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This carefully crafted ebook: "Salem Witchcraft (Complete Edition)" is formatted for your eReader with a functional and detailed table of contents. The Salem witch trials were a series of hearings and prosecutions of people accused of witchcraft in colonial Massachusetts between February 1692 and May 1693. The trials resulted in the executions of twenty people, fourteen of them women, and all but one by hanging. This two-volume edition gives an account of Salem village and a history of opinions on witchcraft and kindred subjects. The first volume of this book contains what seems to be necessary to prepare the reader for the second, in which the incidents and circumstances connected with the witchcraft prosecutions in 1692, at the village and in the town of Salem, are reduced to chronological order, and exhibited in detail. Contents: Map and Illustrations Index to the Map Town of Salem Grants Farms Salem Village Witchcraft Witchcraft at Salem Village Prefatory Address Deodat Lawson's Narrative Letter From R.P. To Jonathan Corwin Extracts From Mr. Parris's Church Records
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This work was originally constructed, and in previous editions appeared, in the form of Lectures. The only vestiges of that form, in its present shape, are certain modes of expression. The language retains the character of an address by a speaker to his hearers; being more familiar, direct, and personal than is ordinarily employed in the relations of an author to a reader.
The former work was prepared under circumstances which prevented a thorough investigation of the subject. Leisure and freedom from professional duties have now enabled me to prosecute the researches necessary to do justice to it.
The "Lectures on Witchcraft," published in 1831, have long been out of print. Although frequently importuned to prepare a new edition, I was unwilling to issue again what I had discovered to be an insufficient presentation of the subject. In the mean time, it constantly became more and more apparent, that much injury was resulting from the want of a complete and correct view of a transaction so often referred to, and universally misunderstood.
The first volume of this work contains what seems to me necessary to prepare the reader for the second, in which the incidents and circumstances connected with the witchcraft prosecutions in 1692, at the village and in the town of Salem, are reduced to chronological order, and exhibited in detail.
As showing how far the beliefs of the understanding, the perceptions of the senses, and the delusions of the imagination, may be confounded, the subject belongs not only to theology and moral and political science, but to physiology, in its original and proper use, as embracing our whole nature; and the facts presented may help to conclusions relating to what is justly regarded as the great mystery of our being,—the connection between the body and the mind.
It is unnecessary to mention the various well-known works of authority and illustration, as they are referred to in the text. But I cannot refrain from bearing my grateful testimony to the value of the "Collections of the Massachusetts Historical Society" and the "New-England Historical and Genealogical Register." The "Historical Collections" and the "Proceedings" of the Essex Institute have afforded me inestimable assistance. Such works as these are providing the materials that will secure to our country a history such as no other nation can have. Our first age will not be shrouded in darkness and consigned to fable, but, in all its details, brought within the realm of knowledge. Every person who desires to preserve the memory of his ancestors, and appreciate the elements of our institutions and civilization, ought to place these works, and others like them, on the shelves of his library, in an unbroken and continuing series. A debt of gratitude is due to the earnest, laborious, and disinterested students who are contributing the results of their explorations to the treasures of antiquarian and genealogical learning which accumulate in these publications.
A source of investigation, especially indispensable in the preparation of the present work, deserves to be particularly noticed. In 1647, the General Court of Massachusetts provided by law for the taking of testimony, in all cases, under certain regulations, in the form of depositions, to be preserved in perpetuam rei memoriam. The evidence of witnesses was prepared in writing, beforehand, to be used at the trials; they to be present at the time, to meet further inquiry, if living within ten miles, and not unavoidably prevented. In a capital case, the presence of the witness, as well as his written testimony, was absolutely required. These depositions were lodged in the files, and constitute the most valuable materials of history. In our day, the statements of witnesses ordinarily live only in the memory of persons present at the trials, and are soon lost in oblivion. In cases attracting unusual interest, stenographers are employed to furnish them to the press. There were no newspaper reporters or "court calendars" in the early colonial times; but these depositions more than supply their place. Given in, as they were, in all sorts of cases,—of wills, contracts, boundaries and encroachments, assault and battery, slander, larceny, &c., they let us into the interior, the very inmost recesses, of life and society in all their forms. The extent to which, by the aid of William P. Upham, Esq., of Salem, I have drawn from this source is apparent at every page.
A word is necessary to be said relating to the originals of the documents that belong to the witchcraft proceedings. They were probably all deposited at the time in the clerk's office of Essex County. A considerable number of them were, from some cause, transferred to the State archives, and have been carefully preserved. Of the residue, a very large proportion have been abstracted from time to time by unauthorized hands, and many, it is feared, destroyed or otherwise lost. Two very valuable parcels have found their way into the libraries of the Massachusetts Historical Society and the Essex Institute, where they are faithfully secured. A few others have come to light among papers in the possession of individuals. It is to be hoped, that, if any more should be found, they will be lodged in some public institution; so that, if thought best, they may all be collected, arranged, and placed beyond wear, tear, and loss, in the perpetual custody of type.
The papers remaining in the office of the clerk of this county were transcribed into a volume a few years since; the copyist supplying, conjecturally, headings to the several documents. Although he executed his work in an elegant manner, and succeeded in giving correctly many documents hard to be deciphered, such errors, owing to the condition of the papers, occurred in arranging them, transcribing their contents, and framing their headings, that I have had to resort to the originals throughout.
As the object of this work is to give to the reader of the present day an intelligible view of a transaction of the past, and not to illustrate any thing else than the said transaction, no attempt has been made to preserve the orthography of that period. Most of the original papers were written without any expectation that they would ever be submitted to inspection in print; many of them by plain country people, without skill in the structure of sentences, or regard to spelling; which, in truth, was then quite unsettled. It is no uncommon thing to find the same word spelled differently in the same document. It is very questionable whether it is expedient or just to perpetuate blemishes, often the result of haste or carelessness, arising from mere inadvertence. In some instances, where the interest of the passage seemed to require it, the antique style is preserved. In no case is a word changed or the structure altered; but the now received spelling is generally adopted, and the punctuation made to express the original sense.
It is indeed necessary, in what claims to be an exact reprint of an old work, to imitate its orthography precisely, even at the expense of difficulty in apprehending at once the meaning, and of perpetuating errors of carelessness and ignorance. Such modern reproductions are valuable, and have an interest of their own. They deserve the favor of all who desire to examine critically, and in the most authentic form, publications of which the original copies are rare, and the earliest editions exhausted. The enlightened and enterprising publishers who are thus providing facsimiles of old books and important documents of past ages ought to be encouraged and rewarded by a generous public. But the present work does not belong to that class, or make any pretensions of that kind.
