29 October 2015

Tituba, Indian Servant of Mr. Samuel Parris

HEX: Old World Witchery in Salem
sells voodoo dolls*
From the 1692 Salem witch-hunt records, we know Tituba was “the Indian servant of Mr. Samuel Parris,” the minister of Salem Village. But we know very little about her life and her background. When was she born and where did she come from before being accused, interrogated, and jailed as a witch?

Although called a “servant,” Tituba probably lived in perpetual servitude. While slaves did exist in New England, most were of African descent, not Native American. Tituba could have been a Wampanoag, a Carib, or an Arawak Indian, which scholars have debated for years. Her foreignness within her small community went beyond her ethnic background though. In court, Tituba refers to “her mistress in her own country,” implying that she was born outside of the 13 Colonies as well.

The most in-depth study, Tituba, Reluctant Witch of Salem by Elaine Breslaw, claims Tituba was an Arawak Indian kidnapped from a Dutch settlement in South America and brought to Barbados. Based on the etymology of her name it could be plausible—but that scenario and the name also could apply to multiple people. Instead of suggesting Tituba absorbed an amalgam of cultural influences in Barbados, Breslaw creates a captive story that not only orphans Tituba but has the young Indian girl living with an African family. To tie the pieces together, Breslaw finds a 1676 plantation list of “negroes” that places a “Tattuba” with the “boys & girls,” suggesting an age range—and providing white owners with possible connections to Samuel Parris. As genealogists, we learn that even if the name is the same, we still need to connect the 1692 Tituba with earlier documentsand that cannot be done conclusively.

Like many slaves, we may never know her parents, her birthplace, or her age, though we can surmise some details based on the life of Tituba’s owner, Samuel Parris (1653-1720).

The Life of Parris

Samuel was the son of Thomas Parris (d. 1673), a cloth merchant of London. Thomas’ older brother John (d. 1660) owned a sugar plantation in Barbados in the 1640s, where he was a merchant and sometime slave trader. When he died there in 1660, part of John’s property went to his brother Thomas and his children. Thomas’ eldest son John inherited land from his uncle in England and Ireland. Younger son Samuel inherited a plantation and other property in Barbados.

At some point, Thomas and son Samuel moved to Barbados, where the climate, the foods, and the racial demographics were much different from England and even New England. With such valuable and income-producing properties, they would have become accustomed to having slaves and servants as an everyday part of island life.

Samuel left Barbados to attend Harvard College in Massachusetts Bay Colony, where his classmates would be future ministers, government officials, and businessmen. To an aspiring young man, Parris may have made the association that true gentlemen had servants and slaves to take care of farming and household chores so they themselves could be occupied with worldly matters. Before completing his degree, however, Thomas died, causing Samuel to return to Barbados to settle his father’s estate. Instead of living on the plantation, Samuel moved to Bridgetown, where he acted as a merchant agent. In December 1679, he was listed with one slave and one servant on the Barbados census.

By 1680, Samuel Parris returned to Boston, most likely bringing with him Tituba and John Indian. In short order, the 27-year-old bachelor married Elizabeth Eldridge/Eldred (1648?-1696) and set up house. Without the business acumen of his uncle and because of his own fractious nature, Samuel was not a successful merchant. He defaulted on a commercial loan and spent time in the courts. Perhaps thinking the ministry was a more suitable, pastoral occupation, in 1685, Samuel took a position as a paid preacher in Stowe, Massachusetts. Several years and much negotiating later, he became the minister at Salem Village, taking Tituba and John Indian with him.

The Qualities of a Servant

In the court trials, Tituba mentions her previous mistress in whose home she would have learned how to be in charge of a household—from tending the garden, preserving foods, cooking meals to housecleaning, laundry, spinning, and making candles and soaps. To be capable of running the household, we can estimate that Tituba would have been between the ages of 16 and 25 when she came to Boston. Without having much supervision in a bachelor’s home, it’s doubtful she would have been younger. If she were much older, that would have meant a shorter working life, and we know from his biography that Samuel was stingy and too demanding for that.

When Samuel married, Tituba’s workload would not have been divided in half. From his interactions with the Salem Villagers, it’s easy to get the impression that Samuel aspired to a higher social strata than a yeoman farmer. In Boston, Elizabeth Parris may have done more entertaining than cleaning. And as a minister’s wife, she was expected to make her rounds, helping people in the community, leaving Tituba to take care of hearth and home—and children.

Samuel and Elizabeth had three children—Thomas (b. 1681), Betty (1682-1760), and Susanna (1688-1706)—and, at some point, niece Abigail Williams joined the family.

Tribulations and Trials

Although the children had chores and schooling to attend to, Betty and Abigail’s so-called witch afflictions in 1692 meant more work for Tituba. Not only was the house filled with visitors observing the two girls, Betty and Abigail’s ailments were a convenient excuse to get out of housework.

