A Bewitching of Christmas Past (III)

[Part I and Part II precede this post.]

It doesn’t take forensic analysis of the records to notice that one or the other (or even many at the same time) of the Putnams had a hand in (and were generally the instigators of) every recorded dispute in Salem Farms since long before the village broke off from the Town of Salem. At first it began with land, but as the village began having things other than land it became about money and power. Charles W. Upham traced the disputes that arose from the original land grants onward in wearying detail. (The first of the two volumes of his Salem Witchcraft With an Account of Salem Village and A History of Opinions on Witchcraft and Kindred Subjects (Boston: Wiggin & Lunt: 1867) dealt with the village from the very first land grants. His account is meticulous and mostly fair, if excessively deferential to the Putnams, who even when he lived in the area made up a significant portion of the population that first constituted his parish and then elected him to local, state and federal office.)

House of Francis Nurse, after Nurse purchased the lot (originally the Townsend Bishop grant) from Rev. James Allen. His 71 year old wife would be arrested on a warrant signed by Deacon Edward Putnam and John Putnam in 1692. “What sin hath God found out in me unrepented of, that He should lay such an affliction on me in my old age?” she would ask.

The litigation which taught the Putnams the important lessons on how power was exercised—lessons that they would not forget through all the troubles of the witching times—involved a land grant to Townsend Bishop. Bishop was one of the first members of the Salem church, a local judge and Deputy of the General Court. His value to the community was apparently the justification of the land grant (which is marked as the plot XX in the map at the foot of this post) made by the Town of Salem in 1636. Nine years later he was discovered not to have presented his new-born son for baptism. He was accused of the dangerous heresy of the Baptists and issued a reprimand by the church. Although still a judge, he sold his property and disappeared from Salem. His real estate grant would soon land into the pocket of James Allen, powerful Puritan who dominated the pulpit of First Church in Boston as well as proprietor of a printing press.

In 1636 Salem also saw fit to grant land north of the Bishop grant to Elias Stileman (plot XVII on the map below)—the part just above the Bishop grant now being in the hands of Nathaniel Putnam. The problem was that between the Stileman grant to the north and the “Governor’s Plain” granted by Salem to the South to Governor Endecott and the General Court’s grant to Endecott called Orchard Farm, both now owned by Zerubbabel Endicott (and shown in the map below), there was not enough room to fit the acreage granted by Salem to Bishop, which Rev. Allen was supposed to now own. Someone had to lose. Would it be Allen, Putnam or Zerubbabel Endecott?

At first glance the equities all favored Endecott—he derived his title from an earlier grant and from the General Court, not the Town (merely a corporation created by the General Court). And if Puritans had any sentimental attachments whatsoever, they would have argued for Zerubbabel too, for he was the son of the beloved (by Puritans) governor John Endecott, and his wife was the daughter of governor John Winthrop the Younger of Connecticut, but more importantly, the grand-daughter of founding Massachusetts Bay governor John Winthrop, the man who first saw the “City upon a Hill.” But of course Puritans have no sentimental attachments, so after trials there would be appeals to the General Court, who sent the matter out to committees, whose reports they would adopt. The committees, managed effectively by Rev. Allen and the indefatigable Putnam, invariably found against Endecott, and each time taking a bit more of his land away. The expense, the injustice, the unfairness of litigation through a committee broke Endecott. The Putnams would learn from this that it is always wise to have connections with the General Court and that no final decree is actually binding if you are willing to keep pressing on.

As constable of Salem, Thomas Putnam attended to public whippings. He was paid 2 s. 6 p. each. (From Sidney Perley’s The History of Salem Massachusetts, 1924.)

And press on they did in everything. The founder of the American Putnam dynasty, John, brought with him three sons, Thomas (b. 1616), Nathaniel (of the land claim fame) (b. 1620) and John (b. 1628). Nathaniel and John both became deputies in the General Court, and they became adept at land acquisition. Thomas became a constable of Salem and the first clerk when Salem Village broke off from the Town. Thomas, who was given double the land legacies of his brothers, spent less time acquiring land. He participated in local rather than colony-wide government, being a constable in Salem and then the first clerk of Salem Village. Thomas had three children: Thomas, who became a sergeant in the village militia, we met in the last post as the husband of Ann Sr. and the father of Ann Jr.; Edward Putnam, who would become one of the original deacons of Salem Village Church (and grandfather of revolutionary war general Rufus Putnam); and Joseph Putnam (father of revolutionary war general Israel Putnam), who married the granddaughter of William Hathorne and niece of Judge John Hathorne, the magistrate who viewed it as his duty to prosecute witches, who we met in our last. John’s concept of the ideal magistrate—sanctimonious, self-righteous, insufferable, close-minded and insidiously cruel, undoubtedly came from his father William, who his descendant, Nathaniel Hawthorne, despised for those very reasons:

