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

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diligently into the sufferings of the afflicted, concluded they
v\rere preternatural and feared the hand of Satan was in them."'
( cannot better express my views, than in the terse language of
the Rev. Dr. Dwight, President of Yale College, who can never
be charged with want of proper respect for the clergy.

Says he, "Had Mr. Parris, instead of listening to the com-
plaints of the children, and holding days of fasting and prayer,
on occasions so preposterous, applied the rod as it should have
been ; had the magistrates, instead of receiving the complaints,
arrested the complainants as disturbers of the peace : or had the
Judges of the Court quashed the indictments, as founded on the
baseless fabric of a vision, and discharged the prisoners, the evil
miglit have been arrested, in limine. But unhappily these were
efforts of reason, which lay beyond the spirit of the times."

Those who conducted these trials were not only deceived
themselves, but they were willing to deceive others. They
were not simply zealous ; but they were corruptly furious.
They introduced testimony, equally at variance with law, with
common sense, and with the Scriptures. Children incapable of
any comprehension of the topics about which they were inter-
rogated, were in some cases the only witnesses. A venerable
man was found guilty on the testimony of his own grandchild.
What is worst of all, the answers desired were put into their
months by the illegal forms of the questions proposed.

TJjne will not admit of a reference to each of the victims of
this d.elusion, that had a home in Danvers. Among them were
the following : — Rev. George Burroughs, (who himself had
been a settled minister in the village ;) Giles Corey, and wife ;
John Proctor, and wife ; Rebecca Nourse, George Jacobs, Sarah
Good, John Willard. Dr. Mather estimates the whole number
of arrests, at 100 ; the whole number executed, at 19.

I will briefly advert to a few of the cases as samples of the
whole ; at the same time must say, that in the examination of
the trials as preserved, I have not noticed a single error, in con-
duct or opinion, in those who were accused. On the contrary.


the more promiiieiit were theii' viitiies the more likely were
they to be accused ; and the less chance had they for escape.

Ill the case of John Proctor, (whose character I feel in duty
hound to vindicate from all unjust aspersions.) his only faulf Avas
a kind regard for his wife. When she was arrested and about to
he carried to prison, (her health being such as to forbid her being
(Imprisoned,) he insisted upon going with her: whereupon, her
accusers cried out against him, and he was arraigned felso. Dur-
ing his trial the Rev. C. Mather was in Court, (at the special
solicitation of the prisoner, see his admirable letter of July 23d,
1692,^ and fearing there might be some hesitation in the minds
of the jury on account of his well-established character for integ-
rity and piety, volunteered to testify that he himself had seen his
Satanic Majesty, the Devil, whispering in the ear of the prisoner,
while there in Court. To every intelligent mind the statement
of such a fact carries with it its own commentary. The learned
Doctor must have had the impulses of his own fears, in the eye
of his mind, when he presumed to give such testimony ; not to
speak of the wisdom of the judges, who permitted it to be

In the case of Rebecca iVourse, a sister of the Chiu'ch, of fair
character, the jury returned a verdict of vnt guilty : but the

* That injustice may not be done to Dr. Mather, whose greatest defect
.seems to have been his egregious vaniiij, I will quote the views of Mr. C. Rob-
bins, of Boston, who appears to have examined the part acted by Dr. Mather
with much kindness and discriirfination. "That Cotton Mather was enchanted
in the same spell with the other prominent actors in these tragic events ; that
lie was credulous to a ridiculous extreme ; that he was inordinately fond of the
marvellous ; that he was too easily imposed upon ; that his intense and undis-
guised interest in every case of alleged possession, betrayed him into indis-
cretions, and laid him open to censure ; and that he busied himself unneces-
sarily with the triats, are facts which rest upon indubitable evidence, — are
blemishes which can never be wiped away from his name. That he was under
the influence of any bad motives, any sanguinary feelings ; that he did not
verily thiiik he was doing God service, and the devil injury; — the most careful
examination has failed to make me believe."