After weeks of hysterical outbursts, fits, and twitches from the two girls, Samuel Parris gave up on Cotton Mather’s proscribed prayers and fasting, pushing instead for names of those who had bewitched the children. It’s not surprising whose names were on the list—the outcasts and outsiders—including Tituba, the overworked Indian slave from Barbados. These women didn’t fit in polite, Christian society, with their cursing (impoverished Sarah Good), their lack of church attendance (old, bedridden Sarah Osburn), their otherness (Indian slave Tituba).

If you visit local attractions in Salem, Massachusetts, Tituba is portrayed as a black slave telling tales to young and impressionable girls at the Salem Village parsonage. But the role of storyteller wasn’t created for Tituba until Charles W. Upham (1802-1875) re-imagined her as the center of the maelstrom in his book Salem Witchcraft (1867), which was widely read and repeated by historians and authors.

Probably after being physically coerced by Samuel Parris, Tituba confesses to being a witch before the magistrates—but not to occult practices like fortune telling or Caribbean voodoo. She does, however, tell of Satan making her pinch and hurt the girls, of riding a stick to night-time meetings with other witches, and of the existence of more witches. With obvious references to British witchcraft folklore, Tituba’s testimony weaves together Samuel Parris’ sermons of Satan’s conspiracy against his church and the people’s fears that the girls were experiencing a preternatural battle for their souls. Instead of creating unity to save the church, Tituba’s words turned neighbor against neighbor.  

Story with No Ending

Tituba’s value as a witness against Sarah Good and Sarah Osburn unexpectedly saved her life, while forfeiting theirs. As more afflicted accusers came forward, more innocent victims were accused, and spectral evidence spread near and far, Tituba lay forgotten in prison.

According to contemporary chroniclers, after the General Jail Delivery, Samuel Parris refused to pay Tituba’s jail fees. But by paying seven pounds for her shackles and 13 months’ room and board, a new master bought an Indian slave whose future labor was worth more than the fees. After watching others die in jail or being led out to the gallows and being rejected by the family she had served for a dozen years, perhaps her new owner thought Tituba would be a docile and obedient servant. Beaten down and neglected, she was malnourished, her body stiff from the shackles and hardly any exercise, her mind constantly living in fear. No doubt, Tituba was grateful to be part of the living again. And, so, quietly Tituba the Indian servant disappeared from recorded history.

In 1711, no one came forward to ask for compensation from the government on behalf of the Indian slave.


Larry Gragg, A Quest for Security: The Life of Samuel Parris 1653-1720.

Elise Lemire, Black Walden: Slavery and Its Aftermath in Concord, Massachusetts.

Bernard Rosenthal, et al, Records of the Salem Witch-Hunt.

Charles W. Upham, Salem Witchcraft.

For more on Tituba, see also:

* It is unclear whether the voodoo dolls sold at HEX are in reference to a supposed (and incorrect) connection to Tituba since Bridget Bishop poppets also are sold in the store, or if they are just one of many magical products available. The owners are 
modern-day Warlocks with Witchcraft shops in both Salem and New Orleans.

15 October 2015

Top 5 Places to Visit in Salem, Massachusetts

When you visit the Witch City, there are many attractions, museums, tours, and events vying for your attention. I put together a list of five not-to-miss places that are worth the trip to Salem, Massachusetts, for people interested in the 1692 witch hunts in Essex county.

Site of the Salem Village Parsonage (behind 67 Centre Street, Danvers, MA).

The parsonage was built after February 1681, when Salem Village voted to build the parsonage for their second minister, George Burroughs (1650-1692). Here, strange fits first possessed nine-year-old Betty Parris and her 11-year-old cousin Abigail Williams, causing a local doctor to declare the girls were under an evil hand. The first accused witches lived close by, including in the parsonage itself, but it quickly spread to Salem Town and around Essex county.

In 1734, a new house was added to the old parsonage. In 1784, the original parsonage was demolished and the 1734 addition was moved. In time, the foundation filled in. In 1970, Richard Trask and a team of archeologists uncovered the foundation stones. Artifacts discovered at the site are located at the Danvers Archival Center (15 Sylvan Street, Danvers).

The archeological site not only gives you an idea of how small the house was, it also puts into perspective where Rev. Samuel Parris (1653-1720) and his family lived in relation to the First Meeting House and Ingersoll’s Ordinary—just a quick walk around the corner—and how far away Salem Town was by foot, horseback, or wagon. 

While you’re in the area, visit the Danvers witch memorial on Hobart street.

Rebecca Nurse Homestead (149 Pine St., Danvers, MA)

Rebecca Nurse Homestead
In 1678, Francis and Rebecca Nurse leased this 300-acre parcel from Rev. Allen. Their farm was productive and the terms of their lease generous. In 1692, the afflicted girls accused Rebecca of being a witch, the jury failed to convict her, and the magistrate asked them to reconsider after the girls acted out in court. Even the villagers’ petition and the governor’s reprieve didn’t save her. She was hung on July 19, 1692.