My thanks are especially due to the Hon. Asahel Huntington, clerk of the courts in Essex County, for his kindness in facilitating the use of the materials in his office; to the Hon. Oliver Warner, secretary of the Commonwealth, and the officers of his department; and to Stephen N. Gifford, Esq., clerk of the Senate.
David Pulsifer, Esq., in the office of the Secretary of State, is well known for his pre-eminent skill and experience in mastering the chirography of the primitive colonial times, and elucidating its peculiarities. He has been unwearied in his labors, and most earnest in his efforts, to serve me.
Mr. Samuel G. Drake, who has so largely illustrated our history and explored its sources, has, by spontaneous and considerate acts of courtesy rendered me important help. Similar expressions of friendly interest by Mr. William B. Towne, of Brookline, Mass.; Hon. J. Hammond Trumbull, of Hartford, Conn.; and George H. Moore, Esq., of New-York City,—are gratefully acknowledged.
Samuel P. Fowler, Esq., of Danvers, generously placed at my disposal his valuable stores of knowledge relating to the subject. The officers in charge of the original papers, in the Historical Society and the Essex Institute, have allowed me to examine and use them.
I cordially express my acknowledgments to the Hon. Benjamin F. Browne, of Salem, who, retired from public life and the cares of business, is giving the leisure of his venerable years to the collection, preservation, and liberal contribution of an unequalled amount of knowledge respecting our local antiquities.
Charles W. Palfray, Esq., while attending the General Court as a Representative of Salem, in 1866, gave me the great benefit of his explorations among the records and papers in the State House.
Mr. Moses Prince, of Danvers Centre, is an embodiment of the history, genealogy, and traditions of that locality, and has taken an active and zealous interest in the preparation of this work. Andrew Nichols, Esq., of Danvers, and the family of the late Colonel Perley Putnam, of Salem, also rendered me much aid.
I am indebted to Charles Davis, Esq., of Beverly, for the use of the record-book of the church, composed of "the brethren and sisters belonging to Bass River," gathered Sept. 20, 1667, now the First Church of Beverly; and to James Hill, Esq., town-clerk of that place, for access to the records in his charge.
To Gilbert Tapley, Esq., chairman of the committee of the parish, and Augustus Mudge, Esq., its clerk, and to the Rev. Mr. Rice, pastor of the church, at Danvers Centre, I cannot adequately express my obligations. Without the free use of the original parish and church record-books with which they intrusted me, and having them constantly at hand, I could not have begun adequately to tell the story of Salem Village or the Witchcraft Delusion.
The map, based upon various local maps and the Coast-Survey chart, is the result of much personal exploration and perambulation of the ground. It may claim to be a very exact representation of many of the original grants and farms. The locality of the houses, mills, and bridges, in 1692, is given in some cases precisely, and in all with near approximation. The task has been a difficult one. An original plot of Governor Endicott's Ipswich River grant, No. III., is in the State House, and one of the Swinnerton grant, No. XIX., in the Salem town-books. Neither of them, however, affords elements by which to establish its exact location. A plot of the Townsend Bishop grant, No. XX., as its boundaries were finally determined, is in the State House, and another of the same in the court-files of the county. This gives one fixed and known point, Hadlock's Bridge, from which, following the lines by points of compass and distances, as indicated on the plot and described in the Colonial Records, all the sides of the grant are laid out with accuracy, and its place on the map determined with absolute certainty. A very perfect and scientifically executed plan of a part of the boundary between Salem and Reading in 1666 is in the State House; of which an exact tracing was kindly furnished by Mr. H.J. Coolidge, of the Secretary of State's office. It gives two of the sides of the Governor Bellingham grant, No. IV., in such a manner as to afford the means of projecting it with entire certainty, and fixing its locality. There are no other plots of original or early grants or farms on this territory; but, starting from the Bishop and Bellingham grants thus laid out in their respective places, by a collation of deeds of conveyance and partition on record, with the aid of portions of the primitive stone-walls still remaining, and measurements resting on permanent objects, the entire region has been reduced to a demarkation comprehending the whole area. The locations of then-existing roads have been obtained from the returns of laying-out committees, and other evidence in the records and files. The construction of the map, in all its details, is the result of the researches and labors of W.P. Upham.
The death-warrant is a photograph by E.R. Perkins, of Salem. The original, among the papers on file in the office of the clerk of the courts of Essex County, having always been regarded as a great curiosity, has been subjected to constant handling, and become much obscured by dilapidation. The letters, and in some instances entire words, at the end of the lines, are worn off. To preserve it, if possible, from further injury, it has been pasted on cloth. Owing to this circumstance, and the yellowish hue to which the paper has faded, it does not take favorably by photograph; but the exactness of imitation, which can only thus be obtained with absolute certainty, is more important than any other consideration. Only so much as contains the body of the warrant, the sheriff's return, and the seal, are given. The tattered margins are avoided, as they reveal the cloth, and impair the antique aspect of the document. The original is slowly disintegrating and wasting away, notwithstanding the efforts to preserve it; and its appearance, as seen to-day, can only be perpetuated in photograph. The warrant is reduced about one-third, and the return one-half.
The Townsend Bishop house and the outlines of Witch Hill are from sketches by O.W.H. Upham. The English house is from a drawing made on the spot by J.R. Penniman of Boston, in 1822, a few years before its demolition, for the use of which I am indebted to James Kimball, Esq., of Salem. The view of Salem Village and of the Jacobs' house are reduced, by O.W.H. Upham, from photographs by E.R. Perkins.
The map and other engravings, including the autographs, were all delineated by O.W.H. Upham.
Map of Salem Village.
[The Map shows all the houses standing in 1692 within the bounds of Salem Village; some others in the vicinity are also given. The houses are numbered on the Map with Arabic numerals, 1, 2, 3, &c., beginning at the top, and proceeding from left to right. In the following list, against each number, is given the name of the occupant in 1692, and, in some cases, that of the recent occupant or owner of the locality is added in parenthesis.]
s. The same house believed to be still standing.
s.m. The same house standing within the memory of persons now living.
t.r. Traces of the house remain.
c. The site given is conjectural.
