The Salem Village Parsonage

(In the Herald-Citizen, 11/15/2019)

Parsonage Foundation - Dan Gagnon
(The parsonage foundation. Author’s photo).

During the winter of 1691-1692, the house grew cold as the stockpile of wood dwindled and snow piled up outside. The Salem Village minister, Rev. Samuel Parris was not being paid as promised. Worse, his claim of ownership to the parsonage, the house in which he and his family lived while he was minister of the church in Salem Village (present-day Danvers), was disputed. The minister and his family were very anxious about their future.

The stuffy air inside the house was punctuated by a shriek, then two, before the scraping of furniture on the wooden floor was heard as Betty Parris, the minister’s daughter, crawled under tables and chairs, still screaming. Soon, Rev. Parris’ niece Abigail Williams joined in too. Something frightening was happening in Salem Village.

Parris - Mass Historical
(The only known image of Rev. Samuel Parris, Massachusetts Historical Society: http://www.masshist.org/database/3732).

The Salem Village parsonage was ground zero for the 1692 Salem Village Witch-Hunt, during which almost 200 innocent people were accused of witchcraft – the impossible crime of signing a contract with the Devil in return for supernatural powers. Nineteen were hanged, one was pressed to death, and at least five died in jail. The chaos began with the two girls in the minister’s household having so-called “fits,” during which they screamed, contorted, and claimed that they were being attacked by specters – ghostly images of the alleged witches. Not long after these fits began in the parsonage, young women, middle-aged women, and adult men across Salem Village began acting similarly, and Parris’ Caribbean slave Tituba was the first accused of witchcraft.

Several years prior to the witch-hunt, Rev. Parris was hired as the minister in Salem Village, in the hope that he could calm a community that had fought contentiously with its previous ministers – disputes that grew serious enough to involve the courts, the Massachusetts legislature, and surrounding churches.

Though, calm was elusive. Several Villagers showed their disapproval of the new minister by withholding their taxes, which were used to pay his salary. For his part, Parris undermined the calm by apparently attempting to change the terms of his contract only months after being hired. As was typical, he was given the use of the 1681 parsonage building while he served as minister, though it remained owned by the community.

But, Parris wanted ownership of the house. A merchant in Boston and landholder in Barbados prior to coming to Salem Village, he sought the economic security that came with land ownership. His supporters organized either a secret town meeting, or at least a very poorly-attended one, that voted to give Parris ownership of the parsonage house. When this deception was revealed in the months before the witch-hunt, it caused anger across Salem Village.

During the witch-hunt, Parris testified against several of the innocent accused including Rebecca Nurse, whose family farm remains on Pine St. in Danvers. After the witch-hunt, Nurse’s family fought to remove Parris as the Village minister due to his role in the witch-hunt. The family wrote of Parris in a later court document, “Mr. Parris, by these practices and principles, has been the beginner and procurer of the sorest afflictions, not of this village only, but to this whole country, that ever did befall them.” Parris was forced out in 1697 finally ending his controversial tenure as minister. Prior to his departure, his wife Elizabeth passed away and was buried in what is now the Wadsworth Cemetery on Summer St.

IMG_1838
(Photograph of Elizabeth Parris’ headstone, 2019. Author’s photo).

Subsequent Village ministers lived in the parsonage for almost a century. When Rev. Peter Clark was the minister during the mid-1700s, his young neighbor Samuel Holten lived with the minister and his family in the parsonage so that he could be tutored by Clark. Holten went on to become a judge, member of the Continental Congress, and signer of the Articles of Confederation. He served temporarily as President of Congress under the Articles and later became a member of the U.S. Congress after the Constitution was ratified.

The original 1681 parsonage was torn down in 1784, with a newer section of the house moved to a different location. Rev. Benjamin Wadsworth replaced it with a grand new Georgian house for the ministry, what is today 73 Centre St. Meanwhile, the original parsonage site was abandoned, the cellar holes were filled in, and it was used as a field for grazing horses. Over time, the exact location of the site was lost to history.

Cousins 1891 Parsonage JPEG - Digital Commonwealth
(A photograph from 1891 of what was believed to be the area of the 1681 parsonage site. Frank Cousins, Danvers Site of Reverend Samuel Parris House, 1891, Frank Cousins Collection of Glass Plate Negatives. Courtesy of Phillips Library, Peabody Essex Museum, Salem, MA).

