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.

15 May 2015

Envisioning ancestors’ neighborhoods: National resources Part 4

After you've checked deeds, probate records, censuses, tax records, and/or city directories, you may want to learn more about your ancestors’ neighborhood and what their dwellings may have looked like. If your family wasn’t from Lexington or Massachusetts (like the study in the previous three posts), you’ll find the strategies are similar but the resources may be different.

Historic Places to Visit

Collins Log Cabin (1818), Columbia, Missouri; photo: HornColumbia
If you’ll be in the neighborhood, check out USA.gov’s links to state travel and tourism web sites. From there, you can drill down by region, county, or town, or do a Google search for a local tourist bureau. You’ll find historic places to visit and a calendar of events. In all likelihood, you won't find your ancestral home, but you may find similar building styles and household furnishings pertaining to the time frame youre interested in.

The American Alliance of Museums’ directory lists museums from A to Z (aquariums to zoos), including history museums, historic sites, and museum associations that make up its membership. You can search by name, city, state, or museum type.

PreservationDirectory.com offers several databases for the U.S. and Canada, including historical societies by state/province, region, or keyword; historic house museums, living history museums, and specialty museums by category; and historic tours by category.  

Learning about Architecture

If you didn’t take art history and architecture in school, you may want to brush up on some building styles and time periods to put your ancestors era in the correct context. For the Lexington, Massachusetts, study, I referred to Historic New England’s architectural style guide, but different regions tend to create buildings more in line with their landscapes.

Jeffery Howe, a professor at Boston College, put together a Digital Archive of American Architecture for his students. He includes a chronology, description, and examples of architectural styles. The web site hasn’t been updated in a while, but its still useful. Or pick up a book on architectural history.

The Anatomy of a Historic House

Maybe you’re lucky and your ancestral house has a National Register (NR) designation for being connected with a famous person or event, or for being culturally or architecturally significant. If not, you can learn about NR buildings in your ancestors’ community and surrounding towns. Some of them are private property, but their NR paperwork is available. 

In the 1960s, there was a big push for the U.S. government to recognize and preserve historic buildings. That’s why National Register of Historic Places seeks to “identify, evaluate, and protect America’s historic and archaeological resources.” Some states have their NR documentation posted online, with photos, floor plans, descriptions, and house histories. If you can’t find what you’re looking for, contact the State Historic Preservation Officers (SHPO).

Location, Location, Location

Realtors know the importance of location. You may want to compare historic maps with Google Maps and Google Earth to get a bird’s-eye view to see why your ancestors may have chosen a specific location and how its changed over the years. Check out these collections:
Every Picture Tells a Story

Carlyle House in 1909, Alexandria, Virginia
William & Mary College Quarterly Historical Magazine,
Vol.18, No.1., pp.1-17.
It almost goes without saying, but check your photographs and ask relatives if they have pictures of the old homestead. If not, you may be able to find pictures of your ancestral houses or neighborhoods. 

Public and secondary education libraries sometimes have archival collections online, such as the Archive of Photographic Documentation of Early Massachusetts Architecture at Boston Public Library, which includes late 19th century photographs and engravings of 17th and 18th century buildings in Eastern Massachusetts. Connect with state libraries, public libraries, academic libraries, and federal libraries for collections.

Old and new town histories usually have photographs of buildings, so do a search on Google Books, Internet Archive, HathiTrust digital library, or other digital providers. You also could go to your local library and check their collections or interlibrary loan.

Several web sites invite people to add their images, both old and new, to online maps. Check out HistoryPin.com and WhatWasThere.com. The Clio and Waymarking.com tag historic buildings and much more—with photos and descriptions.

Arcadia Publishing specializes in local books filled with old photographs, often compiled by town historians or using historical society collections.

You’d be surprised what turns up on postcards. I have a postcard of Mirror Lake taken from the exact location where my parents built their house 30 years later, before any buildings existed on the property. I bought the postcard from eBay. I’ve also purchased historic house cards from CardCow.

Building a Foundation

Researching how people lived will give you a better understanding of your family in their neighborhood setting. Envisioning their homes, the everyday tools they used and chores they did, their status in the community, the luxuries they had, and the hardships they faced will help you appreciate your forebears and the choices they made.

And, now that youve gone beyond birth and death dates by filling in the space between, you should consider writing down what youve discovered and sharing it with your family. 

Read previous posts, Envisioning ancestors’ neighborhoods: A study of Lexington, Massachusetts

07 May 2015

Envisioning ancestors’ neighborhoods: A study of Lexington, Massachusetts, part 3

How can you picture how your ancestors lived and what their home may have looked like, if the original structure and photos do not exist? 

For this study, we’re using the year 1775 in Lexington, Massachusetts, as an example. Part 1 set the scene, with events and historic sites. In part 2, we covered books, maps, and photos. Now let’s add historical property data into the mix. 