The volunteers who give tours at the homestead are very knowledgeable, so you’ll get more out of your visit than a self-guided tour. The homestead includes the original house built about 1678, plus several additions; the 1681 Endecott barn; a 19th century shoemaker’s shed; and a replica of the 1672 Salem Village Meeting House that was used in the film Three Sovereigns for Sarah. The property now consists of 27 acres, including the Nurse graveyard. It’s likely that Rebecca Nurse was buried in the graveyard, though the location is unknown. There are two memorials, from 1885 and 1992, erected in her memory. You’ll also find a 17th-century-styled gravestone for George Jacobs, whose supposed body was reburied at the site.

Cry Innocent: The People vs. Bridget Bishop (Old Town Hall, 32 Derby Street, Salem, MA)

If you wander down Essex Street in Salem, you may come across a 17th century town crier and a band of similarly dressed townspeople. After several arguments, they arrest Bridget Bishop for being a witch and bring her to the Town Hall for questioning. Like other attractions in town, you will hear dialogue taken from the witch trial papers, but in this case, you—the audience—become the jury and vote to determine whether she should be held for trial. You also get a chance to ask questions of the witnesses and Bridget herself. The performances are well done and there are no poorly made mannequins sitting in for the afflicted girls—just quiet chairs—so, unlike 1692, you can listen to the words spoken instead of the distraction caused by the afflicted girls. 

The Salem Witch Trials Memorial (between Charter and Derby streets, adjacent to Old Burying Point, Salem, MA)

Salem Witch Trials Memorial
Built 300 years after the witch trials, the memorial consists of 20 granite benches that float in the middle of a low stone wall. Each bench is inscribed with the victim’s name and date of execution. Unlike the cemetery next to the memorial, there are no bodies here (they are cenotaphs) and the benches hovering above the ground remind us of that fact.

Over the years, Salem tried to bury its witchcraft past, so we don’t know where the witch-hunt victims were hanged (though most people assume it’s somewhere on Gallows Hill) or buried. The memorial serves as a contemplative spot to honor these brave women and men who stood up for their religious beliefs and wouldn’t condemn their souls by lying to save their lives. At the threshold of the memorial, you’ll see some of their poignant words cut off, just like their lives were. 

While you’re in the area, stop by the repaired gravestone of Judge John Hathorne (1641-1717) at Old Burying Point. It’s hard to miss.

The Salem Witch Walk (Crow Haven Corner, 125 Essex Street, Salem)

Having been on a trolley tour and a historical 1692 walking tour, I’ve learned where Bridget Bishop’s house or apple orchard stood (43 Church Street) and where the 1684 jail once existed (corner of Federal Street and St. Peter’s Street, formerly known as Prison Lane). But much of the tour guides’ scripts have not kept up with current research and often repeat myths and misconceptions.

The Salem Witch Walk is different, right from the start. The walk begins with a magic circle, in which the tourists are invited to participate. As Tom, a practicing witch and our tour guide, explains during the ceremony, witches hold true to two words: “Harm none.” Tom says none of the accused in 1692 were witches, but 17th century cultural beliefs, superstitions, and magic came into play, turning neighbor against neighbor and ending in a land grab. He explains what some witch symbols mean, including the pentagram, and why Laurie Cabot and other witches came to Salem. There’s no scary hocus pocus. 

In the end, you may realize the juxtaposition of Count Orlok’s Nightmare Gallery and Elizabeth Montgomery’s Bewitched statue with the Salem Witch Museum, the maritime heyday of the Peabody Essex Museum, and Salem’s leather manufacturing history are not that strange. It’s how Salem survives its past and moves into the future.

NOTE: Some of these places have limited, seasonal hours. Check the web sites for details.

Want to read more about Salem and the witch trials? Click on the keyword "witch-hunt" on the right-hand column to see other articles, from a short genealogy of the victims and a timeline of the witch-hunt to books and tourist attractions. 

04 October 2015

Tituba Redefined: Salem Then and Now

A scene from the Salem Village parsonage, with Betty Parris,
Tituba, John Indian, and Abigail Williams at the
Witch History Museum on Essex Street, Salem, Mass.
Tituba is a key figure in the beginning stages of the 1692 Salem witchcraft trials, being the first person to confess and to describe the world of witches. If you visit local attractions in Salem, Massachusetts, you’ll see her depicted as a black woman, often telling tales to young and impressionable girls at the Salem Village parsonage. 

Yet in the actual court records, Tituba is very specifically referred to as the Indian servant of Mr. Samuel Parris, while Mary Black and Candy are described as “negro slaves” of their owners. So how did Tituba get rewritten in popular culture as of African descent?

