Salem Village Historical Walking Tour 2021

In partnership with Salem Historical Tours and the Danvers Historical Society, on six Saturday mornings this fall I am giving a walking tour of several Salem Village historic sites in Danvers related to the 1692 witch-hunt. A portion of the ticket price goes to support the Danvers Historical Society.

For more info: https://www.salemhistoricaltours.com/salem-village-witch-hunt-walking-tour

Salem is where people visit to learn about the 1692 witchcraft trials, but Danvers, formerly Salem Village, is where it first began on a cold February day.

Two young girls began acting out and the local doctor’s diagnosis was that they must be under the Devil’s hand. The witch-hunt was off and running, turning neighbor against neighbor.

You’ll visit several significant historical sites including the remains of the parsonage where Reverend Samuel Parris’ 9-year-old daughter Betty and 11-year-old niece Abigail had their fits that began the witch-hunt.

This special tour will be held on six Saturdays in September and October. The walking tour will be all outside, and stops along the way will include the Training Field, Parsonage site, Ingersoll’s tavern, the Salem Village Witch Trials Memorial, and the First Church of Danvers (Salem Village Church).

Daniel A. Gagnon, a life-long Danvers resident and author of A Salem Witch, will lead the tour that will give you a greater understanding of one of the more compelling stories of our country’s early history.

Available to book now. Tickets are $20. Details on the meeting location in Danvers and directions will be in the confirmation email.

For more info: https://www.salemhistoricaltours.com/salem-village-witch-hunt-walking-tour

Dr. Samuel Holten – Danvers Patriot

Photo of the Samuel Holten House, June 2021

Last week the Salem News had two articles (see Erin Nolan’s reporting here and here) about a curious auction: the letters of Danvers patriot leader Dr. Samuel Holten. Taking place in Cincinnati, Ohio the auction of 200 letters between Holten and other famous patriot leaders was expected to go for about $10,000-$15,000 but instead sold for more than $46,000. Who is this Danvers revolutionary whose writings are so valuable?

Holten, a member of both the Continental Congress and the first US Congress, rose to prominence as a leader of the patriot cause well before the American Revolution. Educated by the Rev. Peter Clarke in the parsonage of the First Church of Danvers, he was destined for Harvard at age 12 before illness prevented him from attending. Instead, he studied medicine with Dr. Jonathan Prince, and opened his own practice at age 18. He became active in Danvers politics and the local militia, rising to the rank of Major.

His first steps towards becoming a revolutionary occurred in September 1768, when word spread throughout Massachusetts that British troops were being sent to the colony to restore order, and ostensibly to put down protests over British policies in Boston and other towns. An extralegal, unofficial meeting was called in Boston to decide how to respond to the approaching British fleet. One hundred and four Massachusetts towns and districts each elected a representative to attend, and Holten attended as Danvers’ representative.

Meeting even after the royal governor declared it an illegal assembly, these delegates voted to petition the government in London and to protest against the British troops. A month later, when British troops arrived, news of this convention had already reached them and this show of opposition so alarmed the British fleet that they feared Massachusetts may have already taken up arms. Upon their arrival, they therefore sailed their warships into Boston Harbor in battle formation, with their cannon aimed at Boston, and disembarked troops in full battle gear, as if invading an enemy land.

Holten continued to oppose British policies over the next few years, as events such as the Boston Massacre and Boston Tea Party occurred, and as the people of Danvers began boycotting tea and other British goods. Holten was Danvers’ delegate to the Massachusetts House of Representatives in 1774, when General Thomas Gage ordered the Massachusetts legislature to be dissolved because it was controlled by patriots opposed to Gage’s administration in Massachusetts. Instead, the House of Representatives declared themselves to be a “Massachusetts Provincial Congress,” the true representatives of the people, and therefore the legitimate authority in Massachusetts – not General Gage.

Portrait of Samuel Holten, painted circa 1790. Image from Wikimedia, portrait currently in the Danvers Archival Center.