1. John Willard. c.
2. Isaac Easty.
3. Francis Peabody. c.
4. Joseph Porter. (John Bradstreet.)
5. William Hobbs. t.r.
6. John Robinson.
7. William Nichols. t.r.
8. Bray Wilkins. c.
9. Aaron Way. (A. Batchelder.)
10. Thomas Bailey.
11. Thomas Fuller, Sr. (Abijah Fuller.)
12. William Way.
13. Francis Elliot. c.
14. Jonathan Knight. c.
15. Thomas Cave. (Jonathan Berry.)
16. Philip Knight. (J.D. Andrews.)
17. Isaac Burton.
18. John Nichols, Jr. (Jonathan Perry and Aaron Jenkins.) s.
19. Humphrey Case. t.r.
20. Thomas Fuller, Jr. (J.A. Esty.) s.
21. Jacob Fuller.
22. Benjamin Fuller.
23. Deacon Edward Putnam. s.m.
24. Sergeant Thomas Putnam. (Moses Perkins.) s.
25. Peter Prescot. (Daniel Towne.)
26. Ezekiel Cheever. (Chas. P. Preston.) s.m.
27. Eleazer Putnam. (John Preston.) s.m.
28. Henry Kenny.
29. John Martin. (Edward Wyatt.)
30. John Dale. (Philip H. Wentworth.)
31. Joseph Prince. (Philip H. Wentworth.)
32. Joseph Putnam. (S. Clark.) s.
33. John Putnam 3d.
34. Benjamin Putnam.
35. Daniel Andrew. (Joel Wilkins.)
36. John Leach, Jr. c.
37. John Putnam, Jr. (Charles Peabody.)
38. Joshua Rea. (Francis Dodge.) s.
39. Mary, wid. of Thos. Putnam. (William R. Putnam.) s.
[Birthplace of Gen. Israel Putnam. Gen. Putnam also lived in a house, the cellar and well of which are still visible, about one hundred rods north of this, and just west of the present dwelling of Andrew Nichols.]
40. Alexander Osburn and James Prince. (Stephen Driver.) s.
41. Jonathan Putnam. (Nath. Boardman.) s.
42. George Jacobs, Jr.
43. Peter Cloyse. t.r.
44. William Small. s.m.
45. John Darling. (George Peabody.) s.m.
46. James Putnam. (Wm. A. Lander.) s.m.
47. Capt. John Putnam. (Wm. A. Lander.)
48. Daniel Rea. (Augustus Fowler.) s.
49. Henry Brown.
50. John Hutchinson. (George Peabody.) t.r.
51. Joseph Whipple. s.m.
52. Benjamin Porter. (Joseph S. Cabot.)
53. Joseph Herrick. (R.P. Waters.)
54. John Phelps. c.
55. George Flint. c.
56. Ruth Sibley. s.m.
57. John Buxton.
58. William Allin.
59. Samuel Brabrook. c.
60. James Smith.
61. Samuel Sibley. t.r.
62. Rev. James Bayley. (Benjamin Hutchinson.)
63. John Shepherd. (Rev. M.P. Braman.)
64. John Flint.
65. John Rea. s.m.
66. Joshua Rea. (Adam Nesmith.) s.m.
67. Jeremiah Watts.
68. Edward Bishop, the sawyer. (Josiah Trask.)
69. Edward Bishop, husbandman.
70. Capt. Thomas Rayment.
71. Joseph Hutchinson, Jr. (Job Hutchinson.)
72. William Buckley.
73. Joseph Houlton, Jr. t.r.
74. Thomas Haines. (Elijah Pope.) s.
75. John Houlton. (F.A. Wilkins.) s.
76. Joseph Houlton, Sr. (Isaac Demsey.)
77. Joseph Hutchinson, Sr. t.r.
78. John Hadlock. (Saml. P. Nourse.) s.m.
79. Nathaniel Putnam. (Judge Putnam.) t.r.
80. Israel Porter. s.m.
81. James Kettle.
82. Royal Side Schoolhouse.
83. Dr. William Griggs.
84. John Trask. (I. Trask.) s.
85. Cornelius Baker.
86. Exercise Conant. (Subsequently, Rev. John Chipman.)
87. Deacon Peter Woodberry. t.r.
88. John Rayment, Sr. (Col. J.W. Raymond.)
89. Joseph Swinnerton. (Nathl. Pope.)
90. Benjamin Hutchinson. s.m.
91. Job Swinnerton. (Amos Cross.)
92. Henry Houlton. (Artemas Wilson.)
93. Sarah, widow of Benjamin Houlton. (Judge Houlton.) s.
94. Samuel Rea.
95. Francis Nurse. (Orin Putnam.) s.
96. Samuel Nurse. (E.G. Hyde.) s.
97. John Tarbell. s.
98. Thomas Preston.
99. Jacob Barney.
100. Sergeant John Leach, Sr. (George Southwick.) s.m.
101. Capt. John Dodge, Jr. (Charles Davis.) t.r.
102. Henry Herrick. (Nathl. Porter.)
[This had been the homestead of his father, Henry Herrick.]
103. Lot Conant.
[This was the homestead of his father, Roger Conant.]
104. Benjamin Balch, Sr. (Azor Dodge.) s.
[This was the homestead of his father, John Balch.]
105. Thomas Gage. (Charles Davis.) s.
106. Families of Trask, Grover, Haskell, and Elliott.
107. Rev. John Hale.
108. Dorcas, widow of William Hoar.
109. William and Samuel Upton. c.
110. Abraham and John Smith. (J. Smith.) s.
[This had been the homestead of Robert Goodell.]
111. Isaac Goodell. (Perley Goodale.)
112. Abraham Walcot. (Jasper Pope.) s.m.
113. Zachariah Goodell. (Jasper Pope.)
114. Samuel Abbey.
115. John Walcot.
116. Jasper Swinnerton. s.m.
117. John Weldon. Captain Samuel Gardner's farm. (Asa Gardner.)
118. Gertrude, widow of Joseph Pope. (Rev. Willard Spaulding.) s.m.
119. Capt. Thomas Flint. s.
120. Joseph Flint. s.
121. Isaac Needham. c.
122. The widow Sheldon and her daughter Susannah.
123. Walter Phillips. (F. Peabody, Jr.)
124. Samuel Endicott. s.m.
125. Families of Creasy, King, Batchelder, and Howard.
126. John Green. (J. Green) s.
127. John Parker.
128. Giles Corey. t.r.
129. Henry Crosby.
130. Anthony Needham, Jr. (E. and J.S. Needham.)
131. Anthony Needham, Sr.
132. Nathaniel Felton. (Nathaniel Felton.) s.
133. James Houlton. (Thorndike Procter.)
134. John Felton.
135. Sarah Phillips.
136. Benjamin Scarlett. (District Schoolhouse No. 6.)
137. Benjamin Pope.
138. Robert Moulton. (T. Taylor.) c.
139. John Procter.
140. Daniel Epps. c.
141. Joseph Buxton. c.
142. George Jacobs, Sr. (Allen Jacobs.) s.
143. William Shaw.
144. Alice, widow of Michael Shaflin. (J. King.)
145. Families of Buffington, Stone, and Southwick.
146. William Osborne.
147. Families of Very, Gould, Follet, and Meacham.
+ Nathaniel Ingersoll.