Bred as he was of the blood of the Mathers and Cottons for many genera-
tions ; reverenced as they had been by the people as the elect of God, before
whom the people bowed at their nod, as was the custom of the times ; it ia not
surprising that he assumed to dictate. Humility, in those days, was not an
indispensable qualification in the character of a Christian minister; on the
contrary, it was a qualification rarely found in their possession. It is said, "to
ilo all the good he could to all, was his maxim, his study, his labor, his pleasure."
(Hist, of 2d Church, Bo.ston, p. 111.)


combined influence of the populace, the church and tlie clergy,
brought about her execution. She was first excommunicated,
then hung ; the first instance of the application of Lynch Law,
to be found in the annals of New England.

Giles Corey and Martha his wife, who lived in the western
part of the town, on the estate recently occupied by the Hon,
Daniel P. King, were accused and suffered death. He was
eighty years old. His contempt for the entire proceedings was
such, that he stood mute and refused to plead to the accusa-
tions. Because he so refused, they undertook to press or extort
an answer from him^nd so suffering, he died under the press-
ure. Thus dying, his body was denied a Christian burial, and
it is said was deposited at the crotch of the roads, near Tapley's
brook, as was done with the bodies of infamous malefactors.
This is the only instance of the application of this kind of tor-
ture, to my knowledge, in this Commonwealth. The idea is
most forbidding. A grey-headed veteran thus treated, in a
Christian land, and by those too who professed to have imbibed
more than a common share of the spirit of Christ ! If such be
a Christian spirit, how shall the opposite be described ? The
very thought produces a chill of horror.

George Bin-roughs, who, for several years, was a pastor of the
Village Parish, having removed to Portland, where he was re-
spectably settled in the ministry, was cried out against by his
enemies, tried, convicted, and executed with the others, August,
1692, on Gallows Hill. He is entitled to be remembered with
high regard, as he had the firmness to resist the infatuations
that overcame the minds of so many of his brethren. Says
Mr. Willis, the historian of Portland, ''there has nothing sur-
vived Mr. Burroughs, either in his living or dying, that casts
any reproach upon his character ; and, although he died a vic-
tim of a fanaticism as wicked and as stupid as any which has
been countenanced in civilized society, and which at the time
prejudiced his memory, yet his character stands redeemed in a
more enlightened age, from any blemish."

I have sought in vain for the part taken in these trials, by the
lawyers as such. The trials appear to have been carried on before


a special tribunal, organized for this special purpose, partaking
of the powers of civil and ecclesiastical tribunals, having little
or no regard to the rules of evidence, or any other proprieties ;
and thus to have continued, until it broke down under the
weight of its own extravagances. Messrs. Stoughton, Salton-
stall, Richards, Gedney, Sewall, Winthrop and Sargent, were
the seven eminent citizens selected for this purpose. They
were men of high respectability. A special jury was organized
before which all the cases were brought. The depositions and
affidavits used, show that rules of law were entirely disregarded
in the trials. A species of infatuation seems to have pervaded
the minds of all concerned. The entire movement, from begin-
ning to end, was an anomaly most extraordinary. I am not
unmindful, that trials for like offences had been carried on in
England, and on the continent of Eiurope, and that some of the
purest jurists of the time, had participated in the trials. But
such was not the fact in regard to the witchcraft of New Eng-
land. These trials bear no marks of wisdom, and very few of
honesty of purpose. Perhaps the reason for the appointment of
a special tribunal for the trial of those accused of witchcraft
was, that the Provincial Charter did not arrive until May, 1692,
and no regular court was organized under it, until December
following. Here then Avas an interval in which the regular ad-
ministration of justice was suspended for the want of a proper
Court ,• from which a lesson is to be learned, that such experi-
ments should not often be repeated.

But why do we dwell with such abhorrence upon the follies
of olden time ? When in our own times, and almost in our
own circles, are extravagances, quite as irrational and unintelli-
gible. That there may be phenomena, from natiu*al causes,
electrical, galvanic, or otherwise, of a character to astonish and
confound, I will not presume to deny, though I have not wit-
nessed any such. But that any commnnicatio?is with the
spirits of the departed, directly or indirectly, have ever been
had ; or any revelations from them, through any such agencies,
I do not believe. All such pretences, under whatever name
they may come, are false and deceptive, and only calculated to
3 c


mislead. They are to be classed iii the same category with
witchcraft of olden time.

