Danvers (Mass.).

Centennial celebration at Danvers, Mass., June 16, 1852 online

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The records of the church were then made and kept by a full be-
liever in witchcraft. One side of the case is shown with fulness ; the
other is to be read and filled up by the light and help of tradition. In
the record, (I trust memory for more than twenty years,) the names of
Joseph Putnam and Elizabeth Putnam appear as petitioners for a coun-

* Rev. George Putnam.



128

ell, to try the Rev. Mr. Parris because of his harsh denunciations of
those who disbelieved in witchcraft as the work of the Devil. Tradition
says that Mr. Parris denounced Joseph Putnam and others as the agents
of Satan, and his assistants in promoting the very witchcraft which
they professed to disbelieve. It says, also, that Joseph Putnam kept
himself and his family armed for six months, day and night, — and that
his horse was fed at the door, saddled and with bridle over his head
through all that time.

My grandfather Israel, his sister Eunice, and his brother Jesse,*
(grandchildren of this Joseph and Elizabeth,) born within fifty or sixty
years of the time referred to, and brought up upon the spot, have each
repeatedly rehearsed these traditions in my hearing, and all the cir-
cumstances known to me tend to support their correctness.

Let me linger awhile upon these few facts, and the known opinions
and events of that memorable period, — when the powers of darkness,
and of all imaginable evils, were supposed to be working with unwonted
diligence and success, — when some unseen but dreaded power was
mysteriously contorting limbs, — strangely moving meal-chests and
chairs — putting the cow into the small goose-house, — and working other
startling things past comprehension ; when the powers and perceptions
of many persons were strangely enlarged and frightfully exerted, —
when witchcraft enacted its many alarming feats ; — then was a time
which truly and emphatically " tried men's souls.''''

When man meets man, — when nation contends with nation, — when
one sees his enemy and can measure his strength and power, — then
reason may sit calmly upon her throne, and nerve the heart and the arm
of many a comvion man to dare and to do bravely. But when the foes
are the invisible powers of the air, — when terror and imagination may
conjure up a direful enemy from behind each bush or rock by the way-
side, from each dark hole in cellar or garret, from out the liquid water
or the solid earth, from above, beneath or around, — when the general
mind is alarmed and phrensied by the believed presence and agency
of innumerable evil spirhs, — when the clergy teach, when the church
helieves, and the opinion spreads wide and deep through the public
mind, that devils are peculiarly busy in deluding and destroying souls,
— when witchcraft is treated as a fact, in the pulpit and ia the halls of
justice, — when the bewitched one has but to name the bewitcher, and
that bewitcher, on such simple testimony, is sentenced to the gallows,
— when all these things, and more than these, conspire to turn the
brain and shake the nerves, — then how clear the head that can look
through these dense, dark mists of phrensied popular delusion ! — how
strong and brave the heart that can withstand the mighty pressure, and
look with unquailing eye upon all the dangers with which devils and
man can confront him ! Such heads there were, — such hearts there
were. Heroism was there, true and noble ; moral courage was there,
lofty and adamantine ; — courage, far, far higher than that which was
needed to lead one into the dark den of the savage wolf

* This Jesse was a graduate of Hanrard, a merchant of Boston, known and
distinguished for general intelligence, great urbanity, and a high sense of
mercantile honor. A skilful weigher of evidence, and truthful, his narrations
(containing many details not mentioned here) are deemed good authority.



129

The slayer of the wolf,— the unquailing commander amid the
dangers of the battle-field, — stands second to none in point of courage;
and yet, if I read the dim past aright, his father and mother were not
secoad to him. A single word . from a bewitched one, naming the
unbelieving Joseph as the author of the witchery, and the whole
ecclesiastical, civil and military power of Salem would have been set
at work for his arrest and execution. Neighbors, relatives, fellow
communicants of the church, were his foes; and yet he stood, for six
long months, armed, vigilant, resolute, shielded by his own true courage
and that God whom he dared to serve in honesty.

The biographers of the General, regarding him only as a Connecti-
cut man, never said much of his parentage. They probably knew
little or nothing of it. But he was a hero "descended from heroes ;"''
the son was a new edition of the father, more widely known and read,
but not much improved.

