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IT 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 provsions 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 abled-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.
Large tracts were granted to men who had the disposition and the means for improving them by opening roads, building bridges, clearing forests, and bringing the surface into a state for cultivation. Men of property, education, and high social position, were thus made to lead the way in developing the agricultural resources of the country, and giving character to the farming interest and class. In cases where men of energy, industry, and intelligence presented themselves, if not adventurers in the common stock, with no other property than their strong arms and resolute wills, particularly if they had able-bodied sons, liberal grants were made. Every one who had received a town lot of half an acre was allowed to relinquish it, receiving, in exchange, a country lot of fifty acres or more. Under this system, a population of a superior order was led out into the forest. Farms quickly spread into the interior, seeking the meadows, occupying the arable land, and especially following up the streams.
I propose to illustrate this by a very particular enumeration of instances, and by details that will give us an insight of the personal, domestic, and social elements that constituted the condition of life in the earliest age of New England, particularly in that part of the old township of Salem where the scene of our story is laid. I shall give an account of the persons and families who first settled the region included in, and immediately contiguous to, Salem Village, and whose children and grandchildren were actors or sufferers in, or witnesses of, the witchcraft delusion. I am able, by the map, to show the boundaries, to some degree of precision, of their farms, and the spots on or near which their houses stood.
The first grant of land made by the company, after it had got fairly under way, was of six hundred acres to Governor Winthrop, on the 6th of September, 1631, "near his house at Mystic." The next was to the deputy-governor, Thomas Dudley, on the 5th of June, 1632, of two hundred acres "on the west side of Charles River, over against the new town," now Cambridge. The next, on the 3d of July, 1632, was three hundred acres to John Endicott. It is described, in the record, as "bounded on the south side with a river, commonly called the Cow House River, on the north side with a river, commonly called the Duck River, on the east with a river, leading up to the two former rivers, known by the name of Wooleston River, and on the west with the main land." The meaning of the Indian word applied to this territory was "Birchwood." At the period of the witchcraft delusion, and for some time afterwards, "Cow House River" was called "Endicott River." Subsequently it acquired the name of "Waters River."
This grant constituted what was called "the Governor's Orchard Farm." In conformity with the policy on which grants were made, Endicott at once proceeded to occupy and improve it, by clearing off the woods, erecting buildings, making roads, and building bridges. His dwelling-house embraced in its view the whole surrounding country, with the arms of the sea. From the more elevated points of his farm, the open sea was in sight. A road was opened by him, from the head of tide water on Duck, now Crane, River, through the Orchard Farm, and round the head of Cow House River, to the town of Salem, in one direction, and to Lynn and Boston in another. A few years afterwards, the town granted him two hundred acres more, contiguous to the western line of the Orchard Farm. After this, and as a part of the transaction, the present Ipswich road was made, and the old road through the Orchard Farm discontinued. This illustrates the policy of the land grants. They were made to persons who had the ability to lay out roads. The present bridge over Crane River was probably built by Endicott and the parties to whom what is now called the Plains, one of the principal villages of Danvers, had been granted. The tract granted by the town was popularly called the "Governor's Plain." By giving, in this way, large tracts of land to men of means, the country was opened and made accessible to settlers who had no pecuniary ability to incur large outlays in the way of general improvements, but had the requisite energy and industry to commence the work of subduing the forest and making farms for themselves. To them, smaller grants were made.
The character of the population, thus aided at the beginning in settling the country, cannot be appreciated without giving some idea of what it was to open the wilderness for occupancy and cultivation. This is a subject which those who have always lived in other than frontier towns do not perhaps understand.
How much of the land had been previously cleared by the aboriginal tribes, it may be somewhat difficult to determine. They were but slightly attached to the soil, had temporary and movable habitations, and no bulky implements or articles of furniture. They were nomadic in their habits. On the coast and its inlets, their light canoes gave easy means of transportation, for their families and all that they possessed, from point to point, and, further inland, over intervening territory, from river to river. They probably seldom attempted, in this part of the country, to clear the rugged and stony uplands. In some instances, they removed the trees from the soft alluvial meadows, although it is probable that in only a very few localities they would have attempted such a persistent and laborious undertaking. There were large salt marshes, and here and there meadows, free from timber. There were spots where fires had swept over the land and the trees disappeared. On such spots they probably planted their corn; the land being made at once fertile and easily cultivable, by the effects of the fires. Near large inland sheets of water, having no outlets passable by their canoes, and well stocked with fish, they sometimes had permanent plantations, as at Will's Hill. With such slight exceptions, when the white settler came upon his grant, he found it covered by the primeval wilderness, thickly set with old trees, whose roots, as well as branches, were interlocked firmly with each other, the surface obstructed with tangled and prickly underbrush; the soil broken, and mixed with rocks and stones,—the entire face of the country hilly, rugged, and intersected by swamps and winding streams.
Excerpted from Salem Witchcraft by Charles W. Upham. Copyright © 2000 Dover Publications, Inc.. Excerpted by permission of Dover Publications, Inc..
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