The haunting of Salem

Started off this morning with a little sleeping in and a great lecture from Prof. Baker on the witch trials of early New England.  FYI- it was not a toxin/mold in the food supply that caused the hysteria!  As I was listening to the professor I wondered:  Is Salem haunted by the ghosts of its past or does it embrace its past?

Salem Witch craft Hysteria memorial and 17th century cemetery

Our first stop was the memorial dedicated to the 19 victims of the witch craft hysteria in Salem.  The memorial is located next to a 17th century cemetery.  The memorial’s location has nothing to do with the geography of the witch craft trails, other than the name of Salem.  The memorial is in downtown Salem.  It is an interesting memorial, a U-shaped walkway with inscriptions of quotes from the victims on stone pieces at as you enter.  There are 19 horizontal rock slabs, each with the name of a victim, how they were executed (all but one were hanged- Giles Corey was pressed to death) and their day of execution. 

The 17th century cemetery is an older (obviously) cemetery that houses the graves of John Hawthorn, the judge of the Salem witch trials and many of his relatives. I could not find a tombstone of famous author and relative Nathaniel Hawthorne. Was he buried in this cemetery?  I’m not a fan of cemeteries, but one of the most fascinating headstones at the cemetery was the headstone of  Mary Pitman from the late 1700s. Notated on her headstone was the statement “distinguished female excellence.”  I have found what I want on my tombstone!

"distinguished female excellence"

After the cemetery we took a quick trip to see the Samuel Parris parsonage. This was the site where the parsonage, owned by Salem Village (supported by tax dollars).  The site demonstrates the foundations where his two room house laid.  The site itself,  a foundation of rocks surrounded by a housing development, is unimpressive.  What is interesting about this place is the back story of the relationship between Rev. Parris and his community leading to the Salem witch trials. Here at this site, in 1692 two nine year old girls, Parris’ daughter and niece, most likely overheard the stresses of the community affairs from Rev. Parris and, whether intentional or not we do not know, began (with the help of the Putnam family) the accusations that snowballed out of control and resulted in nearly 200 persons accused and 19 victims executed.  This site was intriguing because in one sense this was the location for the outbreak of witchcraft accusations!

Salem Village Parsonage foundations of parsonage

Rebecca Nurse homestead

The homestead of Rebecca Nurse is a beautiful farm in Danvers Mass.  We watched a short presentation in the reconstructed meeting house built by PBS to film Three Sovereigns for Sarah.  We walked to ANOTHER grave site where a memorial for Rebecca Nurse is, although it is not her final resting place (most likely, we don’t actually know for certain).  We toured the home that was originally built in 1636 by Townsend Bishop (a sundial commemorating the construction of the house still works!).

Rebecca Nurse home (backside)Herb Garden - RN house

I was surprised by this site.  It was not what I was expecting regarding witch craft.  The site and docent focused on what life was like during the time period that Rebecca Nurse lived on the property. There was a lengthy discussion about the farming/gardening, cooking, recreation, heating, etc. What I did not hear during the tour was about who Rebecca Nurse WAS… what kind of person she was, what she did on the property, why she was accused of witchcraft, etc.  I knew very little of Rebecca Nurse going into the homestead, and know that same amount leaving.  I was expecting to hear more information (other than the 15 minute video at the beginning of the presentation) about the community of Salem Village, why Rebecca Nurse did not join as a member of the Salem Village church, why she was accused, information about her family, etc.  The most interesting fact I learned at the Nurse homestead was down at the cemetery.  Professor Baker told us that the Putnam family (rival family and accusers during the hysteria) had purchased the homestead and many of their decedents were buries on the property.  It appears that there was internal strife in the Putnam family between the half-brother and his siblings. In fact, some Putnams (John and Joseph I believe) actually argued in defense of Rebecca Nurse, supporting the claim that she was a innocent.  Unfortunatly, I have to admit that thus far, there has been one exhibit I was disappointed in.  

*Disclaimer: I was not disappointed in the docent or the knowledge of the time period at this site, only in the fact that I was assuming I would see more colonial artifacts/replicas of items/information from the actual trials of Rebecca Nurse and some of the others and did not. I did not see any representation of the events that lead to her death, only a monument to remember why she died (and a 15 minute video).

My Question for fellow bloggers: Has there been a site that has not lived up to the “hype” that you were expecting? Have you been disappointed at any locations?


