The 1996 movie “The Crucible” is based on Arthur Miller’s award-winning 1953 play about the Salem Witch Trials. It was filmed on Choate Island, part of the Crane estate in Ipswich and Essex. The story and movie are based on accusations against John and Elizabeth Proctor of Salem who had once lived in Ipswich. John Proctor was hanged and Elizabeth was given a reprieve in jail, until her baby was born. Her sentence was never carried out.
In his book Ipswich in the Massachusetts Bay Colony, Thomas Franklin Waters wrote about Ipswich involvement in the Salem witch trials:
“The evidence was of the usual absurd character; Sarah Good had been confined in Ipswich jail. Joseph Herrick, the Constable of Salem, testified that she had been committed to his charge to carry to Ipswich. That night, he affirmed, he had a guard over her in his own house, and she disappeared for a time, bare foot and bare-legged, and ‘went and afflicted Elizabeth Hubbard.'”
Elizabeth Howe of Linebrook Road in Ipswich was charged for bewitching her neighbor’s child, was arrested on May 28, 1692 and was hanged in Salem on July 19, 1692
Many of the accused were kept in the Ipswich gaol (jail) which was erected near the Meeting House in 1652. The Court paid the keeper 5 shillings per prisoner and ordered that each prisoner should additionally pay the keeper before they could be released for “their food and attendance.” Those who were unable to pay for their food were allowed only bread and water.
The Ipswich jail was filled with the accused. Among them was Mary Easty, the wife of Isaac Easty of Topsfield, and sister of Rebecca Nurse. She petitioned the Court to proceed with caution, as many self-confessed witches had belied themselves:
“I was confined a whole month on the same account that I am now condemned, and then cleared by the afflicted persons as some of your honors know; and in two days time I was cried out upon by them again, and have been confined, and now am condemned to die. The Lord above knows my innocence then and likewise doth now, as at the great day will be known by men and angels.”
The prison keeper, Thomas Fossie and Elizabeth, his wife, testified that they “saw no evil carriage or deportment” while Mary Esty was confined in Ipswich jail. She was carried to execution with her fellow-prisoners, Martha Corey, Ann Pudeater, and five other unfortunates:
“When she took her last farewell of her husband, children and friends, she was, as is reported by them present, as serious, religious, distinct and affectionate as could well be expressed, drawing tears from the eyes of almost all present.”
Robert Lord Jr. was a blacksmith and made the heavy leg-irons which secured the victims of the witch hysteria who were sent to Ipswich to await trial and execution.
In 1692 both Joan Braybrook and her 40-year-old stepdaughter Mehitable were accused of witchcraft and landed in jail, and are found among the 10 persons petitioning for release. The trials came to an end before the judges heard their cases and they were released.
Giles Corey was taken from Ipswich prison, where he made his will, to Salem, and there was pressed to death by heavy weights upon his chest, because he refused to plead.
John Harris, the Deputy Sheriff, had charge of transporting the prisoners, and his account with the County reveals many sorrowful journeys of the reputed witches, through the streets from the Prison to Salem Court or Gallows Hill.
The early trials of the accused were before the Court of Assistants, of which Major Samuel Appleton was a member, but a special Commission of Oyer and Terminer was issued to several Justices, and Major Appleton had no part in the deliberations of this Court, which proceeded at once to pass severe sentence upon the reputed witches. Major Appleton, though an Assistant, and a Magistrate at the first trial, had no further connection with the matter, and his disappearance from the scene may be interpreted as indicating that his broad and well-balanced mind condemned this travesty of Justice.
On January 3, 1692-3, by virtue of an act of the General Court, the first Superior Court, called the “Court of Assizes and General Goal Delivery” was convened at Salem. The Grand Jury included Mr. Robert Paine, Mr. Richard Smith and Mr. Thomas Boardman of Ipswich.
