Salem, a brief history

Roger Conant, founder of Salem, 1626




In 1623 a group of colonists attempted to set up a fishing establishment at Cape Ann, on the North Shore of Massachusetts. The project failed but a few men led by Roger Conant did not give up and in 1626 settled in Naumkeag, Christianized to Salem, in 1629 (Phillips, 25-27).  By 1640 Salem would be the second most important colonial town next to Boston (151).

The Massachusetts Bay Colony was issued a charter by the monarch of England in 1629 giving them the rights of autonomy and self rule.  The colonists were intent upon establishing a commonwealth where the Puritan Church could exist and their rights would be upheld.  They intended to worship God without the interference of the bishops of the Church of England and rejected anyone who did not follow their principles (37-38). 

Ministers began arriving in 1629 and the job of church organization was underway. It was becoming apparent that Salem was separating off from the Church of England (44).  In August the covenant was accepted.  There was little in the way of organization that resembled the Church of England; the Book of Common Prayer was conspicuously left out of worship (54).

The land within Salem Town was not fertile, but expansion into surrounding areas through land grants produced agriculture.  One of the areas of expansion was Salem Village (71). The first real steps toward an independent township for Salem Village was in 1638 (145). (If Salem were a polis, the 'Town' was the city and the 'Village' was the surrounding countryside.  The desire for the Village to become a separate 'state' was at the core of the dispute that led to the witch trials.) 

In the 1630's there was a threat of charter revocation and the colonists responded by preparing a defense.  Roger Williams, in an act of defiance cut the cross out from the English flag. It would not be reinstated until 1680, in the years after King Phillip's War when the colonial leaders sought to re-institute discipline (125, 244).

The 1630's saw population expansion, the controversy over Anne Hutchinson, an Antinomian, and the Pequot Indian War. 

The growth of population was due to the repressive government of King Charles I in England. Anne Hutchinson defied the ruling authority by criticizing the doctrine of the elect.  She amassed a large following and was eventually driven out of Massachusetts to Rhode Island.  From there she went to New York where she and her family were killed by Indians. The Pequot Indian war was the first time the colony as a whole was engaged in war with Indians and the first instance of Indians using guns against the white settlers (129, 133-136).

In the 1640's the high rate of immigration slowed considerably. The main reason for migrating to New England was gone. The Puritans were in power in England and the persecution had ended. It was necessary for the colony to develop her own system of trading and increase exports in order to maintain her position. The colonists were self-reliant and did not turn to England for help.  From the beginning Massachusetts was determined to run her affairs her way and claimed sovereignty.  She would not acknowledge the right of the King to revoke her charter.  In 1643 the colonies formed a confederacy (152-57, 161). 

Under Cromwell in the 1650's England left the colonies to themselves and during this time they prospered heavily (188-189).  The church was the most prominent organization in the towns and by 1655, Salem was considered a well organized and well governed community in addition to being an extremely important trading port (189, 191, 195).  In 1660 King Charles the Second took the English throne and the era of New England independence ended.  In 1664 the Massachusetts General Court was informed that a royal commission would arrive to discuss the issue of sovereignty (203, 206). 

In 1666 through 1667, Salem Village petitioned for a separate church polity and was denied (215).  By 1671/2 Salem Village was granted the right to build a church and maintain a minister separate from the Salem Town Church.  The villagers would remain members of the Salem Town Church but for reasons of convenience preaching would take place in the Village.  After this granting they proceeded with vigor to establish a separate church (222-223).  Two former and one current pastor would play important roles in the witch hunts.  George Burroughs (installed in 1681) would be executed, Deodot Lawson (installed in 1687) would speak at the Salem Village meeting house about the dangers of the devil's seductions, and  Samuel Parris (pastor 1689-1697) would be the center point of the entire controversy.

The colony would lose its charter in the 1680's. England revoke all land titles and patents given under the old charter, requiring high fees to retain them.  Any who refused lost their land.  Inheritance taxes were increased.  The New England Church was replaced with an Episcopal one, preaching only what was approved by the Council, now staffed by royal representatives (only one man from Salem would be allowed to be a member).  taxes were levied directly by the Crown of Great Britain and any semblance of self government by representation was swept away (274).

 

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