The National Register of Historic Places (NR) seeks to “identify, evaluate, and protect America’s historic and archaeological resources.” However, Massachusetts is one of those states that hasn’t had its paperwork digitized yet. Fortunately, there’s the State Historic Preservation Officers (SHPO), and in the Commonwealth, the Massachusetts Cultural Resource Information System (MACRIS), which provides information on Lexington. (Again, not all towns are digitized.)

First, let’s search the MACRIS database by location and time period. Select Lexington, and on the next screen, type <1775 under Construction Year (as in less than 1775). Thirty properties show up in the results, including the Lexington Old Burying Ground (c. 1690) and 1775 Traces of the Battle Road (c. 1636), since we did not select Resource Type (area, building, burial ground, object, structure). Objects include historic markers and monuments while Structures include walls, bridges, streets, wells, cow pens—much more than we want. By selecting Buildings, <1775, the results are 27 properties.

For each property, the onscreen spreadsheet shows the inventory number (Inv. No.), property name, street address, town, approximate year built (circa or range of dates), whether the house is listed on the State Register of Historic Places (SR), whether the National Register nomination has been digitized (NR), and (INV) for the scanned inventory file. For record detail, click on Inv. No.; for the scanned nomination paperwork, click on INV to download the PDF. 

Architectural Styles

MACRIS lets you select from many different kinds of architectural styles, including “altered beyond recognition.” However, the web site does not provide descriptions for these styles online. So let’s go to Historic New England, which divides architectural building styles before the 20th century into the following categories: 
  • First Period (Post-medieval English): 1600-1700
  • Georgian: 1700-1780
  • Federal (Adam): 1780-1820
  • Greek Revival: 1825-1860
  • Gothic Revival: 1840-1880
  • Italianate: 1840-1885
  • Second Empire: 1855-1885
  • Stick: 1860-1890
  • Queen Anne: 1880-1910
  • Shingle: 1880-1900
  • Colonial Revival: 1880-1955
Georgian Style

Let’s say an ancestor built a home in Lexington circa 1750 that no longer exists and we want to look at a home of a similar age and style. Houses dating from 1700 to 1780 were often Georgian in style, with the center entry flanked with an equal number of double-hung sash windows balancing each side. One or two stories high, these clapboard or shingled wood-framed homes had center chimneys (if built before 1750) or double chimneys on each end of the gable roof. The box floor plan was two rooms deep with a central hallway.

Henry Harrington - Dr. Joseph Fiske house (LEX.710)
In MACRIS, we search Lexington, Georgian and find 21 matches, including the Henry Harrington - Dr. Joseph Fiske house (LEX.710) at 70 East Street. Besides its architectural significance, it has an interesting history, being commonly known as the Lexington Pest House, and a long association with the Fiske family. The Lexington Historical Commission nominated the single-family dwelling as historically important in March 1998. The paperwork, downloadable as a PDF, includes a photo, a map showing location and footprint, an architectural description, a historical narrative, and—what every genealogist likes to see—a bibliography and/or references. 

Considered “one of the best-preserved of the 21 Georgian houses still standing in Lexington, the original house was rectangular with an integral lean-to, 2-1/2 stories, five-by-one bays, and side-gabled with a large center chimney and an exterior chimney at the west end of lean-to.... The original house has a center entrance with a surround composed of a projecting molded cornice and fluted pilasters; the 6/9 windows in this house have molded window heads on the first floor and are framed into the cornice on the second.” Major alterations include a “shed attached to house, rear addition, attached garage (1979).” 

House Genealogy

Although this file does not include a floor plan, it has genealogical and architectural value. Cary Library in Lexington includes notes from Fiske descendant, Mary Abbie Fiske, suggesting the house was built in 1745 by Henry Harrington (1712-1791) and three of his sons were born there. However, the house nomination paperwork questions the date since sons John was born in 1739 and Jonathan in 1744. By 1790, Dr. Joseph Fiske (1752-1837) acquired the house from Henry Harrington’s son John. Probably during an epidemic in 1792, Dr. Fiske was treating 32 smallpox patients at 70 East Street—hence the name pest house. In 1809, Dr. Fiske moved to the old Fiske house (LEX.735) at 63 Hancock Street after his father’s death, though several generations of the doctor’s family continued to live at the Harrington-Fiske house until the 1940s.

By studying the Georgian homes in the Lexington area, you can gain insight into how your ancestors lived at the beginning of the Revolutionary War.

05 May 2015

Envisioning ancestors’ neighborhoods: A study of Lexington, Massachusetts, part 2

If you do not live near your ancestors' neighborhood, you still can use books, photos, and maps to explore what their lives were like. Using our example of Lexington, Massachusetts, in the year 1775, again, lets check out a few online resources.

Picture Books

Books on Lexington and the Revolutionary War are abundant, but let's look for something more local. 

