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Salem, in Massachusetts, is one of the oldest New England seaports. It lies on Salem Bay, 15 miles northeast of Boston, and is the seat of Essex county. Salem is an industrial city that produces electrical goods, leather goods, and chemicals. It also attracts tourists interested in witchcraft, maritime history, architecture, and Nathaniel Hawthorne.
Points of Interest
Salem has taken care to preserve its historical associations. Many houses remain from the 17th century, including the Witch House, home of Judge Jonathan Corwin, where accused witches were examined; the Pickering House; the Retire Beckett House; the Hathaway House; and the House of Seven Gables, the supposed setting of Hawthorne's novel. Handsome neoclassical houses built for merchants and sea captains of the 18th and early 19th centuries may be seen along Chestnut Street and elsewhere.
Among them are the Ropes Mansion, the Crowninshield-Bentley House, and two by Samuel McIntire- the Peirce-Nichols House and the Pingree House.
Some of these houses are maintained by the Essex Institute, which also has a historical museum and a fine library. The Peabody Museum has outstanding maritime exhibits. At the Salem Maritime National Historic Site, Derby Wharf, Derby House, and the Custom House, where Hawthorne worked, recall Salem's great seafaring days. Pioneer Village re-creates the rough 1630 settlement, and the Salem Witch Museum presents narrated scenes of the witch trials.
History of Salem
Salem, called Naumkeag by the Indians, was settled in 1626 by Roger Conant and others from Plymouth and Cape Ann. After John Endecott and other colonists arrived from England in 1628, the settlement became the first outpost of the Massachusetts Bay Company, later centered in Boston. The town was incorporated in 1630 as Salem. The first Puritan Congregational Church, led for a time by Roger Williams, was established in Salem in 1629.
In 18th century Salem, shipbuilding and trade with the West Indies and Europe flourished, encouraged especially by privateering during the American Revolution, when Salem was the only major port not captured by the British.
After the war, Salem ships voyaged to China and the East Indies, making fortunes for such families as the Derbys, Crowninshields, and Nicholses.
Maritime activity dwindled in the 1830's, as Salem harbor could no longer accommodate the new larger ships, and was gradually replaced by manufacturing. Salem was incorporated as a city in 1836. It is governed by a mayor and council.
Salem Witchcraft Trials
In 1692, Salem was swept by a hysterical fear of witchcraft. That spring some young girls seemed to go into convulsions and accused the Reverend Samuel Parris' West Indian slave Tituba and other persons of bewitching them. They were probably inspired by Tituba's voodoo tales and possibly influenced by Cotton Mather's account of four bewitched girls in Boston in 1688.
A judicious application of discipline, discretion, and distraction might have ended the matter. Instead, the girls attracted great attention and in self-protection extended their accusations. Salem citizens, like most other Europeans and Americans, believed in witches, and they were also uneasy about French and Indian attacks on New England. They readily accepted the girls' fantasies and the findings of a special court, which ignored wise clerical advice and English judiciary rules.
No one dared protest lest he too be accused. Consequently, several hundred persons were arrested, many were imprisoned, and 19 were hanged. Giles Corey was pressed to death for refusing to plead.
The madness abated in September, when Governor Sir William Phips, petitioned by Boston clerics to exclude "spectral evidence" from consideration, dissolved the court. Eventually, most of the members confessed their error. Twenty years later the Massachusetts legislature annulled the convictions and made reparation to the victims' heirs.