From contemporary accounts by trial critics to Charles W. Upham’s often referenced history, Salem Witchcraft (1867), Tituba is called Indian. Shortly after the American Civil War, however, she’s depicted as of mixed race. Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, who is more inclined to poetic license than historical truth, wrote Tituba was a half-Indian, half-African woman in the dramatic verses of Giles Cory of the Salem Farms (1868). Historians and novelists continued this trend into the 20th century.

Taking it one step further, Arthur Miller turned the historical witch trial into an allegorical play about McCarthyism, the U.S. interrogation and blacklisting of suspected Communists. By using names and events from 1692, The Crucible (1953) overwrites history by making Tituba of full African descent.

Salem’s local attractions continue to portray Tituba as of African heritage. What’s tragic is the little we know of Tituba, her life, and her background is that she was Indian—as easily accessible transcriptions of actual 1692 documents and the last 50 years of some excellent research repeatedly tell us.

Upham, Salem Witchcraft Vol. 1 and Vol. 2
Boyer & Nissenbaum, Salem Witchcraft Papers

26 July 2015

Hawthorne and the Guilt-Ridden W?

Nathaniel Hawthorne c. 1860-1865 by Mathew Brady
Numerous articles and books repeat that Nathaniel Hawthorne added a W to his surname to distance himself from his ancestor, the hanging judge John Hathorne (1641-1717) of the Salem witch trials—without offering any proof. But is it really true? Did he ever tell someone or write down why? 

Or did people assume they could peer into his psyche—through reading his short stories and romances, perhaps—and say ancestral guilt led him to add a letter to his surname? It doesn’t make sense. 

From “Young Goodman Brown” to The House of Seven Gables, Salem permeates Hawthorne’s writings, whether it’s the setting itself, the story line, or even the Puritan mentality. Hawthorne couldn’t escape the ghosts in his past, whether he believed actual ghosts meandered through the headstones at the Old Burying Point or whether he felt ancestral eyes were watching him, much like the judge’s painting in Seven Gables.

During the early 19th century, Salem was a busy seaport. Surrounded by wealth and worldliness, Hawthornes family relied on relatives for support after his father died of yellow fever in Surinam when the author was four years old. And those relatives, no doubt, regaled the young boy with stories of his ancestors, to keep alive the Hathorne legacy.

Legends of the Tree

Hawthorn flowers
The author’s long-ago ancestors lived near Binfield and Bray, co. Berks, in England, where there’s a legend of two pots of gold buried beneath the hawthorn tree on Hawthorn Hill (p. 110). Genealogist Henry F. Waters, himself a son of Salem, regretted he didnt make this discovery earlier, when Hawthorne was still alive. Waters wrote: “How eagerly [Hawthornes] quaint and vivid fancy would have seized even upon the scanty materials offered to it in the Legend of Hawthorn Hill and its pots of gold, to weave therefrom a story that should rival in weirdness any of his Legends of New England (Register, Vol. 38, p. 203).

Home to the faerie folk, hawthorn is linked to courtship and May Day celebrations. At the same time, the tree is considered unlucky. It’s protected with thorns and blossoms that smell of illness or death—and, ironically, it’s supposed to be a favored wood used to make witches’ brooms.

It’s possible that centuries ago the family took its name from the hawthorn tree. And, like many words, some surnames evolved and changed spellings over time. Reviewing vital records, probate proceedings, and histories, the surname has appeared as Harthone, Harthorn(e), Hathorn, Hatthorn, Haughthorne, Hauthorn(e), Hawthorn(e), Horthorne, Hotharn, Hothorn(e), and Hothornne, among others. Between handwriting, literacy, and clerical errors, it’s easy to see how names change on paper.

Take it one step further and consider how the surname is pronounced. Try saying “Hathorne” with an English accent, specifically with the intonations of someone from 17th century London or co. Berks. Then try it with a 19th century Massachusetts accent. Would it sound differently?

Without the Story, It’s Guesswork

Without knowing the story behind the change in spelling, we cannot assume it’s because of guilt by association.

Who’s to say that it wasn’t Hawthorne’s publisher who added the W? Not necessarily separating the brooding author from his heritage but because the hawthorn tree, with its white flowers and red berries, added a touch of romance to the authors persona? Or because the printer made a typographical mistake on the book cover?

And who’s to say that maybe Hawthorne, inspired by his family tree, did a little genealogical research in the Salem church records and found his father was baptized as “Nathanael Hawthorne” in 1775 and his great grandfather as “Joseph Hauthorn” in 1692?

We may never know the truth, but lets stop guessing that ancestral disassociation was behind the decision to add the W in Hawthorne.

Ancestors of Nathaniel Hawthorne in America

Nathaniel Hawthorne, b. 4 July 1804, Salem, Mass.; d. 19 May 1864, Plymouth, NH; m. 9 July 1842, Sophia Amelia Peabody (1809-1871). Author.

