Almost 326 years to the day of her execution, I visited Salem Massachusetts to see where my 8th great grandmother, Margaret Stephenson Scott, was hung as a witch on September 22, 1692.
She was accused, tried and had the misfortune of being in the very last group of eight victims executed in Salem.
The governor shut down the trials shortly thereafter and those in prison were pardoned.
The historic residential streets of this pretty town are far removed from the horrors and injustice of the witch trials.
There are stone benches around the Witch Trials Memorial Green. Names of the twenty victims are carved into the benches. I saw notes and flowers, some from descendants like me. A note on Margaret Scott’s bench read: “We visited today… Your 10th great granddaughter… We keep your name alive in our lives. We remember you in our prayers….”
Walking by each bench, I was troubled as I read the names of those unjustly executed and their last words, now etched into stone.
I can deny it to my dying breath
I am not guilty
Oh, Lord, help me! I am wholly innocent of such wickedness
I am wronged
God knows I am innocent
My ancestor Margaret Scott, had been a widow for 21 years. She lost 4 of her 7 children in childhood. She was impoverished. All these factors converged to make her different, and she was accused by one of her neighbors as a witch.
As a widow myself, I was left with a lot of questions. Where were her friends and family? Were they also afraid of being accused in the hysteria that gripped Salem? Margaret had a son, Benjamin Scott, with a family of his own. With the fears of the time, perhaps he was reluctant to come to the defense of his mother.
The church is commanded to care for widows and orphans. Where was the church? The minister, Samuel Parris, was a controversial figure and his own teen aged daughter may have been one of the accusers.
In 2017, a new memorial wall was dedicated at Proctor’s Ledge, site of the hangings. One prominent speaker remarked, “We would like to think that we’ve learned from the evil and traumatic choices made 325 years ago. We would like to think we’ve become better people. The truth is the lessons of Salem are not just learned once, but must be learned and relearned by each generation.”
Walking the streets up to Proctor’s Ledge, I felt a profound sense of injustice. I can imagine the last 8 victims being taken there by cart, knowing the tree and rope were for them. There was no appeal or recourse. They had been accused, there was a verdict, and now there would be hangings.
In an interesting footnote to the trials, an ancestor from the other side of my family, Aaron Way, was present at some of the trials. He is on record as being opposed to the belief in witches. Aaron was put in stocks for speaking out.