¶ Rev. Samuel Parris. t.r.
□ Captain Jonathan Walcot. t.r.
[For the sites of the following dwellings, &c., referred to in the book, see the small capitals in the lower right-hand corner of the Map.]
A. Jonathan Corwin.
B. Samuel Shattock, John Cook, Isaac Sterns, John Bly.
C. Bartholomew Gedney.
D. Stephen Sewall.
E. Court House.
F. Rev. Nicholas Noyes.
G. John Hathorne.
H. George Corwin, High-sheriff.
I. Bridget Bishop.
K. Gedney's "Ship Tavern."
L. The Prison.
M. Samuel Beadle.
N. Rev. John Higginson.
O. Ann Pudeator, John Best.
P. Capt. John Higginson.
Q. The Town Common.
R. John Robinson.
S. Christopher Babbage.
T. Thomas Beadle.
U. Philip English.
W. Place of execution, "Witch Hill."
Note.—The grants are numbered on the Map with Roman numerals, the bounds being indicated by broken lines. They were all granted by the town of Salem, unless otherwise stated.
I. John Gould
Sold by him to Capt. George Corwin, March 29, 1674; and by Capt. Corwin's widow sold to Philip Knight, Thomas Wilkins, Sr., Henry Wilkins, and John Willard, March 1, 1690.
II. Zaccheus Gould.
Sold by him to Capt. John Putnam before 1662; owned in 1692 by Capt. Putnam, Thomas Cave, Francis Elliot, John Nichols, Jr., Thomas Nichols, and William Way.
The above, together, comprised land granted by the General Court to Rowley, May 31, 1652, and laid out by Rowley to John and Zaccheus Gould.
III. Gov. John Endicott.
Ipswich-river Farm, 550 acres, granted by the General Court, Nov. 5, 1639; owned in 1692 by his grandsons, Zerubabel, Benjamin, and Joseph.
The General Court, Oct. 14, 1651, also granted to Gov. Endicott 300 acres on the southerly side of this farm, in "Blind Hole," on condition that he would set up copper-works. As the land appears afterwards to have been owned by John Porter, it is probable that the copper-mine was soon abandoned; but traces of it are still to be seen there.
IV. Gov. Richard Bellingham.
Granted by the General Court, Nov. 5, 1639.
V. Farmer John Porter.
Owned in 1692 by his son, Benjamin Porter. This includes a grant to Townsend Bishop, sold to John Porter in 1648; also 200 acres granted to John Porter, Sept. 30, 1647. That part in Topsfield was released by Topsfield to Benjamin Porter, May 2, 1687.
VI. Capt. Richard Davenport.
Granted Feb. 20, 1637, and Nov. 26, 1638; sold, with the Hathorne farm, to John Putnam, John Hathorne, Richard Hutchinson, and Daniel Rea, April 17, 1662.
VII. Capt. William Hathorne.
Granted Feb. 17, 1637; sold with the above.
VIII. John Putnam the Elder.
This comprises a grant of 100 acres to John Putnam, Jan. 20, 1641; 80 acres to Ralph Fogg, in 1636; 40 acres (formerly Richard Waterman's) to Thomas Lothrop, Nov. 29, 1642; and 30 acres to Ann Scarlett, in 1636. The whole owned by James and Jonathan Putnam in 1692.
IX. Daniel Rea.
Granted to him in 1636; owned by his grandson, Daniel Rea, in 1692.
X. Rev. Hugh Peters.
Granted Nov. 12, 1638; laid out June 15, 1674, being then in the possession of Capt. John Corwin; sold by Mrs. Margaret Corwin to Henry Brown, May 22, 1693.
XI. Capt. George Corwin.
Granted Aug. 21, 1648; sold (including 30 acres formerly John Bridgman's) to Job Swinnerton, Jr., and William Cantlebury, Jan. 18, 1661.
XII. Richard Hutchinson, John Thorndike, and Mr. Freeman.
Granted in 1636 and 1637; owned in 1692 by Joseph, son of Richard Hutchinson, and by Sarah, wife of Joseph Whipple, daughter of John, and grand-daughter of Richard Hutchinson.
XIII. Samuel Sharpe.
Granted Jan. 23, 1637; sold to John Porter, May 10, 1643; owned by his son, Israel Porter, in 1692.
XIV. John Holgrave.
Granted Nov. 26, 1638; sold to Jeffry Massey and Nicholas Woodberry, April 2, 1652; and to Joshua Rea, Jan. 1, 1657.
XV. William Alford.
Granted in 1636; sold to Henry Herrick before 1653.
XVI. Francis Weston.
Granted in 1636; sold by John Pease to Richard Ingersoll and William Haynes, in 1644.
XVII. Elias Stileman.
Granted in 1636; sold to Richard Hutchinson, June 1, 1648.
XVIII. Robert Goodell.
504 acres laid out to him, Feb. 13, 1652: comprising 40 acres granted to him "long since," and other parcels bought by him of the original grantees; viz., Joseph Grafton, John Sanders, Henry Herrick, William Bound, Robert Pease and his brother, Robert Cotta, William Walcott, Edmund Marshall, Thomas Antrum, Michael Shaflin, Thomas Venner, John Barber, Philemon Dickenson, and William Goose.
XIX. Job Swinnerton.
300 acres laid out, Jan. 5, 1697, to Job Swinnerton, Jr.; having been owned by his father, by grant and purchase, as early as 1650.
XX. Townsend Bishop.
Granted Jan. 11, 1636; sold to Francis Nurse, April 29, 1678.
XXI. Rev. Samuel Skelton.
Granted by the General Court, July 3, 1632; sold to John Porter, March 8, 1649; owned by the heirs of John Porter in 1692.
XXII. John Winthrop, Jr.
Granted June 25, 1638; sold by his daughter to John Green, Aug. 9, 1683.
XXIII. Rev. Edward Norris.
Granted Jan. 21, 1640: sold to Elleanor Trusler, Aug. 7, 1654; to Joseph Pope, July 18, 1664.
XXIV. Robert Cole.
Granted Dec. 21, 1635; sold to Emanuel Downing before July 16th, 1638; conveyed by him to John and Adam Winthrop, in trust for himself and wife during their lives, and then for his son, George Downing, July 23, 1644; leased to John Procter in 1666; occupied by him and his son Benjamin in 1692.