Capt. Nathaniel Hathorne, bapt. 21 May 1775, Salem, as “Nathanael Hawthorne”; d. 1808 in Surinam; m. 2 August 1801, Salem, Elizabeth C. Manning (1780-1849).

John Hathorne's grave at Old Burying Point, Charter Street, Salem.
Daniel Hathorne, bapt. 22 August 1731, Salem; d. 18 April 1796, Salem; m. 21 Oct. 1756, Salem, Rachel Phelps (1733-1813).

Joseph Hathorne, bapt. May 1692, Salem, as “Joseph Hauthorn”; d. 23 June 1762, Salem; m. 30 June 1715, Salem, Sarah Bowditch.

Col. John Hathorne, bapt. 2 Aug. 1641, Salem; d. 10 May 1717, Salem; m. 22 March 1674/5, Ruth Gardner. Known as “the hanging judge” for his part in the 1692 Salem witch trials.

Major William Hathorne, born about 1606/1607, Bray, co. Berks, England; emigrated about 1633; died April 1681, Salem, Mass.; married Ann.

Massachusetts Vital Records to 1850: Salem (NEHGS online)

French, Elizabeth, “Genealogical Research in England,” in New England Historical and Genealogical Register, Vol. 67, pp. 248-260 (1913).

Kerry, Charles, The History and Antiquities of the Hundred of Bray, in the County of Berks (London: Savill and Edwards, 1861).

Moriarty, G. Andrews, “Genealogical Gleanings in England VII,” in New England Historical and Genealogical Register, Vol. 79, pp. 311-316 (1925).

Waters, Henry F., “Genealogical Gleanings in England,” in New England Historical and Genealogical Register, Vol. 38, pp. 201-204 (1884).

27 June 2015

Finding the right man with the wrong photo

When something doesn't add up (Ancestry.com trees)
Recently, Ancestry.com redesigned its web site to provide “a whole new way to bring your ancestors’ stories to life.” Incorporated into this redesign is the new Facts View on Ancestry online trees, which visually and literally connects sources to support the family tree’s relationships and life facts. It’s easy to check sources by clicking the links to viewable documents within Ancestry.com’s database.

One Ancestry.com family tree included a photo of a husband and wife, which referred to a 1920 passport as the source. What a find! I hadn’t thought to look past the immigrant ship manifests to see if anyone in the family traveled back to the mother country to visit relatives. I couldn’t wait to tell my uncle I found a picture of his grandparents online. Luckily, I checked the source first.

It turns out that the pictured couple is not my uncle’s grandparents but another passport applicant and his wife (#16380). By 1918, a passport application for naturalized citizens was a two-sided form. The front of the application included the person’s name, birth date, emigration and naturalization dates, home address, occupation, travel plans, and oath of allegiance. The back included a description of the applicant, an affidavit of an identifying witness, and a photograph. These original papers were bound together in book form and scanned. 

Obviously, the family tree poster saw the couple’s photograph on the left and assumed it belonged to the applicant on the right. And since the couple’s application was accompanied by a letter-sized note from the man’s employer, it covered up the back side of their legal-sized application—except for their photo. My uncle’s grandfather (#16381) also had a letter from a business associate explaining the reason for the trip overseas and on the scanned page, visible below that letter, is a third passport applicant’s oath of allegiance (#16382). 

Although I couldn’t swap the couple’s photo with the correct grandfather’s face on the family tree posted at Ancestry.com, I did add a note about the misidentified image to prevent others from making the same mistake. And, thanks to that online tree, I was able to share with my uncle his grandfathers passport application and photo. 

For sources, it’s important to check the pages or images before and after the one that you’re looking for—in case you misinterpret or miss information that you need.

06 June 2015

Written in Stone: Proof of the Hazen/Gibson Marriage

Note: previously publishe in the New England Historic Genealogical Society's magazine in 2009.

New England Ancestors (Fall 2009): 40.
For the last decade, I’ve overturned rocks in my efforts to find the parents of John Gibson, a miller in the North End of Boston, who died in 1721. I often collaborated with my newly-found fifth cousin twice removed, Ruby (Gibson) White. One of her common refrains was: “What about Hannah Hazen’s Gibson children?” At first, I dismissed this lead. In New England Marriages Prior to 1700, [i] Clarence Almon Torrey listed her marriage with an extra editorial: “GIBSON, William & Hannah HAZEN?, dau Edward (very doubtful).”

When the New England Historic Genealogical Society published Torrey’s 12-volume manuscript on CD a few years ago, I checked his sources. I found it odd that he referenced the major Hazen genealogy,[ii] while doubting is accuracy in his concise synopsis.

