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