XXV. Col. Thomas Reed.
Granted Feb. 16, 1636; sold to Daniel Epps, June 28, 1701, by Wait Winthrop, as attorney to Samuel Reed, only son and heir of Thomas Reed.
XXVI. John Humphrey.
Granted by the General Court, Nov. 7, 1632, May 6, 1635, and March 12, 1638, 1,500 acres, part in Salem and part in Lynn; sold, on execution, to Robert Saltonstall, Dec. 6, 1642, and by him sold to Stephen Winthrop, June 7, 1645, whose daughters—Margaret Willie and Judith Hancock—owned it in 1692: that part within the bounds of Salem is given in the Map according to the report of a committee, July 11, 1695.
Granted by the General Court to Gov. Endicott; owned by his grandsons, John and Samuel, in 1692.
The Governor's Plain.
Granted to Gov. Endicott, Jan. 27, 1637, Dec. 23, 1639, and Feb. 5, 1644; including land granted under the name of "small lots."
Granted to Francis Johnson, Jan. 23, 1637.
[The bounds of farms are indicated by dotted lines, except where they coincide with the bounds of grants. The following are those given on the Map.]
1st, Between grants No. XI. and VII., and extending north of the Village bounds, and south as far as Andover Road,—about 500 acres; bought by Thomas and Nathaniel Putnam of Philip Cromwell, Walter Price and Thomas Cole, Jeffry Massey, John Reaves, Joseph and John Gardner, and Giles Corey; owned, in 1692, by Edward Putnam, Thomas Putnam, and John Putnam, Jr. This includes also 50 acres granted to Nathaniel Putnam, Nov. 19, 1649.
2d, At the northerly end of Grant No. VII., and extending north of the Village bounds,—100 acres, known as the "Ruck Farm;" granted to Thomas Ruck, May 27, 1654, and sold to Philip Knight and Thomas Cave, July 24, 1672.
3d, North of the "Ruck Farm,"—100 acres; sold by William Robinson to Richard Richards and William Hobbs, Jan. 1, 1660, and owned, in 1692, by William Hobbs and John Robinson.
4th, Next east, bounded northeast by Nichols Brook, and extending within the Village bounds,—200 acres; granted to Henry Bartholomew, and sold by him to William Nichols before 1652.
5th, East of the "Ruck Farm," and extending across the Village bounds,—about 150 acres; granted to John Putnam and Richard Graves. Part of this was sold by John Putnam to Capt. Thomas Lothrop, June 2, 1669, and was owned by Ezekiel Cheever in 1692: the rest was owned by John Putnam.
6th, East of the above, and south of the Nichols Farm,—60 acres, owned by Henry Kenny; also 50 acres granted to Job Swinnerton, given by him to his son, Dr. John Swinnerton, and sold to John Martin and John Dale, March 20, 1693.
7th, South of the above, and east of Grant No. VII.,—150 acres; granted to William Pester, July 16, 1638, and sold by Capt. William Trask to Robert Prince, Dec. 20, 1655.
8th, East of Grant No. VI., and extending north to Smith's Hill and south to Grant No. IX.,—about 400 acres; granted to Allen Kenniston, John Porter, and Thomas Smith, and owned, in 1692, by Daniel Andrew and Peter Cloyse.
9th, East and southeast of Smith's Hill,—500 acres; granted to Emanuel Downing in 1638 and 1649, and sold by him to John Porter, April 15, 1650. John Porter gave this farm to his son Joseph, upon his marriage with Anna daughter of William Hathorne.
10th, East of Frost-fish River, including the northerly end of Leach's Hill, and extending across Ipswich Road,—about 250 acres, known as the "Barney Farm;" originally granted to Richard Ingersoll, Jacob Barney, and Pascha Foote.
11th, South of the "Barney Farm,"—about 200 acres; granted to Lawrence, Richard, and John Leach; owned, in 1692, by John Leach.
12th, North of the "Barney Farm," and between grants No. XIII. and XIV.,—about 250 acres, known as "Gott's Corner;" granted to Charles Gott, Jeffry Massey, Thomas Watson, John Pickard, and Jacob Barney, and by them sold to John Porter. (Recently known as the "Burley Farm.")
13th, Eastward of the "Barney Farm,"—40 acres; originally granted to George Harris, and afterwards to Osmond Trask; owned, in 1692, by his son, John Trask.
14th, Next east, and extending across Ipswich Road,—40 acres; granted to Edward Bishop, Dec. 28, 1646; owned, in 1692, by his son, Edward Bishop, "the sawyer."
15th, At the northwest end of Felton's Hill, and extending across the Village line,—about 60 acres; owned by Nathaniel Putnam.
16th, Southeast of Grant No. XXIII.,—a farm of about 150 acres; owned by Giles Corey, including 50 acres bought by him of Robert Goodell, March 15, 1660, and 50 acres bought by him of Ezra and Nathaniel Clapp, of Dorchester, heirs of John Alderman, July 4, 1663.
17th, Northeast of the above,—150 acres granted to Mrs. Anna Higginson in 1636; sold by Rev. John Higginson to John Pickering, March 23, 1652; and by him to John Woody and Thomas Flint, Oct. 18, 1654; owned in 1692 by Thomas and Joseph Flint.
It is one of the distinguishing characteristics of the human being, that he loves to contemplate the scenes of the past, and desires to have his own history borne down to the future. This, like all the other propensities of our nature, is accompanied by faculties to secure its gratification. The gift of speech, by which the parent can convey information to the child—the old transmit intelligence to the young—is an indication that it is the design of the Author of our being that we should receive from those passing away the narrative of their experience, and communicate the results of our own to the generations that succeed us. All nations have, to a greater or less degree, been faithful to their trust in using the gift to fulfil the design of the Giver. It is impossible to name a people who do not possess cherished traditions that have descended from their early ancestors.
Although it is generally considered that the invention of a system of arbitrary and external signs to communicate thought is one of the greatest and most arduous achievements of human ingenuity, yet so universal is the disposition to make future generations acquainted with our condition and history,—a disposition the efficient cause of which can only be found in a sense of the value of such knowledge,—that you can scarcely find a people on the face of the globe, who have not contrived, by some means or other, from the rude monument of shapeless rock to the most perfect alphabetical language, to communicate with posterity; thus declaring, as with the voice of Nature herself, that it is desirable and proper that all men should know as much as possible of the character, actions, and fortunes of their predecessors on the stage of life.