The father, though his own deluded age could not see or dared not
acknowledge his greatness, and though concealed from the view of
succeeding days by the shadows of time, yet seems to have stood firm
and unharmed, amid the tempests and torrents of delusion,

Like some tall cliff that lifts its rugged form,
Swells from the vale, and midway leaves the storm —
Though round its breast the rolling clouds are spread,
Eternal sunshine settles on its head ; —

calm amid the marvels and terrors of witchcraft, a fit beacon light,
it may be, for the present times.

If the modern stories are true, tables and chairs are renewing their
antics. It has not been my fortune to witness their leapings and danc-
ings, but credible men say, in all soberness, that they have seen strange
things, as marvellous as witchwork. So be it : convince me if you
can that they are true, and I will believe them the same kind of opera-
tions that so fearfully disturbed the peace of our town in days of old.
Witchcraft and spiritual rappings are one and the same ; but neither is
supernatural, — neither demoniacal, — neither what need disturb even
the most timid heart or the weakest brain. Tell me how electricity or
any other subtile agent, pas-;ing from my brain along the arm, makes
my fingers move, and I will tell you how electricity may lift the table
without the help of hands. Both are inexplicable, — neither supernat-
ural, — one we see every hour, — the other only at long intervals, — one
is the daily sun, — the other an eccentric comet, — both harmless, — oye,
both useful, — obeying the laws of a wise and good God, and working
out his beneficent purposes. Let the rappings be investigated, calmly,
philosophically, and they will be found conforming themselves to the
same laws which govern the motions of our fingers of flesh ; they
may become sources of instruction and valuable consokition. I know
not what they are, have neither seen nor heard the wonders, but if it
be heresy to disbelieve in them as the work of demons or evil spirits,
or anything baleful, and if one shall anathematize me because of such
heresy, he will find, at least I trust he will, enough of the old spirit
transmitted to keep me true to my convictions, and true to the God
who rules not only man but all spirits and all agents, whether in realms
17 q



130

below, around or above. At present, I neither believe, nor reject, nor
fear. Let the marvels come ; let tables, and meal-chests, and broom-
sticks fly without visible help ; and what is there alarming in that .''
All will go on in obedience to that God who so long kept hid the
lightning's power to go in the twinkling of an eye and write our
messages in New Orleans ; and through all whose works, both of
matter and of mind, are diffused vital germs of progress and new
dcvelo-pment.

Electricity and magnetism are new in science, — new as controllable
agents in the hands of man, — but yet have been pervading matter
through all time, and have at intervals been working the wonders of
demonology. Science may, ere long, find means to make these strange
,powers common, and train them to good service in lessening the evils
.and promoting the true welfare of man.

It may have been unwise in me to attempt to throw light into the
darkness that shrouds my ancestors, and bring their deeds before you,
because you thus are made to see that, as with wines, so with the
Putnams, the old are better than the new.

The President then announced the following sentiment, and called
upon Hon. JOHN G. PALFREY :

The County of Middlesex — The home oflndustry, Enterprise, and Literature.
We welcome to our festive board one of her most distinguished sons, whose
reputation for learning belongs to our country, but ia known far beyond its
boundaries.

Mr. PALFREY responded nearly as follows : —

I rise, Mr. Pi'esident, with some feelings of embarrassment, not for
the want of a topic on which to remark, but from the great number
and variety which press and crowd on my attention. I can make but
a passing allusion to one or two. Let me first say, that his Honor the
Mayor of Salem makes claims on you for a share of your ancestral
honors on grounds of relationship which appear to me quite paradoxi-
cal. The other gentleman from Salem, who has so happily and ably
responded to the sentiment in honor of his distinguished ancestors,
seems to claim to be among the ancients, and to come from the first
settlers of the soil. I am not sure that I can see in the youthful coun-
tenance of the gentleman any striking resemblance to the picture of
his ancestor, which looks down from the walls of the Senate Chamber.
There are some of us who look upon Governor Endicott as among the
moderns in New England history. When the vessel which bore the
first Governor of Massachusetts was entering the harbor of Salem, she
was anxiously watched from the beach by four individuals, styled, in
the quaint chronicles of the time, as " Roger Conant and three sober
men." The vessel swung to her moorings and flung the red cross of
St. George to the breeze, a boat put off for the shore, and, that the
Governor might land dry shod, Roger Conant and his " three sober
men" rolled up their pantaloons, — or rather those nether garments
which we in these degenerate days call pantaloons, — waded into the
water and bore him on their shoulders to the dry land. Roger Conant
.and his sober men had been here a long time, but how long it is un-