Hannah Hazen was born the seventh month of 1653 in Rowley, Massachusetts,[iii] daughter of Edward Hazen (b. 1614[iv]; buried 22 July 1683 in Rowley[v]) and his second wife, Hannah Grant (b. 1631[vi]; d. Feb. 1715 in Haverill as widow of Capt. George Brown[vii]). The Hazen volume claimed that Hannah Hazen married William Gibson and died before 1683, leaving three children. When Hannah’s father died intestate, the inventory of his estate by his widow Hannah and son Edward was attested in Ipswich court 25 September 1683, and recorded 12 March 1683/4. The settlement gave the names of his children, including “Hannah Gibson deceased (3 children living) hath received 15.18.” After debts and the widow’s thirds, the estate was divided between the 10 Hazen children, with the eldest son receiving a double portion. Each child was entitled to 33 pounds and 10 shillings, with “William Gibson having = Rstd [received] 15.18.8/ Rest. [remained to be paid] short of a share 17.11.4.” [viii]

After Hannah (Grant) (Hazen) Brown died in February 1715, land that was part of her widow’s thirds was distributed to her children. This agreement, dated 20 June 1716, makes provision for her grandchildren, “brother Gibson’s children . . . they having their share with the others.”[ix] Unfortunately, the probate records do not mention the Gibson children by name nor identify their residence, but the plural “children” means at least two and possibly all three, Gibson children were still alive by this date.

Hannah (Hazen) Gibson gravestone, Granary Burial Ground (2008)
In addition to these two probate records, an additional source now confirms the Gibson-Hazen marriage. In early August 2008, I was taking cemetery photos for the Halloween issue of a local parenting magazine in the Granary Burial Ground in Boston, when I stumbled by chance across Hannah’s gravestone alongside the path near the wall by Tremont Place (by wall tomb 103):

“Hannah wife to/ William Gibson/& daughter to Edward Hazen/aged about 25….”[x]

Prior to this cemetery visit, I had checked the NEHGS database, Old Cemeteries of Boston, [xi] to see if any of my ancestral connections were buried there, so I knew Hannah’s stone was not included. Nor is the stone mentioned in the 1856 survey or the 1905 inscriptions compiled by Henry A. May, both of which were consulted for Ogden Codman’s Gravestone Inscriptions and Records of Tomb Burials in the Granary Burial Ground. [xii] Hannah’s grave was not included in the 1980s survey by the Historic Burial Grounds Initiative (HBGI) nor can it be found on HBGI’s map. When I contacted HBGI, project director Kelly Thomas had no record of the grave and could not say whether it was found during recent conservation.[xiii] Since the grave had been forgotten or misplaced for the last 150 years (since the 1856 survey), on 22 August 2008, Kelly Thomas and conservators at the cemetery lifted the stone to reveal the rest of the inscription:

“Hannah wife to/ William Gibson/& daughter to Edward Hazen/aged about 25/ years dec’d October ye 10/1678/Also 2 sons lyes by her.”

How the gravestone was overlooked for generations is a mystery. Clearly, it is not new. The fan-sunburst motif on Hannah’s gravestone can be attributed to an unnamed carver “whose works are to be seen primarily in Charlestown, Cambridge, Watertown, Malden, Wakefield, Woburn, the Granary, and King’s Chapel.” This design by the “Charlestown carver” was only used in the 1670s and 1680s, making the gravestone contemporary with her death date. “From the extant evidence it would seem that the [Charlestown carver’s] earliest carving, stemming from broadsides, developed north of the Charles River possibly as early as 1674 and certainly by 1678.”[xiv]

Given that the gravestone was probably placed shortly after her death in 1678 and before her father’s 1683 probate, Hannah and William Gibson had at least five children, born between say 1670 and 1678. Five Gibson children (none named John) are recorded in Boston records during this time but belong to another couple with the same names: William Gibson, often referred to as “the Scotchman” or by his occupation as cordwainer or shoemaker, [xv] and his second wife, Hannah Phippen.

Finding Hannah (Hazen) Gibson’s grave not only confirms her marriage but also gives her exact death date and narrows the time period for her children’s births—all information not found in contemporary records. Based on the grave inscription, I can conclude that Hannah Hazen is less likely than Ruby and I hoped to be the mother of our John Gibson of Boston, who filed a marriage intention on 18 December 1708 to Margaret Wood of Ipswich. [xvi]

So the search continues—for my John Gibson’s parents as well as “brother Gibson’s children.”