Cousins - Wadsworth House 73 Centre
(The new 1784 Parsonage, 73 Centre St., Danvers as seen c. 1891. Frank Cousins, Danvers, Centre Street, Wadsworth house, c.1891, Frank Cousins Collection of Glass Plate Negatives, 606. Courtesy of Phillips Library, Peabody Essex Museum, Salem, MA).

It was not until the early 1970s that then-Curator of the Danvers Historical Society Richard B. Trask, along with members of the Society, the town Historical Commission, and other interested locals began a search for the parsonage site. After using the 17th century Salem Village Record Book, along with 18th century maps, the probable site was located in the yard of Alfred Hutchinson, a local teacher. Partnering with archaeologist Roland Wells Robbins, whose prior work included Thomas Jefferson’s birthplace, Thoreau’s cabin at Walden Pond, and the Saugus Iron Works, the site was investigated and stone foundations were found.

Hutchinson permitted the excavation of this section of his yard, and about a dozen volunteers worked tirelessly on the site. As the stone foundation was uncovered, more than 30,000 artifacts were discovered, including 17th and 18th century coins, cutlery, pipe bowls from the 1660s, a metal plate bearing the initials of Samuel and Elizabeth Parris, and many wine bottle fragments, some of which had Parris’ initials on them.

The more that was found, the greater the interest and the need for volunteers. The original volunteers were joined in Hutchinson’s backyard by hundreds of locals who helped sift, dig, and sort found items.  This excavation became a community effort that yielded significant finds from one of the most important sites in colonial American history.

Today, the site is town-owned and open to the public via a cart path next to 67 Centre St. Possibly the most photographed site in Danvers, the parsonage cellars are featured in many history books, and frequently appear on television programs about the witch-hunt.

IMG_0503
(Sign at 67 Centre St.)

IMG_0522
(Path from the parsonage site to the street).

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Parsonage Foundation - Dan Gagnon

 

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Sources

Boyer, Paul, and Stephen Nissenbaum, eds. Salem Village Witchcraft: A Documentary Record of Local Conflict in Colonial New England. Boston: Northeastern University Press, 1993.

First Church of Danvers Congregational. Church Record Book Belonging to Salem Village, 1689-1845.

Gragg, Larry. A Quest for Security: The Life of Samuel Parris, 1653-1720. New York: Greenwood Press, 1990.

McKern, Sharon S. “They’re Digging up Witch Lore in Salem.” Science Digest, May 1971.

Salem Village. “A Book of Record of the Severall Publique Transactions of the Inhabitants of Salem Village Vulgarly Called The Farmes.” Edited by Harriet S. Tapley. Historical Collections of the Danvers Historical Society 13 (1925): 91–122; 14 (1926): 65-99; 16 (1928): 60-80.

Trask, Richard B. “History of the Salem Village Church Record Book.” Danvers Archival Center at the Peabody Institute Library, September 15, 2015. https://www.danverslibrary.org/archive/village-church-record-book/.

Trask, Richard B. “Raising the Devil.” Yankee Magazine, May 1972.

Ingersoll’s Tavern, Anything But “Ordinary”

(In the Danvers Herald, 1/24/2019)

Ingersoll House 10.18.JPG
(Author’s photo, October 2018).

At the corner of Hobart and Centre St. in Danvers lies a house through whose door passed “witches,” revolutionaries, and ordinary Danversites over the past almost 350 years, and played host to the screams, contortions, and finger-pointing of the 1692 Salem Village Witch-Hunt.

The Ingersoll House, a tan-painted clapboard home at 199 Hobart St., was originally a tavern run by Nathaniel Ingersoll, Deacon of the Salem Village Church and Lieutenant in the militia, beginning in 1677. It was Ingersoll who donated the land for the Training Field (at the corner of Centre St. and Ingersoll St.) where the Salem Village, and later Town of Danvers, militia drilled.

Ingersoll and his family ran an “ordinary” – the 17th century term for a local tavern –  which was the social center of the community. The tavern served food and drink to locals, and rooms on the second floor were rented to travelers who passed along the dirt roads of colonial New England. Located at the center of Salem Village, just down the road from the meetinghouse where church services were held each Sunday, the tavern did a particularly steady business when parishioners came over between the morning and afternoon church services to eat a hot noon meal.

Despite modern-day stereotypes of the Puritans, they did indeed drink alcohol – sometimes too much – and Ingersoll’s was the favored spot for local farmers to unwind and share news with their neighbors.  The tavern featured a sizeable tap-room with a large fireplace, bare sanded floor, and many stools and chairs. There were also hooks on each side of the fireplace to hang firearms that locals brought with them. Cider, served by the quart, was usually the drink of choice, and in colonial times there was only one kind of cider: what we in the 21st century call “hard” cider. Beer, wine, whiskey, and rum were also enjoyed, and hot food was served.