131

necessary to state, but so long that the houses they had bulk sadly-
needed repair. Now these three sober men were — Balch, Woodbury,
and the third bore a surname* which I forbear to mention, but will
only say that it was one which it becomes me not to disgrace.

Some allusion has been made here, Mr. President, to the Witchcraft
delusion of your ancestors. It is sadly true, sir, that this great delu-
sion existed, yet I think a good word may be said in behalf of the
actors. May it not have been that your ancestors acted from high and
holy motives, from excessive zeal for what they regarded as God's
will } The superstition of witchcraft was the dismal error of the times,
and your ancestors, not being wiser than the wisest of their cotempo-
raries on both sides of the water, had their full share in the delusion.
Can any of us say that had we lived in that day we would have seen
deeper into things than Sir Edward Coke and Sir Matthew Hale .' Yet
those sages of the law held the same doctrine on the same subject of
witchcraft as the Massachusetts fathers, and expounded and adminis-
tered it in the Court of the King's Bench. And let me tell you, that
in that awfully dark passage of our early history, all is not darkness.
In one view it appears lighted up with a lurid, indeed, but with a ma-
jestic blaze. If this witchcraft madness has left a peculiar blot upon
the history of Massachusetts, it is because of this great difference be-
tween her people and that of other communities whose annals bear no
such stain, viz., that what both alike professed to believe, the former
more consistently and honestly acted out. Deplore as we may the
grievous infatuation, still more even than we lament and condemn that,
we find cause to applaud the brave and constant spirit that would never
quail before the awful delusion that possessed it. It was no less than
the powers of darkness that these men believed to be in arms against
them. And they did not shrink even from that contest ; they feared
neither man nor the devil ; they feared nothing but God. They im-
agined the Prince of Hell, with his legions, to be among them, " the
sacramental host of God's elect," seeking among them whom he might
devour ; and they gave place to him " by subjection, no, not for an
hour." Set upon by invisible and supernatural foes, they thought of
nothing but stern defiance, deadly battle, and the victory which God
would give his people. They would have made bare the arm of flesh
against the Serpent in bodily presence, could he have put on an assail
able shape. As it was, they let it fall without mercy on those whom
they understood to be his emissaries.

I cannot close without paying my tribute of respect to the memory
of your late distinguished fellow-citizen, the representative of this dis-
trict in the Congress of the United States. I knew him well. As
colleagues in the thirtieth Congress, our public duties brought us into
daily intercourse. During our most agreeable and intimate friendship,
I felt a growing respect for his sound intellect, his warm patriotism,
and his reliable judgment. The faithful and conscientious performance
of all his duties as a friend, a citizen, and a statesman, justly entitle
Mr. King to the name of a Christian patriot.

Without enlarging upon his many sterling qualities, which have
already been alluded to by several speakers, I cannot better illustrate

* Peter Palfrey.



132

his entire devotion to public business, — which was equalled only by the
warm and genial impulses of his heart, — than by relating an incident
which is still fresh in my recollection.

On the occasion to which I allude, the House had been occupied for
several days in the discussion of an important question of public policy.
The debate was now drawing to a close, and the House had remained
in session during the entire night. Towards morning I approached his
seat, and I observed that he met my salutation with a countenance less
bland, and a response less cordial than usual. Knowing the deep in-
terest he had felt in the debate, I naturally attributed his unwonted
manner to the fatigue we all felt from our protracted sittings. I play-
fully alluded to these circumstances, and, in reply, he placed in my
hands an unsealed letter that lay on his table, requesting me to read it.
I did so. It contained the sad intelligence that a beloved daughter was
dangerously sick, and lay, it was feared, at the point of death. Per-
ceiving from its date that it must have been in his possession for
considerable time, I inquired why he had not started for his home
immediately on receiving it. " I cannot leave," said he, " until the
final vote on this question is taken." The vote was taken that night,
and in a few hours he was on his way to Massachusetts ; but, ere this,
the spirit of his child had departed, — his home was desolate, — and he
arrived barely in time to attend the funeral.