I am not unmindful that it is said by high authority, ( Exodus
xxii, 18,) "Thou shalt not suffer a w«7c/i to live." There are
many other things said by the same authority, which, in my
opinion, were not intended literally to be regarded as rules for
our guidance, without some qualification of circumstances.
/Suppose this rule to be followed, and the idea of a witch, then
prevalent, to be taken, — what would be the consequence ? "A
'witch" is defined, in the Magnalia of the learned Doctor, to be
-^^ a person that, having the free use of reason, doth knowingly
and willingly seek and obtain of the Devil, or any other god
beside the true God Jehovah, an ability to do or know strange
things, or things which he cannot by his own human abilities
arrive unto." A witch was supposed to have renounced allegi-
ance to the true God, and to have promised obedience to the
Devil. Some of the clergy construed the Scriptures as recog-
nizing the validity of such contracts. Was it strange, then,
to believe, that the persons supposed to be beioitched were
moved of the Devil ? Were not those who thus taught and
misled those whom they taught, justly chargeable with the
blood of the innocent sufferers? I have no respect for the
agency of the Devil, as he is supposed to have operated in 1692,
or as he is now operating in 1852 ; and as to good spirits ope-
rating through such mediums to instruct and bless mankind, I
have no faith in it.

These accusations continued to multiply, until they were
checked by theii- own extravagance.* The arraignment of

* Dr. Mather says, (Vol. II, 413, § 11,) " By these things you may see how
this matter was carried on, viz., chiefly by the complaints and accusations of
the afflicted, bewitched ones, as it was supposed, and then by tlie confession
of the accused, condemning themselves and others. Yet experience shewed,
the more there were apprehended, the more were still afflicted by Satan; and
the number of confessors increasing, did but increase the number of the ac-
cused ; and the executing of some, made way for the apprehending of others :
f(* still the afflicted complained of being tormented by new objects, as the
former were removed. At last, it was evidently seen that there must be a stop
put, or the generation of the children of God would pass under that condemna-
tion. Henceforth, therefore, the juries generally acquitted such as were tried,
fearing they had gone too far before ?" " Considering the confusion f liis mat-
ter had brought us into, it was thought safer to under do than to over do, espe-
cially in matters capital, where what is once compleaied, cannot be reprieved."


Mrs. Hale, wife of the minister of Beverly, and of Mrs. Proctor,
wife of John Proctor, beforenamed, ladies eminent for their vir-
tues, opened the eyes of jurors and judges to reflect, that their
own time might soon come.

The jurors before whom the accused were tried, with one
accord, acknowledged their error in acting upon sucJi evidence,
or rather without any evidence ; and the judges, particularly the
excellent Chief J. Sewall,* continued to lament their mistakes
while they lived.

"Whether Justices Hawthorne and Corwin, the magistrates
who conducted the preliminary examinations, ever made the
amende honorable., does not appear. Perhaps, as they were
judges of an inferior court only, a correction of errors was not
deemed an essential part of their duty. This is certain, the
higher law of common sense gained the ascendency, and false
interpretations of the laws of Moses were soon in a measure
corrected. The Devil was deposed.

I have dwelt long upon this antiquated topic, because justice

to the memory of those who died without blemish, together

with the unaccountable propensity of the human mind, even at

the present time, to give credence to irrational absurdities and

visionary fancies, forbid my saying less. I am not insensible

that my views of the subject are extremely imperfect. Nothing

less than an entire volume would do justice to it. All the facts

deserve to be gathered and chronicled, as a warning to future

generations. Had not those in high life participated so fully, it

would, ere this, have been done. " Dog wont eat dog," is

" A maxim true
As human wisdom ever drew."


Passing over events of a temporary character, let us glance
for a moment to the period immediately preceding the Revolu-

* The Hon. Samuel Sewall, afterwards Chief Justice of the Court, and a
magistrate of sterling integrity, was accustomed annuully to ask the prayers of
the church and congregation at the Old South Church, where he worshipped,
for the pardon of his offence in the part he took in condemning those charged
with witchcraft. He was not so mtdly mouthed as some of the present day, who'
would charge the error entirely to the times, and take no part of it to themselves.
Such men would hang witches, or do anything else that expediency might


tion, when trifles light as air were big with the fate of nations.
The refusal to use a paper with a government stamp upon it,
was interpreted treason. The sale of a little tea, for the use of
the ladies, involved loss of caste and imprisonment. The charge
of an exorbitant price for a pound of cheese, public posting, by
order of the town, as faithless to one's country.

