Every year thousands of visitors throng into Salem, Massachusetts, appetites whetted for witches. And witches there are, for in Salem we are experts in witchery: witch hats, witch t-shirts, witch plays, even some real witches thrown in for good measure. Sometimes visitors are puzzled, however, that there aren’t more places to see that are tied to the actual Salem witch trials of 1692. The Witch House, was the home of a real Salem witch judge, and is maintained as a historic house today. But other than that, we find few elements of historical witchery remaining in what is essentially a nineteenth century city. Where did it go?
Origins and Background
Salem Town was first founded in the 1620s (its name comes from Salaam, or Shalom, meaning “peace”), and very quickly became one of the busiest and most important seaports in early colonial New England. So busy, in fact, that the rocky sea coast could not produce enough food to support the growing population. As a result, in 1636 an outlying farm region was established, to supply grain and goods for the port town. Initially the region was called Salem Farms, though quickly that name changed to Salem Village.
As we know, it was in Salem Village that the witch crisis first broke out. Salem Village held the meeting house where the most dramatic accusations took place. Salem Village was the home of Rebecca Nurse, Samuel Parris, and the people we remember from the The Crucible. Salem Village had a distinct personality that separated it from Salem Town, and some historians think that these clashing cultures contributed to the panic. Salem Village tried early on to pull away from Salem Town, but was not successful until 1757, when its name was changed to Danvers.
Today, in Danvers, a memorial stands on the ground that once held the Salem Village meeting house, and Rebecca Nurse’s house is maintained as a historic property open in the summertime. True hunters after historical witchery know to look in modern Salem, and also its shadowy neighbor, the secret Salem Village, Danvers.
Katherine Howe is the author of the New York Times bestseller The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane. She is completing a PhD in American and New England Studies at Boston University, and this August (2010), Signet Classics is publishing a new edition of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The House of the Seven Gables with a new introduction written by Katherine. Read more about the book here.
This post first appeared at Wonders & Marvels on 9 June 2010.
IMAGE: The Witch House, home of Judge Jonathan Corwin, is the only structure still standing in Salem with direct ties to the Witchcraft Trials of 1692.