“The adjudication of crime, particularly fornication, was Hathorne’s forte; heresy, his genius. He pursued Quakers with the inventive zeal of the true paranoid, hunting them ‘like a blood-hound,’ or so it was alleged. He ordered Ann Coleman dragged half naked through town while being lashed with a whip of knotted cords, and under his watch, another poor blasphemer was flogged until his back turned to jelly. For his own pains, William Hathorne received several more grants of land, 240 acres in 1648, 400 in 1654, 640 in 1675. ‘Let us thank God for having given us such ancestors,’ his descendant Nathaniel wryly observed, ‘and let each successive generation thank him, not less fervently, for being one step further from them in the march of ages.’” (Brenda Wineapple, Hawthorne: A Life (NY: Knopf: 2003), p 15.)

Thus the Putnams came honestly, or at least naturally, by their ability to demonize others. After all, there is a bit of heterodoxy in the rest of us. And if a pious Puritan can add to his own fortune from the property of the damned, so much the better for God’s plan to set up an earthly paradise for the Saints.

In 1672 the General Court granted Salem Farm’s request to have its own parish set off from the church of Salem Town. The farms, Salem Village, would have to pay for its own services. The second generation of Putnams, the brothers Nathaniel, Thomas and John, were by far the wealthiest villagers. The first rate-list contained in the parish record book is for 1681. (Other records were undoubtedly used before then but are presumably now lost.) The total amount assessed for the entire village was £200. Rates were assessed on 94 persons, but those on the Putnams were much higher than the rest: Thomas was assessed £10. 6s. 3d.; Nathaniel, £9. 10d.; John, £8. No one else was assessed even £4. (1 Upham 158.)

The Putnams were not in the business of charity, of course. And like most others who believe their fortune is owing to their closeness to God, they determined to let others have as little as possible. The largest expense of the parish, of course, was the pastor. And while having their own pastor was ostensibly the reason the people of Salem Farms wanted independence from Salem, the Putnams were not keen on paying for one. And so the Putnams were always waging some sort of guerrilla campaign or another against each minister seriatim. The first was James Bayley, who came to Salem Village its very first year. Harvard ’69, Bayley had preached in Newbury. And while he was supported by the majority in the village, he aroused the opposition of the powerful; namely, the Putnams. There ensued, as in all Putnam-instigated crises, great divisions in the village. Bayley never settled in. He was given one yearly contract after another. Eventually strife reached such a point that the opposing parties petitioned the mother church in Salem for resolution. (Part of the condition the General Court imposed on setting up Salem Farms separate from the Town was that the mother church generally supervised matters ecclesiastical.) Nathaniel Putnam was in the opposition, and the mother church, which found no fault with Bayley, decided nevertheless not to resolve the dispute, even despite the fact that the opponents were in the minority. So the matter went to the General Court, which ruled firmly in favor of Bayley and even named a committee to make the rates. The Putnams again refused to pay. So Bayley decided to retreat from the field and give up his pretensions to the pulpit. (1 Upham 245-250.)

Next came George Burroughs. He made the mistake of following the suggestion in the Sermon on the Mount that “if any man will sue thee at the law, and take away thy coat, let him have thy cloke also.” (Matthew 5:40.) But the Putnams outsmarted him; they knew how to smite the other cheek if anyone was foolish enough to turn it to them. Burroughs came to the village in 1680 from that part of Massachusetts which is now Maine, where he was well-regarded by his parishioners. Although the village duly voted to pay his salary and expenses: £93. 6s. 8d. per annum for three years, and £60 per annum afterwards, the rates were not collected. Burroughs decided to not stir up a controversy, but in Salem Village one could not avoid a controversy. When his wife died the first year, he borrowed money to pay for the funeral. But he never received his own pay, so he simply left rather than petition for redress. The villagers, who did not pay him, sued him to return, and the Court ordered him to do so and also ordered the village to settle up with him. The villagers were to meet and “reckon” their accounts. Burroughs arranged the meeting. A stunning thing took place. When Burroughs arrived, a marshal came in and arrested Reverend Burroughs for his debt to John Putnam! Putnam agreed that he owed money to Burroughs with the rest, but it didn’t matter, he had already started a litigation to recover his sole debt. Deacon Ingersoll later testified about the scene:

“We further testify and say, that, May the second, 1683, Mr. Burroughs and the inhabitants met at the meeting-house to make up accounts in public, according to their agreement the meeting before; and, just as the said Burroughs began to give in his accounts, the marshal came in, and, after a while, went up to John Putnam, Sr., and whispered to him, and said Putnam said to him, ‘You know what you have to do: do your office.’ Then the marshal came to Mr. Burroughs, and said, ‘Sir, I have a writing to read to you.’ Then he read the attachment, and demanded goods. Mr. Burroughs answered, ‘that he had no goods to show, and that he was now reckoning with the inhabitants, for we know not yet who is in debt, but there was his body.’ As we were ready to go out of the meeting-house, Mr. Burroughs said, ‘Well, what will you do with me?’ Then the marshal went to John Putnam, Sr., and said to him, ‘What shall I do?’ The said Putnam replied, ‘You know your business.’ And then the said Putnam went to his brother, Thomas Putnam, and pulled him by the coat; and they went out of the house together, and presently came in again. Then said John Putnam, ‘Marshal, take your prisoner, and have him up to the ordinary,—that is a public house,—and secure him till the morning.'” (1 Upham 259.)