There were strict restrictions on taverns in the 17th century, which were forbidden to serve Indians, apprentices, students at Harvard College (the only college around in those days), or anyone who seemed drunk, and they needed to close by either sunset or 9pm. Certain sinful and unlawful games, such as cards, dice, billiards, and shuffleboard (which particularly riled the Puritans) were prohibited. If one drank to excess, they could be punished with a scarlet letter “D” (for “drunk”) sewn onto their shirts, and could also lose their voting rights.

In addition to socializing, the tavern was where local government committees met, along with the Essex County court, which delivered justice in front of the kegs.

Ingersoll’s played a particularly interesting role in the 1692 Salem Village Witch-Hunt. Those accused of witchcraft were brought there before their initial post-arrest hearings with the magistrates, and kept under lock in an upstairs room. Originally, the hearings themselves – with accusers throwing themselves on the ground in front of the judges, screaming, and claiming to see the “specters” of the accused torturing them – were to be held in the barroom as county court sessions were. Due to the large crowds that wanted to watch the spectacle, the hearings were moved down the road to the meetinghouse, but afterwards the judges and spectators returned to the tavern for lunch and drinks.

During the time of the witchcraft delusion, a particularly fantastic scene took place in the tavern involving a sword fight with one of Satan’s supposed agents. One day in 1692, Ingersoll’s foster son Benjamin Hutchinson was working outside along the main road (present-day Centre St.). One of the witchcraft accusers, Abigail Williams, walked by and claimed to see the specter (a ghostly image that only the accusers could see) of an accused witch – George Burroughs –  standing in the road! Hutchinson turned and threw his pitchfork into the center of the road where the invisible witch was supposed to be as Abigail Williams fell to the ground, screaming. She then told Hutchinson that he succeeded in tearing the ghostly jacket of the alleged witch before he vanished.

The two then went inside to the barroom, where Williams claimed she saw the same specter again. Hutchinson drew his rapier from his belt and attempted to stab the invisible witch in a spectral duel (probably to the shock of those who happened to be at the bar enjoying a pint) as Williams shouted out where the apparition was. Next, Williams told him there was also a ghostly cat in the room, which he proceeded to do battle with and, according to Williams, kill – though she was the only one who claimed to be able to see these invisible enemies. To everyone else it would have appeared as though Hutchinson was merely stabbing at the air.

John Indian, Reverend Samuel Parris’ Indian slave and husband of Tituba, the first accused of witchcraft, worked the bar sometimes for Ingersoll, and he would show off scars on his arm to out-of-towners who passed through, bragging that he got them when he was attacked by witches. The barroom at Ingersoll’s is also where one of the accusers admitted that they were accusing and sending innocent people to their deaths for nothing but “sport.”

The tavern remained in operation through the 1700s and into the 1800s under different owners, and being close to the militia training field it was frequented by the men who later marched from Danvers to confront the British soldiers on the day of the Battle of Lexington and Concord. The establishment later “fell into disrepute,” to the chagrin of the First Church of Danvers across the street, and the Church bought the house to be the home for its minister in 1832. It remained owned by the Church until 1968, and has been a private home ever since. It is a preservation priority among important historical sites in Danvers.


Here is a beautiful rendering of the Ingersoll House by Danvers artist Paul Meinerth:

meinerth - ingersoll


 

Sources:
Alice Morse Earle, Customs and Fashions in Old New England (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1894), 166.

Daniel Wait Howe, The Puritan Republic of Massachusetts Bay in New England (Indianapolis: Bowen-Merrill Company, 1899), 104, https://archive.org/details/puritanrepublico00howe/page/n7.

First Church of Danvers Congregational, Church Record Book Belonging to Salem Village, 13-14, January 17, 1693).

Marilynne K. Roach, The Salem Witch Trials: A Day-By-Day Chronicle of a Community Under Siege (Lanham, Maryland: Taylor Trade, 2002), 140.

Bernard Rosenthal, ed., Records of the Salem Witch-Hunt (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2009), docs 85, 500, 862.

Salem Deeds Online, 5528:237.

Harriet S. Tapley, “Old Tavern Days in Danvers,” Historical Collections of the Danvers Historical Society 8 (1920), 2-3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8-9.

Charles W. Upham, Salem Witchcraft: With an Account of Salem Village and A History of Opinions on Witchcraft and Kindred Subjects (Mineola, New York: Dover, 2000),162.