[i] Clarence Almon Torrey, New England Marriages Prior to 1700 (Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Co., 1985, 1997), 301.
[ii] Tracy Elliot Hazen, The Hazen Family in America (New Haven, Conn.: Tuttle, Morehouse & Taylor Co., 1947).
[iii] Massachusetts Vital Records to 1850 (Online Database: AmericanAncestors.org, New England Historic Genealogical Society, 2001-2009).
[iv] Torrey, New England Marriages, 361, and Hazen, The Hazen Family, 4-5, 7-8.
[v] Massachusetts Vital Records to 1850.
[vi] Torrey, New England Marriages, 361, and Hazen, The Hazen Family, 10-11, 14.
[vii] “Descendants of Henry Brown of Salisbury” in Essex Antiquarian, 12 (1908), 97.
[viii] Hazen, The Hazen Family, 21-23.
[ix] Hazen, The Hazen Family, 24.
[x] Since 1660, more than 5,000 people have been buried at Granary Burying Ground, though less than half are marked by gravestones, which have sometimes been moved in an effort to straighten the rows. Hannah (Hazen) Gibson’s grave is located in a row with three unrelated and also relocated graves, for Susannah Reynolds (died 5 May 1746, aged 26); Windsor Goulding (d. 26 August 1702, aged 13 months and eight days); and Mary Coney (d. 17 June 1697, aged 21 months). There are no known Hazen graves in Granary, and the other Gibson burials are probably unrelated.
[xi] Old Cemeteries of Boston (Online database: AmericanAncestors.org, NEHGS, 2007), taken from Robert J. Dunkle and Ann S. Lainhart, Inscriptions and Records of the Old Cemeteries of Boston (Boston, MA: NEHGS, 2000).
[xii] Ogden Codman, Gravestone Inscriptions and Records of Tomb Burials in the Granary Burying Ground, Boston, Mass. (Salem, Mass.: The Essex Institute, 1918).
[xiii] The Historic Burying Grounds Initiative is part of the city of Boston’s Parks & Recreation Department. HBGI has an online database of burials (http://www.cityofboston.gov/parks/hbgi/). Email correspondence with Kelly Thomas, 11 Aug. 2008; 15 Aug. 2008.
[xiv] Allan I. Ludwig, Graven Images: New England Stonecarving and Its Symbols, 1650-1815 (Hanover, N.H.: University Press of New England, 1999), 291.
[xv] See Annie Haven Thwing, Inhabitants and Estates of the Town of Boston, 1630-1800 & The Crooked and Narrow Streets of Boston, 1630-1822 (Boston: NEHGS, CD-ROM 2002) for his profile. From 1663, this William Gibson is credited with at least 20 children, including 15 with Hannah Phippen, listed in The American Genealogist 17 (1940): 12. The Scotchman was actively involved in the community and more likely to record his children’s births. None of the gestational periods overlap. His wife Hannah Phippen was born 25 July 1653, just two months before Hannah Hazen, according to Boston Births, Baptisms, Marriages, and Deaths, 1630-1699 (Boston: Rockwell and Churchill City Printers, 1883), 41.
[xvi] The average age at marriage for males during this period is 25. If John Gibson were Hannah Hazen’s son, he would have been between 30 and 38 in 1708. Vital Records of Ipswich, Massachusetts to the End of the Year 1849 (Salem, Mass.: The Essex Institute, 1910) 2:181.

Reprinted by permission of the New England Historic Genealogical Society. Robin Chalmers Mason, “Written in Stone: Proof of the Hazen/Gibson Marriage,” (New England Ancestors, vol. 10, no. 4 (fall 2009): 40-42. For more information about the magazine, now known as American Ancestors, and the New England Historic Genealogical Society, please visit www.americanancestors.org

31 May 2015

The house where witchcraft started

In 1892, Salem—which basked in its architectural splendor, its rich maritime history, and its scientific and educational pursuits—wanted to bury its dark past. But as the 200th anniversary of the Salem Witch Trials approached, publishers and businessmen stirred up the pot by producing newspaper articles, travelogues, books, pamphlets, photographic prints, and even witch spoons. Taking advantage of the renewed interest, many of these printed items relied on town histories, Charles W. Upham’s Salem Witchcraft (Vol. 1 and Vol. 2), Nathaniel Hawthorne’s fiction, and unsubstantiated traditions.

One such book, Witchcraft Illustrated, Witchcraft to be Understood: Facts, Theories and Incidents with a Glance at Old and New Salem and its Historical Resources, includes images of Salem and Danvers interspersed between stories of witchcraft near and far. One curious photograph, identified as “The House Where Witchcraft Started, Now Danvers, Mass.,” also appears on Wikipedia and Find a Grave, but not in the many witch-hunt history books that have been published. The photo caption clearly is referring to the parsonage, home of Reverend Samuel Parris (1653-1720) when his daughter Betty Parris and niece Abigail Williams showed symptoms of being “under an Evil hand” in 1692. This same photo is featured on postcards captioned “the Old Parris House,” of which a colorized version, available at CardCow.com, is postmarked 1914.

Photo from Henrietta D. Kimball’s Witchcraft Illustrated (1892)
What a find! But, wait. If this is “the parsonage in Salem Village as photographed in the late 19th century” (as labeled on Wikipedia), why didn’t historians include the image in their books?

