetery in present-day Danvers, Massachusetts.

No comments:

Post a Comment