After war broke out when the British advanced on Lexington and Concord on April 19, 1775, the British soldiers retreated into Boston, leaving the Provincial Congress and the Massachusetts militia in control of the rest of Massachusetts. Holten was appointed to the executive committee that served in place of a governor – since General Gage still claimed to be the rightful governor of Massachusetts.

Recognized for his ability and dedication to the patriot cause, in 1777 Holten was among the Massachusetts representatives to the convention that drafted the Articles of Confederation, America’s first constitutional document, and he signed the Articles on behalf of Massachusetts alongside John Adams, John Hancock, and other revolutionary leaders.

From 1778 to 1780, he represented Massachusetts in the Second Continental Congress, returned home to help draft the Massachusetts Constitution, and then once the Articles of Confederation were ratified served in the Congress of the Confederation, at one point serving temporarily as its president during a brief absence by Richard Henry Lee. Since there was no executive branch under the Confederation, President of Congress was the highest political office in America.

After returning once again to Massachusetts to serve in the state senate, he was elected and served as Congressman from 1793-1795 in the third U.S. Congress under the new federal Constitution. Notable for being a supporter of Thomas Jefferson, he was an opponent of the first Treasury Secretary Alexander Hamilton. After his time in Congress ended in 1795, he continued holding elected positions in Danvers, and was an Essex County Probate Court judge.

After he returned to Danvers, Holten continued to live in his family’s house at the intersection of what are now Holten Street, Centre Street, and Collins Street. This historic structure, located in the Salem Village Historic District, has been owned and preserved by the Gen. Israel Putnam Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution since 1921. Built in 1670 by his ancestor Benjamin Holten, the Holten family also played a prominent role in the 1692 witch trials, with members of the family among both the accusers and defenders of those accused of witchcraft.

Photo of the Samuel Holten House, in the 1890s. Frank Cousins photo, Digital Commonwealth.

Dr. Samuel Holten died in January 1816, and is buried in the Holten Burying Ground, which bears his name on Holten Street. Once Danvers established its first public high school in 1850, it was named Holten High School in his honor, the name used until the new Danvers High School was built in Woodvale in the 1960s. The old high school building and the old Richmond junior high building are currently used for the Holten-Richmond Middle School.

In addition to Holten’s letters that were recently auctioned, he has other letters in the collections of many major archives and libraries that were written to various leaders of the American Revolution, papers from his medical practice are at Harvard’s Countway Library of Medicine, and there are many of his documents located in the Danvers Archival Center.

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Dan Gagnon is a lifelong Danvers resident and the author of the forthcoming biography A Salem Witch: The Trial, Execution, and Exoneration of Rebecca Nurse.

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Sources:

Mulholland, Elizabeth. “Judge Samuel Holten and His House.” In 250th Anniversary of the Town of Danvers, 98. Danvers, Mass.: Danvers 250th Committee, 202AD.

Tapley, Harriet S. Chronicles of Danvers (Old Salem Village), Massachusetts, 1632-1923. Danvers, Mass.: The Danvers Historical Society, 1923.

Town of Danvers. The Celebration of the One Hundred and Fiftieth Anniversary of the Establishment of the Town of Danvers, Massachusetts, as a Seperate Municipality. Boston, Mass.: Fort Hill Press, 1907.

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.

First Update: Map of Sites in the Life of Rebecca Nurse

Just published, and located on the menu bar at the top of the page, is the Map of Events in the Life of Rebecca Nurse. Based on primary source research with documents from 1692 along with maps of the Salem and Boston area,this map shows the locations of many important sites relating to the 1692 Witch-Hunt. Although done with a focus on the case of Rebecca Nurse in particular, many of these sites (such as the Salem Town Court House, Salem Village Parsonage, the execution site, etc.) are important to the events of 1692 overall, and are connected to many or most cases of those accused of witchcraft in 1692.