Mayflower revisited

Day Three: Mayflower II

The Mayflower II is part of the living history museum of Plimoth Plantation.  A remarkable place where history truly comes alive with active members of the “Crew” and role playing historians.  All the actors I have met I am labeling as living historians; they have all the content knowledge of their characters, the events of the time period in question, and weave the historical tale (in this case the sailing of the Mayflower) like many historians in their texts.  They go “about their business” but are happy to pause for a moment or two to discuss questions visitors have.Mayflower II

On the Mayflower II, a replica (as near as safety laws can allow) of the Mayflower, a merchant vessel whose cargo was typically wine, I stopped to talk with two individuals: a man (I believed was a passenger by clothing until he corrected me, he was a sailor aboard the merchant ship, hired by Jones) and a pilgrim woman.

 I asked the gentleman what sorts of activities the settlers engaged in when at sea.  His response was humorous- he stated that they kept below (on their assigned deck) and aside from being sick, they typically sang psalms. Not the usual psalms that “we” would be used to, but their version.  Then he sang two versions for me to demonstrate his point.  I asked him how he felt about having the pilgrims onboard, and he gave a crinkled face.  I commented that  he didn’t seem to like having them onboard, and he said he did not, but for the price that Master Jones received it should make up for it.  As an earlier “Crew” docent explained on the Mayflower II, there were no passenger ships during this time period. People were not typically transported on ships, so to have a cargo of 102 people was most likely a strain for the twenty some crew members.  Certainly this was an unusual event.

The female living historian  portrayed a passenger on the ship.  She told me about the voyage (and how difficult it was not to become sick) and how she kept entertained on the voyage to her new home by telling and listening to stories and singing.  I asked her what she brought to the new world and she said mostly they all brought the necessities they would need to build a community and survive the voyage.  However, she did mention that she did bring some of her dishes for a little “civility”.

This was a fascinating day. As I stood on the deck below, where the 102 pilgrims would have stayed during their 66 days of travel, I felt a greater appreciation for their commitment to their religion and community. As separatists they left England for the Netherlands, first Amsterdam and finally settling in at Leiden.  While they were free to practice their religious practices they were not able to prosper economically.  Not to say that they intended to climb the social ladder, but they had fallen into poverty and as immigrants could not join the textile gilds and thus improve their economic situation.  Another consideration was the concern regarding the children of the community.  While in Leiden eleven years, the children began growing up more Dutch than English.  While learning about the multiple attempts of relocating (including two return trips aboard the Mayflower and Speedwell) I connected to the level of commitment to the pilgrims way of life. With the hardships no one could blame the twenty some individuals who left the expedition before the Mayflower II was underway for the final time.  Yet few gave up on the attempt and pushed on to a land unknown with certainly more hardships to endure.  They were fighting for a way of life they desperately desired for their families and risked their lives to maintain and build the community.  I have a much greater respect for the pilgrims after visiting the Mayflower II.

Question for discussion:  If you had been a member of the separatists in Leiden, would you have continuted along with the group to the new world?

*I ask this question because I was thinking about the difficulties experienced by the pilgrims and questioned my own commitment level. I asked myself, would I have traveled to the new world with the rest of the community? And if the answer was no, at what point would I have discontinued my journey?

Day Three: Lexington Green

This morning was a tough morning as we had to leave Salem at 7:30am.  As tired as I was, the trip to Lexington and Concord was AMAZING! Best day of the tour so far (yes, I realize it’s only day two…).  I learned today visiting the Hancock-Clarke House and Buckman Tavern that I do get a bit claustrophobic in those small houses.  Some times it felt like the houses/taverns were literally swaying… but apparently it was just me!

What I found to be most interesting at the Hancock-Clarke house was how rooms were added to many of these older homes.  Many times two houses were merged together into one, as was in the case of this house.  Two homes, both built in 1737 were merged together, instead of an addition built on site. This meant that the seems did not always match up; ceiling heights and doorways were often different and had to be adjusted to meet the needs of the occupants.  As colonial families grew rapidly I imagine they looked for ways to expand their housing while keeping costs low. 

*Side note: Henry David Thoreau built a “house” at Walden Pond; a 10’X15′ cabin that cost a little more than 28 dollars to construct in the mid 1840s. He spent two years here writing about nature and used much of his journal information later in his classic American Literature pieces.