The seeds of jealousy planted at the time of the granting of
the Act of Incorporation, whereby the right of representation
was restricted, were never eradicated. It was not the value of
the privilege withheld, but the manner in which it was done,
that excited the indignation of the people. His majesty had
given special instructions that no more towns should be incor-
porated, with the privilege of choosing their own representatives.
Our fathers were jealous of their rights, especially when in-
fringed by the power over the water ; and there were those on
this side of the water who took good care to keep this jealousy
enkindled. The Adamses, the Otises, the Q.uincys, the Pick-
erings, were not silent, and did not live in vain in those days.
The spirit they infused, pervaded every artery of the body

How else could it have happened, that simultaneously, from
all parts of the State, came up resolutions of similar import.
Doubtless these resolutions expressed the feelings of the people ;
but they probably had a common origin. Although messages
were not then circulated by lightning, or handbills publi^ihed
through the daily press, still, messengers were not wanting, nor
prompters to tell the people what to say. James Otis, John
Adams, Joseph Warren, Samuel Adams, Timothy Pickering,
and many others, were intent on securing the freedom of the

In 1765, it was deliberately resolved, in town-meeting assem-
bled, " that the inhabitants were greatly incensed by the burdens
attempted to be imposed upon the people, and were ready to
resist to the uttermost." *

In 1768, Dr. Holten, delegate to a convention holden at
Faneuil Hall, the cradle of Liberty, in Boston, was specially
instructed " to look well to the rights of the people." With


such marked ability did he then discharge this duty, that he
thereby laid the foundation for a distinction more prominent,
and an influence more pervading, than any other citizen ever
acquired. While he lived, to hesitate to yield assent to the
opinions of Dr. Holten, was by many deemed political heresy.
The ardor of his feelings and the purity of his life gave an au-
thority to his views that could not be resisted.*

In 1772, Messrs. Wm. Shillaber and others were appointed a
committee of vigilance. The manner in which their duty was
discharged shows them to have been a vigilant committee, —
regulating not only what men should say and do^ but what they
should eat and drink, and what should be paid therefor. If
those who would reform the manners of the age, as to diet and
regimen, would seek precedents, they may readily find them in
the records of those days. Our fathers were a law-abiding
people, — provided always, they had a voice in the making of
the laws, — not otherwise. They were sensitive and jealous of
their rights in the extreme. The spirit of Robinson, of Peters,
of Williams, of Endicott, of Bradstreet, and of Winthrop, per-
vaded their entire nature. They felt that they were born to be
free, and they suff'ered no opportunity for securing this privi-
lege to escape without improvement.

So marked were these characteristics, that, in 1774, a regi-
ment of royal troops was quartered on yonder plain, in front of
the then residence of the Royal Governor Gage, — for, be it
remembered, that twice in our history was Danvers the resi-
dence of the royal governors. So ardent was the patriotism
of the citizens at this time, that it is not improbable the first
bursting forth of the flame of liberty was here apprehended.
So correctly did they augur coming events, that, in February
next following, less than two months previous to the battle of
Lexington, the first onset by the British was aimed at Danvers.
Col. Leslie, with his regiment, came from Boston for the pur-
pose of destroying cannon and military stores supposed to be
deposited at Danvers. Without doubt, such deposits were here.

* See remarks following, by Rev. J. Warburton Putnam, for a more com-
plete view of the life and character of this estimable citizen.


In those days, patriots had to have their eyes open in all direc-
tions. They had to watch their enemies at home and abroad.
The tories were on the watch, ready at all times to give in-
formation of every movement.

