Salem Witch Museum News

Judge Sewall's Apology, Richard Francis

[singlepic id=27 w=250 h=250 float=left]THE LECTURE The premier of the Old Town Hall Lecture Series on Thursday evening was a huge success!  The talk by Richard Francis, author of Judge Sewall’s Apology, gave an overview of a flesh-and-blood Samuel Sewall, the only one of nine judges presiding over the Salem witch trials to apologize for his part in the tragedy.   Those of us from the Salem Witch Museum who read the book and attended the lecture gained a better understanding of certain nuances of the witch trials through the perspective of this eye-witness and penitent condemner.  His prolific diaries show a man who was introspective and sometimes stricken with doubt about his own hypocrisy.  Though the nearly lifelong diaries include comparatively fewer entries during the time of the Salem witch trials, it is evident that he was ambivalent about the events taking place: “…Unease had begun to percolate into his mind.  He wrote to his cousin Hull in London:  “Are perplexed p[er] witchcrafts:  six persons have already been condemned and executed in Salem.”  Certain issues must have resonated in his thoughts:  Stoughton’s ruling that a simple tendency to the pining and tormenting of the afflicted was sufficient; Nathaniel Saltonstall’s resignation from the court; the way the bench ignored his friend Cotton Mather’s advice in “The Return,” and refused to listen to Susannah Martin’s citation of the precedent of the Witch of Endor;  the changed verdict in the case of Rebecca Nurse; above all, the fact that his friend and fellow congregant John Alden had been remanded for trial as a witch.  Sewall was respectful of authority - though, as he would prove several times in the course of his life, would defy it courageously on a matter of principal.  But he had gone into the trials feeling that he had made a serious judicial error, one caused by being too concerned about how others might think of him.  He had pardoned a pirate under pressure from Wait Winthrop, now his fellow judge in the Court of Oyer and Terminer, and later despised himself for his weakness in not holding to what he believed was right.  His instinct was now to stiffen his resolve when doubts and merciful feelings sneaked in, to overrule any unease he might be feeling with the implacability he had learned from his colleague and superior, William Stoughton.” [Francis, 130-131]     THE APOLOGY January 14, 1697, a day of fasting and prayer reflecting on the witchcraft trials five years later, would be the day Reverend Samuel Willard read Sewall’s apology to the congregation: Samuel Sewall, sensible of the reiterated strokes of God upon himself and family; and being sensible, that as to the Guilt contracted upon the opening of the late Commission of Oyer and Terminer at Salem (to which the order of this Day relates) he is, upon many accounts, more concerned than any that he knows of, Desires to take the Blame and shame of it, Asking pardon of men, And especially desiring prayers that God, who has an Unlimited Authority, would pardon that sin and all other his sins; personal and Relative: And according to his infinite Benignity and Sovereignty, Not Visit the sin of him, or of any other, upon himself or any of his, nor upon the Land: But that he would powerfully defend him against all Temptations to Sin, for the future; and vouchsafe him the efficacious, saving conduct of his Word and Spirit.    RICHARD FRANCIS [singlepic id=26 w=250 h=250 float=right]Dr. Francis has written several novels, biographies and non-fiction works about the history of American culture.  His most recently released work is called Fruitlands, a novel about an experiment in utopian society established in Harvard, Massachusetts by Bronson Alcott and Charles Lane in 1843. He and his wife Jo were kind enough to visit us here at the Salem Witch Museum the morning after his lecture.  The staff had a wonderful time discussing Judge Sewall, the witch trials and perceptions of American history from the point of view of this learned Harvard fellow.  Jo confided in our colleague, Jill Henry, that her husband had written unique talks for each of his ten upcoming addresses! We are grateful for his gracious willingness to sign several copies of Judge Sewall’s Apology available in our bookshop. For more information please check out his blog. OLD TOWN HALL LECTURE SERIES From their website: Celebrating the North Shore’s rich historical past, the Gordon College Institute for Public History is delighted to announce the inaugural season of our annual lecture series at Salem’s historic Old Town Hall. The Old Town Hall Lecture Series takes place from November 2010 through May 2011 on the third Thursday of the month at 7:30 pm at Old Town Hall, 32 Derby Square, Salem, Mass. Next lecture: Thursday, December 16, 2010, 7:30 pm Witchcraft and Conflict in Early New England:  Illustrated lecture and book signing with Emerson (“Tad”) Baker of Salem State University WORKS CITED Francis, Richard.  Judge Sewall’s Apology.  New York:  HarperCollins, 2005. Print. Jones, Heather E., revised by D.J. Ward. “Samuel Sewall.” Salem Witch Trials Documentation and Archive Project.  2006.  Web.  16 Nov. 2010.
Posted by Stacy on 11/20 at 03:10 PM Permalink

Professor Benjamin C. Ray Lectures at the House of Seven Gables

Professor Benjamin Ray of the Department of Religious Studies at the University of Virginia lectured to a sold out room at the House of Seven Gables this week.  Professor Ray is the project director of Salem Witch Trials Documentary Archive and Transcription Project where everyone "from teachers to fourth graders" can now readily access 8,000 searchable pages from source documents online. After sharing with the group that he is descended from four people who signed the petition to save Rebecca Nurse, he chronicled the events of 1692.  He clarified some points previously misunderstood, including that the triggering event was not likely Tituba’s frightening storytelling and games of divination but rather a visit from the first-accused witch Sarah Good.  It had been previously understood by some historians that the provocation of the girls’ “hysteria” had been the use of a fortune telling game consulted to find out the occupations of their future husbands.  While Reverend Hale in his 1697 publication A Modest Enquiry Into the Nature of Witchcraft writes that he was told by a reliable source that two girls were afflicted after consulting a fortune telling glass, there is no proof that these two girls were in fact Betty Paris and Abigail Williams, nor that the these games necessarily led to hysteria and accusations.  Instead, Professor Ray explained, Sarah Good had been begging for food at the house of Reverend Paris and in departing turned away muttering, which was at that time construed as a witch’s curse.  Judge John Hathorne sites this as the grounds to imprison Good. [singlepic id=25 w=200 h=200 float=right]Professor Ray was also an associate editor, together with General Editor Bernard Rosenthal, for Records of the Salem Witch-Hunt a comprehensive printed collection of all legal documents, in chronological order, pertaining to the Salem witch trials.  This new assembly of papers helps researchers to, "...focus on the historical and narrative character of the witchcraft trials as they progressed over time, to see the important relationships among the cases as they proceeded through the courts and through the Salem community on a daily basis, and to understand the developing opposition to them." Anita Blackaby, Executive Director of the House of Seven Gables, pointed out that this lecture stands as one of many examples that Salem does indeed offer extensive insights and interpretation of the witch trial period in our history, contrary to the recent Boston Globe editorial, “Salem needs a new museum to explore its witch-trial past,” of October 17th.  On behalf of the Salem Witch Museum, I’d like to thank Professor Ray and the House of Seven Gables for this informative lecture, and all of our local sites dealing with the witch trial history for their scholarly attention to this still-intriguing aspect of America’s past.
Posted by Stacy on 11/13 at 03:24 PM Permalink