I will detain you no longer, Mr. President, than to thank you for the
kind allusion to me in your resolution, and to express the intense satis-
faction I have felt iii participating in the magnificent display and inter-
esting festivities of this occasion.

To a sentiment in honor of those citizens of Danvers who have
adorned the Bench and the Bar, ALFRED A. ABBOTT, Esq., first
Vice President of the day, responded as follows :

Mr. President : — I could have wished that some one worthier than
myself, some one of the many distinguished strangers who gladden and
grace our festive board to-day, could have been called upon to respond
to the sentiment you have just announced. But as you have been
pleased to assign this duty to me, I know not how better to relieve my
own embarrassment and the patience of this assembly, than by address-
ing myself at once, and very briefly, to the theme which your senti-
ment suggests.

Distinguished as have been many of the sons and citizens of this an-
cient town in other spheres of action and walks of life, few, if any of
them, have ever had more signal success or a brighter fame, than some
of those who, on the bench and at the bar, dignified and adorned the
profession of the law. I propose to allude to three or four names,
certainly worthy to be mentioned on an occasion like this, when we
may be expected, with a pride neither ill-timed nor immodest, to com-
memorate all those whose character and virtues have brightened our
local annals. And the first name, sir, is that of Samuel Holten, — or,
as he is more popularly remembered, Judge Holten. He was not bred
to the bar, but, at the early age of eighteen, begun the duties of active
life as a physician, in which profession he continued with success and



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133

growing reputation for some sixteen years. In 1768, at the age of
thirty, he commenced a public career which ended only with his life,
at the advanced age of nearly four score, — a half century of as active
and useful labor as was performed by but few men of his times. He
was eight years a representative in the General Court, five in the Sen-
ate, twelve in the Council, five in Congress as a representative under
the Confederation, (of which august body he was chosen President,)
and two years under the Federal Constitution. This was his distin-
guished career as a legislator, — in which, relinquishing entirely his
profession and all private business, he devoted himself wholly to the
service of his country. A patriot, in times when patriotism Avas more
than a name, few men were so active and influential from the very
outset of the revolutionary struggle to its triumphant close. And in
the troubled timeS which succeeded, when the good ship, — an argosy
freighted with a woi'ld's hopes, — which so gallantly had rode out the
storm and tempest of the battle, came nigh to being stranded even on
the very shore which was to be the haven of her eventful voyage, this
man was one of those whose sober reason, unerring judgment, and
calm but stern resolve assuaged the mutinous strife, and conducted the
high but perilous endeavor to its successful and glorious accomplish-
ment. Equally distinguished was Judge Holten's judicial career. For
thirty-two years he was one of the Judges of the Court of Common
Pleas, presiding half of that time ; thirty-five years a Justice of the
Court of General Sessions, fifteen of those years being Chief Justice
of the same ; and nineteen years Judge of Probate for the county of
Essex. Intelligent and incorruptible, presiding with dignity, hearing
with patience, and deciding promptly, his native good sense and great
information, joined to a certain natural aptitude for the duties of the
station, made him a highly capable and efficient magistrate, and se-
cured him the entire confidence and respect of his fellow-citizens.

Such, sir, is a meagre outline of the man and his services. It is all
that the time will allow me to give. But I know that you and all pres-
ent will sympathize with me as 1 express the hope that the time may
never come when we shall forget this name and bright example of a
former day, or fail to cherish and honor its memory.