It is not difficult to discern the end for which this disposition to preserve for the future and contemplate the past was imparted to us. If all that we knew were what is taught by our individual experience, our minds would have but little, comparatively, to exercise and expand them, and our characters would be the result of the limited influences embraced within the narrow sphere of our particular and immediate relations and circumstances. But, as our notice is extended in the observation of those who have lived before us, our materials for reflection and sources of instruction are multiplied. The virtues we admire in our ancestors not only adorn and dignify their names, but win us to their imitation. Their prosperity and happiness spread abroad a diffusive light that reaches us, and brightens our condition. The wisdom that guided their footsteps becomes, at the same time, a lamp to our path. The observation of the errors of their course, and of the consequent disappointments and sufferings that befell them, enables us to pass in safety through rocks and ledges on which they were shipwrecked; and, while we grieve to see them eating the bitter fruits of their own ignorance and folly as well as vices and crimes, we can seize the benefit of their experience without paying the price at which they purchased it.
In the desire which every man feels to learn the history, and be instructed by the example, of his predecessors, and in the accompanying disposition, with the means of carrying it into effect, to transmit a knowledge of himself and his own times to his successors, we discover the wise and admirable arrangement of a providence which removes the worn-out individual to a better country, but leaves the acquisitions of his mind and the benefit of his experience as an accumulating and common fund for the use of his posterity; which has secured the continued renovation of the race, without the loss of the wisdom of each generation.
These considerations suggest the true definition of history. It is the instrument by which the results of the great experiment of human action on this theatre of being are collected and transmitted from age to age. Speaking through the records of history, the generations that have gone warn and guide the generations that follow. History is the Past, teaching Philosophy to the Present, for the Future.
Since this is the true and proper design of history, it assumes an exalted station among the branches of human knowledge. Every community that aspires to become intelligent and virtuous should cherish it. Institutions for the promotion and diffusion of useful information should have special reference to it. And all people should be induced to look back to the days of their forefathers, to be warned by their errors, instructed by their wisdom, and stimulated in the career of improvement by the example of their virtues.
The historian would find a great amount and variety of materials in the annals of this old town,—greater, perhaps, than in any other of its grade in the country. But there is one chapter in our history of pre-eminent interest and importance. The witchcraft delusion of 1692 has attracted universal attention since the date of its occurrence, and will, in all coming ages, render the name of Salem notable throughout the world. Wherever the place we live in is mentioned, this memorable transaction will be found associated with it; and those who know nothing else of our history or our character will be sure to know, and tauntingly to inform us that they know, that we hanged the witches.
It is surely incumbent upon us to possess ourselves of correct and just views of a transaction thus indissolubly connected with the reputation of our home, with the memory of our fathers, and, of course, with the most precious part of the inheritance of our children. I am apprehensive that the community is very superficially acquainted with this transaction. All have heard of the Salem witchcraft; hardly any are aware of the real character of that event. Its mention creates a smile of astonishment, and perhaps a sneer of contempt, or, it may be, a thrill of horror for the innocent who suffered; but there is reason to fear, that it fails to suggest those reflections, and impart that salutary instruction, without which the design of Providence in permitting it to take place cannot be accomplished. There are, indeed, few passages in the history of any people to be compared with it in all that constitutes the pitiable and tragical, the mysterious and awful. The student of human nature will contemplate in its scenes one of the most remarkable developments which that nature ever assumed; while the moralist, the statesman, and the Christian philosopher will severally find that it opens widely before them a field fruitful in instruction.
Our ancestors have been visited with unmeasured reproach for their conduct on the occasion. Sad, indeed, was the delusion that came over them, and shocking the extent to which their bewildered imaginations and excited passions hurried and drove them on. Still, however, many considerations deserve to be well weighed before sentence is passed upon them. And while I hope to give evidence of a readiness to have every thing appear in its own just light, and to expose to view the very darkest features of the transaction, I am confident of being able to bring forward such facts and reflections as will satisfy you that no reproach ought to be attached to them, in consequence of this affair, which does not belong, at least equally, to all other nations, and to the greatest and best men of their times and of previous ages; and, in short, that the final predominating sentiment their conduct should awaken is not so much that of anger and indignation as of pity and compassion.
Let us endeavor to carry ourselves back to the state of the colony of Massachusetts one hundred and seventy years ago. The persecutions our ancestors had undergone in their own country, and the privations, altogether inconceivable by us, they suffered during the early years of their residence here, acting upon their minds and characters, in co-operation with the influences of the political and ecclesiastical occurrences that marked the seventeenth century, had imparted a gloomy, solemn, and romantic turn to their dispositions and associations, which was transmitted without diminution to their children, strengthened and aggravated by their peculiar circumstances. It was the triumphant age of superstition. The imagination had been expanded by credulity, until it had reached a wild and monstrous growth. The Puritans were always prone to subject themselves to its influence; and New England, at the time to which we are referring, was a most fit and congenial theatre upon which to display its power. Cultivation had made but a slight encroachment on the wilderness. Wide, dark, unexplored forests covered the hills, hung over the lonely roads, and frowned upon the scattered settlements. Persons whose lives have been passed where the surface has long been opened, and the land generally cleared, little know the power of a primitive wilderness upon the mind. There is nothing more impressive than its sombre shadows and gloomy recesses. The solitary wanderer is ever and anon startled by the strange, mysterious sounds that issue from its hidden depths. The distant fall of an ancient and decayed trunk, or the tread of animals as they prowl over the mouldering branches with which the ground is strown; the fluttering of unseen birds brushing through the foliage, or the moaning of the wind sweeping over the topmost boughs,—these all tend to excite the imagination and solemnize the mind. But the stillness of a forest is more startling and awe-inspiring than its sounds. Its silence is so deep as itself to become audible to the inner soul. It is not surprising that wooded countries have been the fruitful fountains and nurseries of superstition.
"In such a place as this, at such an hour, If ancestry can be in aught believed, Descending spirits have conversed with man, And told the secrets of the world unknown."
The forests which surrounded our ancestors were the abode of a mysterious race of men of strange demeanor and unascertained origin. The aspects they presented, the stories told of them, and every thing connected with them, served to awaken fear, bewilder the imagination, and aggravate the tendencies of the general condition of things to fanatical enthusiasm.
It was the common belief, sanctioned, as will appear in the course of this discussion, not by the clergy alone, but by the most learned scholars of that and the preceding ages, that the American Indians were the subjects and worshippers of the Devil, and their powwows, wizards.