While Col. Leslie was parleying with parson Barnard and
others, about crossing the North Bridge in Salem, near the line
of Danvers, Mr. Richard Skidmore (familiarly known as Old
Skid) took care to trundle off the cannon, upon the carriages he
himself had made. So the brave Colonel returned to Boston,
with his first lesson distinctly conned, that a yankee was not to
be caught napping. This excursion was on the Lord's day,
Feb. 26th, 1775. The troops landed at Marblehead, while the
people were at church in the afternoon, and it is worthy of
special notice, as the resistance here experienced was tlie first
resista?ice to British arms. As Gov. Kossuth recently happily
remarked at our own monument, in allusion to this event, " the
men of Danvers were ready to fight, and this is quite as good
as fighting. Would the people of the United States just say to
the Czar of Russia, what the people of Danvers said to Col.
Leslie, I think the Czar of Russia would do as Col. Leslie did,
go back again, and thus my own beloved Hungary would be

Had it not have been for the pacific wisdom exercised on that
occasion, by Messrs. Barnard, Pickering and others, Salem
would have been the theatre on which the first blood for liberty
would have been shed, and tliereby she would have plucked
the feathers from the caps of Lexington and Concord.*

The men of Danvers were there. Messrs. Rev. Clergy,
Wadsworth and Holt, were there seen in the ranks of the mili-

* Rev. J. W. Hanson, in his History of Danvers, (page 86,) says " This
was the first resistance, bloodless indeed, but determined, which was made on
the part of the people of this country to the encroachment of foreijjn aggres-
sion. In the town of Salem, nearly two months before the battle of Lexington,
the people of Dmvers, joined by those of Salem, opposed and beat back the
foe, and established their title to the quality of determined bravery. But for
the calmness and discretion of Leslie the English commander. North Bridge,
at Salem, would have gone ahead of the North Bridge at Concord, and Salem
itself have taken the place of Lexington ; and February 26th would have
stood forever memorable in the annals of the Republic. The British under
Leslie numbered 140. The Americans under Pickering numbered 50."


tia, with their guns ready for battle, under the command of the
brave Samuel Eppes. When the alarm was sounded, the ser-
mon was cut off, and the concluding prayer, with the doxology,
were deferred to a more convenient season. Then, men not
only slept upon their arms, but carried them to meeting. The
best of men were ready to fight. All were soldiers, — none too
good for service. Their country's rights, not their own aggran-
dizement, were the objects for which they watched without


Thus continued the town, in a state of constant preparation
and alarm, until the morning of April 19th, 1775, an era most
marked in the annals of Danvers. Then, every man capable
of bearing arms, from the stripling of sixteen to the veteran of
sixty years, was seen trotting at the rate of four miles an hour,
to the field of duty and of glory, — with what effect, the return-
ing wagons on the following day, loaded with the dead and
wounded, too plainly told. Seven of the young men of Dan-
vers, whose names are registered on yonder monument of gran-
ite, quarried in our OAvn hills, the corner stone of which was
laid by Gen. Gideon Foster, their commander, on the sixtieth
anniversary, then became entitled to the inscription, " Dulce et
decorum est, pro patria mori." As many more received marks
of distinction from the enemy, that they carried with them to
their graves.

Think of it, my friends ! Suppose your father, son, or
brother, one or all, as was the case with some families at that
time, to have been thus exposed, when the distant thunder of
conflicting arms came echoing over the hills, and the lightning
flash of artillery illumined the western horizon, you will be able
to appreciate the price paid by your fathers for the liberties you
now enjoy.

The impulse given at Lexington was never suspended. The
funeral knell of those, whose lives were thus sacrificed, constantly
resounded in the ear. As a specimen of the feeling that then
pervaded the entire community, I beg leave to recite an anec-


dote of an event that occurred on that morning, which I had
from the Colonel himself, and therefore it may not be ques-


On the 17th of June, next following, (a morning not unlike
the present, when the grass was waving in abundance on the
plains,) Captains Foster, Flint, Page, Porter, and others of Dan-
vers, were found in the post of danger, at the bloody ramparts
of Bunker Hill, under Gen. Putnam, the commander, — himself
of Danvers. There they stood, shoulder to shoulder, side by
side, with Warren, Stark and Prescott, the motto of Patrick
Henry on their helmets, colors not to be mistaken, " Give us
Liberty, or give us Death! "

Shall it be said, my friends, that Danvers did nothing towards
securing our freedom ? — Danvers, that poured out her best blood
in the midst of the fight ? of one ^ who had rather die than stoop,

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Online LibraryDanvers (Mass.)Centennial celebration at Danvers, Mass., June 16, 1852 → online text (page 2 of 22)