The next name to which I shall allude is that of one who still lives
in our midst, — I mean the Hon. Samuel Putnam. The family to which
he belongs is now and always has been a numerous one within our
borders, and many of its sons in different professions have acquired far
more than a local celebrity. But no one of them has illustrated the
family name with a purer life, higher virtues, or juster fame, than him
of whom I now speak. After a highly honorable and extensive prac-
tice at the bar, in which he developed the powers of a strong mind
trained by severe study, and accomplished in exact yet comprehensive
learning. Judge Putnam was raised to the bench of the Supreme Court.
For more than a quarter of a century did he fulfil, ably and faithfully,
the duties of this high station, doing his full part to sustain and elevate
that reputation of our Supreme Bench for profound learning and judicial
wisdom which has made its decisions standard and indisputable author-
ity throughout the land. Our Reports contain a great number of his
opinions, elaborate and rich, than which few are cited with more fre-



134

quency, or held in higher respect. At length, when the weight of
increasing years began to oppress him, Judge Putnam voluntarily put
otr the judicial ermine, with a rare delicacy and commendable good
sense resigning his lofty trust, while yet his mental vigor was unabated,
and retiring upon his well-earned and still fresh laurels to the joys and
comforts of private life. To pursue the sketch further might seem ill-
timed. It is enough to say that our venerable townsman still survives,
the ornament and pride of a large circle, surrounded by all

" which should accompany old age,

As honor, love, obedience, troops of friends,"

and that the proud regards of his fellow-citzens may well join in the
prayer of private affection,

" Serus in cffilum redeai !"

The third name, sir, I must pass over quite as briefly, — the name of
one who was not a native of Danvers, nor is he now a resident, but
who here commenced his professional life, and dwelt among us long
enough to attach himself closely to the hearts of our people, and to en-
title us to claim him in making up our jewels. I speak, sir, of Rufus
Choate, — the lawyer, whose profound learning, acute logic, and honeyed
speech have swayed grave judges and led juries captive, — the poli-
tician, whose comprehensive statesmanship and graceful oratory have
instructed and delighted listening senates, — the scholar, whose varied
accomplishments and classic tastes have been the admiration of students
and men of letters, — the man of the people, whose genial sympathies
have won the hearts, and whose matchless, burning eloquence has
ruled the passions, of vast popular assemblies. But it is upon his claims
as a lawyer, more .particularly as an advocate, that Mr. Choate's fame
will and properly should rest. As such, neither American nor British
legal biography can furnish many prouder names, of men who pos-
sessed equal powers, or whose careers were crowned with such brill-
iancy and success. It will always be to us, sir, a matter of pride, (nor
will he fail gratefully to cherish the recollection,) that this distinguished
man here won his earlic^st garlands, and that the people of Danvers first
presented him as a candidate for the popular suffrages, and always
sustained him with an enthusiasm which did equal honor to him and
credit to themselves. Although of the generation of most of those who
participate in our present festivities and yet on the swelling tide of his
triumphs, it will not seem indecorous that he should have received thus
much of tribute from those who will ever claim the privilege of cher-
ishing his fame with peculiar care.

And now, Mr. President, pardon me a few moments longer while I
perform a brief labor of love. It was my privilege to pursue a portion
of my studies, preparatory to the Bar, in the office of one who, as was
the case with Mr. Choate, was not a native of Danvers, but who, like
him, commenced practice here, and for many years was identified with
the interests of our people ; of one who was cheered by the affections
and honored with the respect of many whom I see around me, as he
was by the regards of all, both here and elsewhere, with whom he was
associated, either in business or social relations ; one whose early





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135

manhood redeemed in part the bright promise given by his youth of
extensive usefulness and lasting fame, but whom an untimely death
cut down at the very threshold of the eminent career upon which he
had so hopefully entered. I need not say, sir, that I refer to the late
Joshua Holyoke Ward. He was to me more than a master, — he was
my friend, and I should wrong my own feelings as well as do injustice
to departed worth, did I fail to recall his virtues, and claim on this
occasion a tribute to his memory. Mr. Ward was graduated at Cam-
bridge, and pursued his professional studies at the Dane Law School,
and in the office of Mr. Saltonstall, at Salem. On his admission to the
bar, he opened his office in Dan vers, where he remained until his


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Online LibraryDanvers (Mass.)Centennial celebration at Danvers, Mass., June 16, 1852 → online text (page 12 of 22)