The Parsonage

The first minister of Salem Village, Rev. James Bayley (1650-1707), kept his own house, though the village promised a few times to build a parsonage. It wasn’t completed until after the second minister, George Burroughs (1650-1692), arrived, for in February 1681, the town voted: “We will Build a House for the Ministry and provid convenient Land For that end: the Dementions of the House are as followeth: 42 foot long twenty foot Broad: thirteen foot stude: fouer chimleis no gable ends” (“Salem Village Book of Records 1672-1697,” SWP No. d1e711).

According to the plaque at the parsonage site, “The house faced south and included a half-cellar on its west side which was composed of dry-laid fieldstones, and which was entered by means of a stairway from the porch (front entry). The east side of the house did not include a cellar, the house sills resting on ground stones. The first floor consisted of two rooms separated by the front entry and a massive brick chimney structure. Two bed chambers were located on the second floor. Each of the house’s four rooms included a fireplace. By 1692 a saltbox lean-to was attached to the rear of the house, and used as a kitchen.” 

Addition and Demolition

Rev. Peter Clark (1696-1768), who served as the Salem Village minister from 1717 to 1768, had the town build an addition to the original building. In January 1734, “it was then voted that ‘we will demollesh all ye Lenture behind ye parsonage house, and will build a new house of three and twenty feet long and eighteen feet broad and fifteen feet stud with a seller [cellar] under it and set it behind the west room of our parsonage house.’ This new addition was two and one-half stories high, included a side door which faced the west and a roof which ran perpendicular to the 1681 parsonage. The cellar foundation was composed of cut and faced stones and included a jog for a chimney (from 1734 Addition marker).

Over the ensuing decades, the parsonage continued its decline, but the townspeople could not afford to build a new parsonage nor repair the old one. In 1784, Rev. Benjamin Wadsworth (1750-1826) was given “an acre of land, bordering upon the road, for a house-lot. And upon this lot, the bounds of which may now be traced, he built for himself, about twenty rods west of the old site, the spacious house which is still standing” (Proceedings at the Celebration of the Two Hundredth Anniversary of the First Parish at Salem Village: Now Danvers, October 8, 1872p. 91). Afterwards, the original 1681 parsonage was demolished and the 1734 addition was moved to Sylvan Street.

By 1872, Charles Baker Rice describes the 1734 addition on Sylvan Street “in a condition next to ruinous, and occupied by hay, squashes, old barrels, and pigs” (p. 91). Rice continues, “It will thus be seen that this building, contrary to the report that has had some currency, was not in reality any part of the original parsonage, and was never occupied by Mr. Parris or any of his witches. It was not in existence until nearly forty years after he had left the place; and it has no other flavor of witchcraft upon it than what it may have absorbed in standing for half a century in contact with the older and once infected building (p. 92).

Righting a Wrong

67 Centre Street, Danvers
In his footnote, Rice refers to mistakes in J.W. Hanson’s History of the Town of Danvers, from its Early Settlement to 1848 (a sketch on p. 276) and John W. ProctorCentennial Celebration at Danvers, Mass., June 16, 1852 (on p. 13). Rice says: “Mr. Hanson has given, in his history, a view of the building now standing as of ‘a portion of the old Parris house.’ John W. Proctor also was misled in the same manner, though he speaks less confidently, and only as from report. But the measurements are conclusive. The present building corresponds to the dimensions of the addition of 1734, while it bears no likeness to the original house of 1681, or to any practicable section of it. The difference in height to the plates, for one item, is three feet. Due inquiry would have shown, too, that the more trustworthy tradition does not identify the buildings; while the fact of the removal of the present structure from the old site will readily account for the mistaken notion of some concerning it” (p. 92).

Richard B. Trask, town archivist at the Danvers Archival Center, also says the 1734 addition moved to Sylvan Street acquired an incorrect but much touted witchcraft connection during the 19th century” (Postcard History Series: Danvers, p. 20). That mistaken belief persisted long after the 1734 addition was torn down in the 1870s, and now has cropped up again, thanks to digital reproductions of the photo, postcards, and old books.

Recovering the Past
1681 Salem Village parsonage site (2014)

In time, the parsonage cellar hole filled in and by 1898 only a rough stone on the slight elevation in the field off the street...helps to identify the place where the Parris house stood, Edwin Monroe Bacon writes in Historic Pilgrimages in New England. After all, he explains, Upham says there was a general desire to obliterate the memory of the calamity” (p. 178). 

The place where the witchcraft outbreak started was almost lost to history until 1970, when Trask, then a history student, asked the property owners about excavating the land. Today, visitors can see the stone outline of the original parsonage, with a few interpretive markers adding context. Artifacts from the archaeological dig are located at the Danvers Archival Center. 

Thanks to Pie Ball and others who replied on my Facebook page, for helping me resolve this photo identification—once again.