Buckman Tavern was an interesting place to visit. We learned a recipe for Flip, a unique rum drink with cream, a pumpkin spice, and an egg.  This tavern is the place where many of Lexington’s militia had been waiting prior to the arrival of the Redcoats from Boston on April 19, 1775. However, more fascinating was the background behind taverns in colonial life.  The tavern was the center of colonial life (outside of the meetinghouse).  This is where people gathered to hear news from distant lands, receive mail/deliveries, stay overnight if traveling (as many taverns were inns) etc. Taverns in colonial American became hotbeds of political discussion and colonial rebellion.

After Buckman Tavern we spent time on Lexington Green listening to two living historians discuss their colonial roles. Best part was the talk from the gentleman dressed as a British Redcoat. He talked about the royal army uniform, the equipment carried the night of April 19th, 1775 and his experiences as a soldier in reenactments.  His perspective from a “typical private” was intriguing. Too often we romanticize the American Revolution and the colonial militia and forget the nearly 800 young men in the British army who viewed themselves as a police force trying to maintain peace in an increasingly unstable situation.  I doubt these men wanted to engage in battle, just as many of our military men do not want to do so today, but are deployed for the service of their country.  Keep in mind that many living  in the colonies (Americans) and those living in England saw the colonists as Englishmen.  To fire upon them would have felt like firing upon citizens in England.   Listening to the talk from the Redcoat perspective reinforced the importance of examining the social aspects of historical events from all sides and to ensure that my students are receiving alternative viewpoints.


Question for future research and discussion:  After so many years, is it important to know who fired the first shot at Lexington Green? Justify response.


Mass Historical Society

The image I have (and have taught) of the Declaration of Independence has always been the one you see on the right, a handwritten document copied for distribution throughout the colonies with the authors boldly signing their names in July of 1776 as a statement of moral support for the revolution. At the MHS however, I learned that the copy of the DOI I have for so many years admired as an “original” document was actually copied in 1820s by engraver William Stone.  The version of the DOI colonial ministers and record keepers saw was a typed broadside WITHOUT the majority of the signatures.  In fact, only two names were printed on the first edition of the declaration: John Hancock, President of the Second Continental Congress and Charles Thomson, Secretary of Congress.  The signatures of the other delegates to the Congress was added later.  The signers, after approving the declaration went on to other important colonial work and signed the document later in August.  I was surprised to learn that the revered copy of the declaration, the copy that hangs in my classroom, is a facsimile created in the 1820s, not one reproduced during the late 1770s.  

Paulie Maier, author of American Scripture: Making the Declaration of Independence was also at the MHS to discuss the DOI and her book.  I am happy to say that after her discussion and reading of her text, I will be teaching the DOI in a new way.  While my students have always read the declaration, new this year my students will actually write in small groups a declaration of their independence.  Given certain parameters (which have yet to be created) they will work as  committee and draft a document. One will be selected and then the entire class will edit the document, thus “reenacting” the work done by the Second Continental Congress and the Committee of Five in drafting the DOI.  Discussion to follow and a reading of the draft version of the DOI (appendix C in Maier’s book).  In my new approach to teaching the DOI I believe students will make several connections to historical themes that they may not have made before (especially the importance of drafts and final versions of writing!).

finally a question I asked myself when listening to Maier and the MHS librarian discuss the reading of the DOI after publication:  Was this document read to congregations in most Anglican/Episcopal churches by their ministers?  If so, I wonder how loyalist ministers discussed the document after it was read to the congregation.

One week until Boston!

I am so excited- one week until Boston! I am looking forward to all the wonderful activities and professional development! Not looking forward to the humidity.. but Boston is worth it!


Okay APUSHers… here we go with the right side of the bracket:

Monroe v. JQA

Tyler v. Washington

Jefferson v. Madison

Jackson v. John Adams

What are your thoughts??

Okay APUSHers… we have a LOT of voting to do tomorrow and not a lot of time to do it…. so…
Tell me who is better and why (keep it historical!):

George W. Bush v. Nixon 

Ford v. Eisenhower

Kennedy v. Clinton (no Monica jokes! I will FAIL YOU if you do!!!)

Reagan v. Lyndon B Johnson

I like Nixon (awesome job… other than watergate…), Eisenhower (I was ALMOST ONE!), Kennedy (Clinton… really???) and Reagan (same reasons as FDR… ENTITLEMENT PROGRAMS! Nuff said)