In consequence of this opinion, the entire want of confidence and sympathy to which it gave rise, and the provocations naturally incident to two races of men, of dissimilar habits, feelings, and ideas, thrown into close proximity, a state of things was soon brought about which led to conflicts and wars of the most distressing and shocking character. A strongly rooted sentiment of hostility and horror became associated in the minds of the colonists with the name of Indian. There was scarcely a village where the marks of savage violence and cruelty could not be pointed out, or an individual whose family history did not contain some illustration of the stealth, the malice or the vengeance of the savage foe. In 1689, John Bishop, and Nicholas Reed a servant of Edward Putnam; and, in 1690, Godfrey Sheldon, were killed by Indians in Salem. In the year 1691, about six months previous to the commencement of the witchcraft delusion, the county of Essex was ordered to keep twenty-four scouts constantly in the field, to guard the frontiers against the savage enemy, and to give notice of his approach, then looked for every hour with the greatest alarm and apprehension.
Events soon justified the dread of Indian hostilities felt by the people of this neighborhood. Within six years after the witchcraft delusion, incursions of the savage foe took place at various points, carrying terror to all hearts. In August, 1696, they killed or took prisoners fifteen persons at Billerica, burning many houses. In October of the same year, they came upon Newbury, and carried off and tomahawked nine persons; all of whom perished, except a lad who survived his wounds. In 1698, they made a murderous and destructive assault upon Haverhill. The story of the capture, sufferings, and heroic achievements of Hannah Dustin, belongs to the history of this event. It stands by the side of the immortal deed of Judith, and has no other parallel in all the annals of female daring and prowess. On the 3d of July, 1706, a garrison was stormed at night in Dunstable; and Holyoke, a son of Edward Putnam, with three other soldiers, was killed. He was twenty-two years of age. In 1708, seven hundred Algonquin and St. Francis Indians, under the command of French officers, fell again upon Haverhill about break of day, on the 29th of August; consigned the town to conflagration and plunder; destroyed a large amount of property; massacred the minister Mr. Rolfe, the commander of the post Captain Wainwright, together with nearly forty others; and carried off many into captivity. On this occasion, a troop of horse and a foot company from Salem Village rushed to the rescue; the then minister of the parish, the Rev. Joseph Green, seized his gun and went with them. They pursued the flying Indians for some distance. So deeply were the people of Haverhill impressed by the valor and conduct of Mr. Green and his people, that they sent a letter of thanks, and desired him to come and preach to them. He complied with the invitation, spent a Sunday there, and thus gave them an opportunity to express personally their gratitude. On other occasions, he accompanied his people on similar expeditions.
These occurrences show that the fears and anxieties of the colonists in reference to Indian assaults were not without grounds at the period of the witchcraft delusion. They were, at that very time, hanging like a storm-cloud over their heads, soon to burst, and spread death and destruction among them.
There was but little communication between the several villages and settlements. To travel from Boston to Salem, for instance, which the ordinary means of conveyance enable us to do at present in less than an hour, was then the fatiguing, adventurous, and doubtful work of an entire day.
It was the darkest and most desponding period in the civil history of New England. The people, whose ruling passion then was, as it has ever since been, a love for constitutional rights, had, a few years before, been thrown into dismay by the loss of their charter, and, from that time, kept in a feverish state of anxiety respecting their future political destinies. In addition to all this, the whole sea-coast was exposed to danger: ruthless pirates were continually prowling along the shores. Commerce was nearly extinguished, and great losses had been experienced by men in business. A recent expedition against Canada had exposed the colonies to the vengeance of France.
The province was encumbered with oppressive taxes, and weighed down by a heavy debt. The sum assessed upon Salem to defray the expenses of the country at large, the year before the witchcraft prosecutions, was £1,346. 1s. Besides this, there were the town taxes. The whole amounted, no doubt, inclusive of the support of the ministry, to a weight of taxation, considering the greater value of money at that time, of which we have no experience, and can hardly form an adequate conception. The burden pressed directly upon the whole community. There were then no great private fortunes, no moneyed institutions, no considerable foreign commerce, few, if any, articles of luxury, and no large business-capitals to intercept and divert its pressure. It was borne to its whole extent by the unaided industry of a population of extremely moderate estates and very limited earnings, and almost crushed it to the earth.
The people were dissatisfied with the new charter. They were becoming the victims of political jealousies, discontent, and animosities. They had been agitated by great revolutions. They were surrounded by alarming indications of change, and their ears were constantly assailed by rumors of war. Their minds were startled and confounded by the prevalence of prophecies and forebodings of dark and dismal events. At this most unfortunate moment, and, as it were, to crown the whole and fill up the measure of their affliction and terror, it was their universal and sober belief, that the Evil One himself was, in a special manner, let loose, and permitted to descend upon them with unexampled fury.
The people of Salem participated in their full share of the gloom and despondency that pervaded the province, and, in addition to that, had their own peculiar troubles and distresses. Within a short time, the town had lost almost all its venerable fathers and leading citizens, the men whose councils had governed and whose wisdom had guided them from the first years of the settlement of the place. Only those who are intimately acquainted with the condition of a community of simple manners and primitive feelings, such as were the early New-England settlements, can have an adequate conception of the degree to which the people were attached to their patriarchs, the extent of their dependence upon them, and the amount of the loss when they were removed.
In the midst of this general distress and local gloom and depression, the great and awful tragedy, whose incidents, scenes, and characters I am to present, took place.
IIt is necessary, before entering upon the subject of the witchcraft delusion, to give a particular and extended account of the immediate locality where it occurred, and of the community occupying it. This is demanded by justice to the parties concerned, and indispensable to a correct understanding of the transaction. No one, in truth, can rightly appreciate the character of the rural population of the towns first settled in Massachusetts, without tracing it to its origin, and taking into view the policy that regulated the colonization of the country at the start.