In 1868, Charles Hudson published his History of the Town of Lexington, Massachusetts. The Lexington Historical Society revised and expanded the original one-volume book through the year 1912. The now two-volume work includes images of old buildings and maps—helping you visualize not only what your ancestor’s home may have looked like in comparison, but also where these buildings were relative to each other. You can read both volumes online:
You may even find mention of your family. 

Arcadia Publishing, which specializes in local history books filled with old photographs, published two books with Lexington Historical Society archivist Richard Kollen, Images of America: Lexington and Lexington: From Liberty’s Birthplace to Progressive Suburb. (Check out the company’s catalog to see if books were published for other towns or cities you’re interested in.)

Maps and Photos

Google Maps not only gives you directions, it takes you there. Type in the address or site and grab the little yellow figure to browse street-view images. Start at the Minute Man Statue and scan the buildings nearby. Or type in your old homestead address. You can view still images that people submitted. You also can switch to Google Earth to get a bird’s-eye view

Also try the U.S. Geological Survey maps.

Several web sites invite people to add their images, both old and new, to online maps. Check out HistoryPin.com and WhatWasThere.com, though both, at this time, are a little light on Lexington, they could prove useful for other ancestral areas. 

X Marks the Spot

The Historical Marker Database includes photos, links, and information about permanent outdoor markers, plaques, and monuments that provide historical or scientific facts. See the list of Lexington markers.

In a similar vein, Waymarking.com tags locations around the world with data specific to that spot. Categories include buildings, history, monuments, signs, events, and businesses—with photos and descriptions.

Part 1: history, historical sites
Part 3: historical property data
Part 4: national resources

02 May 2015

Envisioning ancestors’ neighborhoods: A study of Lexington, Massachusetts, part 1

Minute Man Statue
With a little imagination, you can visualize your ancestors’ community. Let’s take, for example, a pivotal time and place in the history of our nation: 1775 in Lexington, Massachusetts. Considered the birthplace of American Liberty, according to the town’s web site, Lexington gets busloads of tourists year-round, but especially from April to late fall.

In 1775, Lexington was a farming community with a population of 750. As one of the main thoroughfares to Boston and New Hampshire, the town supported two taverns but had little in the way of a commercial center. 

In the early morning of April 19, 1775, the 2.5-acre Lexington Green was the setting for “the shot heard ‘round the world.” If you face the Minute Man Statue at the point of Battle Green, which is shaped like a triangle, Buckman Tavern is on your right. The green was purchased specifically for military musters, and after drills, Minute Men often gathered at Buckman Tavern. On April 18, William Dawes and Paul Revere rode from Boston with news of the advancing British troops, both stopping separately at the Hancock-Clarke house, where John Hancock and Samuel Adams were spending the night. Given the warning, some of the Lexington Minute Men spent the night in the tavern until the Redcoats were sighted at sunrise. Then they formed their battle line on the green.

About 80 militia men were at the green that morning, standing in formation but not blocking the way to Concord where the military supplies and gunpowder were hidden. They were way outnumbered by the British regulars and no doubt expected their presence to be no more than a show of arms. No one knows who pulled the trigger first or if there were several shots fired almost simultaneously, but after the smoke had cleared, eight Colonists were dead and 10 wounded. There was only one Redcoat casualty.

Across the green, the white hip-roofed house, part of which was built in 1690, has a sign that reminds us of the painful losses during this fateful battle: “House of Jonathan Harrington/who wounded on the Common/April 19, 1775/dragged himself to the door/and died at his wife’s feet.” (LEX.54)

Reliving the Past

If you are in Lexington on the third Monday in April, a state holiday known as Patriots Day, you can relive the battle performed by military reenactors on the green. Since the Redcoats didn’t stop at Lexington but continued their march toward Concord, you can follow much of the path the British troops took through the Minute Man National Historical Park. The park also includes 10 “witness homes.

Take a Tour

Hancock-Clarke house
Since you can’t just knock on someone’s door and ask for a house tour, you can visit the Lexington Historical Society’s three buildings, which are open to the public for a fee: the Hancock-Clarke house at 36 Hancock Street (built 1737; LEX.119); Buckman Tavern at 1 Bedford Street (built 1690/1710; LEX.51); and Munroe Tavern at 1332 Massachusetts Avenue (built 1695/1735; LEX.128). All three were the stage for events of the American Revolution. (Munroe Tavern was occupied by the British after the Battles of Lexington and Concord.) 

Like most historic building museums that portray a certain time period, later architectural features and modern conveniences were stripped away. So, if you want to know what a tavern looked like on the eve of the American Revolution, not only will you be greeted by someone in Colonial garb, you’ll see the furnishings and cooking implements of the day.

If you don’t live near Lexington, you can find detailed historic structure reports of the historical society’s buildings, with timelines of ownership, photographs of architectural features and furnishings, and floor plans. You’ll also find information on the Hancock-Clark House archaeological dig, which was the boyhood home of John Hancock (1737-1793), signer of the Declaration of Independence.