The amount being sued for was a small portion of what the town owned, and John Putnam knew that. He knew it because John Putnam was the chairman of the committee that was supposed to raise the salary for Burroughs. And he knew that Burroughs agreed that the debt should be repaid out of the money the committee (that is, John Putnam) was to raise among the inhabitants. Yet, Putnam had Burroughs arrested at the meeting, ordered by the General Court, convened to settle all of the accounts. The outrageousness of John Putnam’s behavior shocked even Upham:

“Mr. Burroughs had presented a bill, of the amount just mentioned, to John Putnam, who, as chairman of the committee the preceding year, represented the inhabitants; and it was deliberately and formally agreed, that the sum borrowed of Putnam by Burroughs should ‘go for part of it.’ The records of the parish show, that, on the 24th of May,—three weeks after this meeting ‘for reckoning,’—a vote was passed to raise, by a rate, ‘fifteen pounds for Mr. Burroughs for the last quarter of a year he preached with us.’ At a meeting in December of the same year, a rate was ordered, to pay the debts of the parish, amounting to £52. 1s. 1d. On the 22d of the ensuing February, the parish voted to raise ‘fifteen pounds for Mr. Burroughs.’ The record of a meeting in April, 1684, contains an order, left on the book, with Mr. Burroughs’s proper signature, authorizing Lieutenant Thomas Putnam to receive of the committee ‘what is due to me from the inhabitants of Salem Farms.’ Thus it is evident, that, at the very day when the ruthless proceedings above described took place, a considerable balance was due to Mr. Burroughs, after all claims from all quarters had been ‘reckoned.'” (1 Upham 261-62.)

In the brutal theocratic society that New Jerusalem had become one generation after the settlement, it was expected that humiliating physical punishment and social ostracism would justly fall on perpetrators of the slightest breaches of orthodoxy or the prevailing sexual or social codes. But the power play by John Putnam—to have the pastor arrested for a debt, an amount less than John Putnam’s own unpaid (but nonetheless due) rate for two years, was an arrogant exercise of needless cruelty, seemingly done, solely because it could be. It was so outrageous that even Deacon Ingersoll, who ordinarily threw his lot in with the powers that be, stood bail for Burroughs.

After Burroughs was released some arrangement was made whereby John Putnam dropped his suit and Burroughs left Salem. Burroughs would go back to the wilds of Maine to face Indian attacks prompted by the French against the British settlements. His conduct was so exemplary in those times that the General Court granted him 150 acres of land (including where Portland, Maine, now stands). But when asked by the town to give them part of the land to accommodate a growing population, he gave it all up, not even accepting an equivalence he was offered. “Mr. Burroughs said they were welcome to it; that he freely gave it back, ‘not desiring any land anywhere else, nor any thing else in consideration thereof.” (1 Upham 256.) Burroughs clearly was not one of the Saints, at least as the Saints themselves thought of themselves. He had too much charity, too little regard for mammon, too much willingness to give up his life for his neighbor. But even on the frontier it was too dangerous to follow one’s own interpretation of the sayings of Jesus of Nazareth rather than fall in line with the insufferable, small-minded orthodoxy that was coming from Boston, particularly from North Church where Cotton Mather was populating his own world with invisible demons. The Putnams would pull Burroughs back to Salem, and Mather would justify a proceeding even more breath-taking in its injustice than the little coup engineered by John Putnam. That will be taken up soon. But first, the Saints of New-England feel the same defeat as the Saints in England when anti-Puritan Charles II is restored and turns his attention to Massachusetts Bay, in the next in this story. [Part IV is found here.]

Salem, 1692 from Upham’s Salem Witchcraft, With an Account of Salem Village and a History of Opinions on Witchcraft and Kindred Spirits (1867). Click to enlarge.

    • Tom Deits
    • February 13th, 2016

    Hi – Interesting story about Townsend – thanks for assembling this! A side note on Townsend. I am researching my Bishop family roots and I strongly suspect that Townsend Bishop is the father of Joseph Bishop who emigrated to Massachusetts in 1635. Here is a link to the later history of Joseph Bishop http://www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=gr&GRid=50504127

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