Robert Paine was the son of the elder Robert Paine whose farm was on Jeffreys Neck Road and who had dealt so generously with the Ipswich School. Robert Payne the junior graduated in the Harvard class of 1656, was a preacher, and attained regretful prominence as foreman of the Grand Jury that brought in the indictments in the witchcraft trials in Salem in 1692.
On the “Jury for Tryalls,” were Ensign Thomas Jacob, Sargent Nathaniel Emerson, Sen., Mr. Jacob Perkins, Jr., Mr. Matthew Whipple Sen., John Pengery, Seth Story, Thomas Edwards and John Lamson. The Grand Jury, of which Mr. Paine was foreman, found nothing against thirty who were indicted for witchcraft, and true bills against twenty-six. Of those on trial, three only were found guilty, and sentenced to death. These were the last to suffer. Nineteen were hanged and Giles Corey had been pressed to death; John Proctor and Elizabeth How had perished, but other Ipswich folk, Elizabeth Proctor, Rachel Clinton and Sarah Buckley had escaped.
All the ministers put themselves on record as out of sympathy with the popular delusion, and Mr. Hubbard and Mr. Wise made formal appeals for the accused. Rev. John Wise, the minister of the Chebacco Parish had roused the Town to brave resistance of the Andros edict and had suffered fine and removal from his pulpit. When the Witchcraft Delusion swept many of the coolest and best balanced men off their feet, he dared to protest, and addressed a Petition’ to the Magistrates, signed by many of his parishioners, in behalf of John Proctor, Jr. and his wife, imploring the favor of the Court for these innocent victims of a false charge.
It is said that the group of accusing girls were brought to Ipswich but were refused permission to cross the bridge into town. In November, 1692, the afflicted girls came to Ipswich, and meeting an old woman at the bridge, they began their usual fits. But the people of Ipswich had not sent for the girls, and were fed up with the witchcraft accusations. Their antics were ignored, and there were no further accusations.
In late April 1693, the Court convened in Boston and cleared Capt. John Alden by proclamation. On May 2, the Superior Court convened in Ipswich with several grand juries. Charges were dismissed against all except Susannah Post, Eunice Frye, Mary Bridges Jr., Mary Barker and William Barker Jr. who were all found not guilty. At the Ipswich court, unlike Salem, all were acquitted.
Attempts to make amends for the irreparable harm soon began to be made. Twelve ministers of the County of Essex, including William Hubbard, John Rogers, Jabez Fitch, and John Wise, petitioned the General Court in July 1703, to clear the names of the accused and relieve those who had suffered.
In 1711, the legal disabilities resulting from the witchcraft executions and imprisonments were removed and damages awarded to the survivors and the families of the dead. John Appleton, Esquire, of Andros fame, and Nehemiah Jewett, Esquire, who had been a member of the House sixteen times and thrice its speaker, were members of this committee.
Ipswich had suffered grievously in the grim ordeal, but as compared with every other important town in the County, she had been favored indeed. None of her citizens, except Elizabeth Howe from the Linebrook Parish, near to Topsfield, were executed, and those that were accused were not condemned. No such delirium as afflicted Salem, Beverly, Wenham, Andover, Salisbury, Gloucester, and Newbury was ever manifest here. The same judicious and far-seeing temper that made Ipswich the leader of the Colony in the Usurpation period, preserved her balance in the wild excitement of the Witchcraft time.
Source: Ipswich in the Massachusetts Bay Colony, Vol. 1 by Thomas Franklin Waters
- Volume I online at Archive.org
- Volume II online at Archive.org
- Publications of the Ipswich Historical Society Volume X1
- History of Ipswich, Essex, and Hamilton by Joseph Felt
- Salem Witch Trials timeline (Thoughtco.com)
- Legends of America: Procedures, Courts & Aftermath of the Salem Witch Trials
- An Account of Salem Village and A History of Opinions on Witchcraft and Kindred Subjects by Charles W. Upham, Volumes I and II