"The Governor and Company of the Massachusetts Bay in New England" possessed, by its charter from James the First, dated Nov. 3, 1620, and renewed by Charles the First, March 4, 1629, the entire sovereignty over all the territory assigned to it. Some few conditions and exceptions were incorporated in the grant, which, in the event, proved to be merely nominal. The company, so far as the crown and sovereignty of England were concerned, became absolute owner of the whole territory within its limits, and exercised its powers accordingly. It adopted wise and efficient measures to promote the settlement of the country by emigrants of the best description. It gave to every man who transported himself at his own charge fifty acres of land, and lots, in distinction from farms, to those who should choose to settle and build in towns. In 1628, Captain John Endicott, one of the original patentees, was sent over to superintend the management of affairs on the spot, and carry out the views of the company. On the 30th of April, 1629, the company, by a full and free election, chose said Endicott to be "Governor of the Plantation in the Massachusetts Bay," to hold office for one year "from the time he shall take the oath," and gave him instructions for his government. In reference to the disposal of lands, they provided that persons "who were adventurers," that is, subscribers to the common stock, to the amount of fifty pounds, should have two hundred acres of land, and, at that rate, more or less, "to the intent to build their houses, and to improve their labors thereon." Adventurers who carried families with them were to have fifty acres for each member of their respective families. Other provisions were made, on the same principles, to meet the case of servants taken over; for each of whom an additional number of acres was to be allowed. If a person should choose "to build on the plot of ground where the town is intended to be built," he was to have half an acre for every fifty pounds subscribed by him to the common stock. A general discretion was given to Endicott and his council to make grants to particular persons, "according to their charge and quality;" having reference always to the ability of the grantee to improve his allotment. Energetic and intelligent men, having able-bodied sons or servants, even if not adventurers, were to be favorably regarded. Endicott carried out these instructions faithfully and judiciously during his brief administration. In the mean time, it had been determined to transfer the charter, and the company bodily, to New England. Upon this being settled, John Winthrop, with others, joined the company, and he was elected its governor on the 29th of October, 1629. On the 12th of June, 1630, he arrived in Salem, and held his first court at Charlestown on the 28th of August.
There was some irregularity in these proceedings. The charter fixed a certain time, "yearly, once in the year, for ever hereafter," for the election of governor, deputy-governor, and assistants. Matthew Cradock had been elected accordingly, on the 13th of May, 1629, governor of the company "for the year following." He presided at the General Court of the company when Winthrop was elected governor. There does not appear to have been any formal resignation of his office by Cradock. In point of fact, the charter made no provision for a resignation of office, but only for cases where a vacancy might be occasioned by death, or removal by an act of the company. It would have been more regular for the company to have removed Cradock by a formal vote; but the great and weighty matter in which they were engaged prevented their thinking of a mere formality. Cradock had himself conceived the project they had met to carry into effect, and labored to bring it about. He vacated the chair to his successor, on the spot. Still forgetting the provisions of the charter, they declared Winthrop elected "for the ensuing year, to begin on this present day," the 20th of October, 1629. By the language of the charter, he could only be elected to fill the vacancy "in the room or place" of Cradock; that is, for the residue of the official year established by the express provision of that instrument, namely, until the "last Wednesday in Easter term" ensuing. All usage is in favor of this construction. The terms of the charter are explicit; and, if persons chosen to fill vacancies during the course of a year could thus be commissioned to hold an entire year from the date of their election, the provision fixing a certain day "yearly" for the choice of officers would be utterly nullified. Whether this subsequently occurred to Winthrop and his associates is not known; but, if it did, it was impossible for them to act in conformity to the view now given; for, in the ensuing "last Wednesday of Easter term," he was at sea, in mid ocean, and the several members of the company dispersed throughout his fleet. When he arrived in Salem, he found Endicott—who, in the records of the company before its transfer to New England, is styled "the Governor beyond the seas"—with his year of office not yet expired. The company had not chosen another in his place, and his commission still held good. It was so evident that the vote extending the term of Winthrop's tenure to a year from the day on which he was chosen, Oct. 20, 1629, was illegal, that when that year expired, in October, 1630, no motion was made to proceed to a new election. In the mean time, however, Endicott's year had expired; and, for aught that appears, there was not, for several months, any legal governor or government at all in the colony. When the next "last Wednesday of Easter term" came round, on the 18th of May, 1631, Winthrop was chosen governor, as the record says, "according to the meaning of the patent;" and all went on smoothly afterwards. If the difficulty into which they had got was apprehended by Winthrop, Endicott, or any of their associates, they were wise enough to see that nothing but mischief could arise from taking notice of it; that no human ingenuity could disentangle the snarl; and that all they could do was to wait for the lapse of time to drift them through. The conduct of these two men on the occasion was truly admirable. Endicott welcomed Winthrop with all the honors due to his position as governor; opened his doors to receive him and his family; and manifested the affectionate respect and veneration with which, from his earliest manhood to his dying day, Winthrop ever inspired all men in all circumstances. Winthrop performed the ceremony at Endicott's marriage. They each went about his own business, and said nothing of the embarrassments attached to their official titles or powers. After a few months, Winthrop held his courts, as though all was in good shape; and Endicott took his seat as an assistant. They proved themselves sensible, high-minded men, of true public spirit, and friends to each other and to the country, which will for ever honor them both as founders and fathers. They entered into no disputes—and their descendants never should—about which was governor, or which first governor.
The disposal of lands, at the expiration of Endicott's delegated administration, passed back into the hands of the company, and was conducted by the General Court upon the policy established at its meetings in London. On the 3d of March, 1635, the General Court relinquished the control and disposal of lands, within the limits of towns, to the towns themselves. After this, all grants of lands in Salem were made by the people of the town or their own local courts. The original land policy was faithfully adhered to here, as it probably was in the other towns.
The following is a copy of the Act:—
"Whereas particular towns have many things which concern only themselves, and the ordering of their own affairs, and disposing of businesses in their own towns, it is therefore ordered, that the freemen of any town, or the major part of them, shall only have power to dispose of their own lands and woods, with all the privileges and appurtenances of the said towns, to grant lots, and make such orders as may concern the well ordering of their own towns, not repugnant to the laws and orders here established by the General Court; as also to lay mulcts and penalties for the breach of these orders, and to levy and distress the same, not exceeding the sum of twenty shillings; also to choose their own particular officers, as constables, surveyors of the high-ways, and the like; and because much business is like to ensue to the constables of several towns, by reason they are to make distress, and gather fines, therefore that every town shall have two constables, where there is need, that so their office may not be a burthen unto them, and they may attend more carefully upon the discharge of their office, for which they shall be liable to give their accounts to this court, when they shall be called thereunto."
The reflecting student of political science will probably regard this as the most important legislative act in our annals. Towns had existed before, but were scarcely more than local designations, or convenient divisions of the people and territories. This called them into being as depositories and agents of political power in its mightiest efficacy and most vital force. It remitted to the people their original sovereignty. Before, that sovereignty had rested in the hands of a remote central deputation; this returned it to them in their primary capacity, and brought it back, in its most important elements, to their immediate control. It gave them complete possession and absolute power over their own lands, and provided the machinery for managing their own neighborhoods and making and executing their own laws in what is, after all, the greatest sphere of government,—that which concerns ordinary, daily, immediate relations. It gave to the people the power to do and determine all that the people can do and determine, by themselves. It created the towns as the solid foundation of the whole political structure of the State, trained the people as in a perpetual school for self-government, and fitted them to be the guardians of republican liberty and order.
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