I’ve lived most of my life on the Pacific Coast. For some reason, I’ve never been drawn to sailing. Going along the solid, long line of the Pacific just didn’t appeal to me. But as I watched small boats, darting back and forth between the islands, heading for a point and a tall, white lighthouse or weaving in and out of the hundreds of bays and coves, I finally understood the attraction. It became especially apparent to me later that night as we sat in a microbrewery in Salem. A couple who had obviously just docked their boat in a slip not so many yards away, sat down for a quiet meal of steaks and great New England beer, then headed back to their boat. I could well imagine them, drifting asleep, bobbing with the waves, then heading out at the first list to skid across those incredibly blue waters. Yes, I definitely got it.
As much as I love history, the Salem Witchcraft Trials have never held my interest. It was not a time period that I knew much about so it was interesting to hear it firsthand. After listening to the supernatural stories of an African slave, a group of young girls…eight and up, began to exhibit signs of possession through fits. They also began to point fingers and make accusations of witchcraft. People took them seriously and authorities made arrests. The fact that the young ringleader’s mother was a bitter widow and many of the initial fingers pointed to people she disliked, didn’t seem to deter anyone. Magistrates and credible leaders, including Cotton Mather, fell into the hysteria.
One man, John Proctor, stood against the popular opinions and tide of emotions. When his eight- year-old serving girl began to participate, he spanked her. Her fits ended. But the group of girls had gained too much power to be stopped and they rallied around her with their own stories. Proctor’s wife was eventually arrested. When he vocally protested and defended her, he was arrested. At the end, the leaders came to their senses and released Proctor’s pregnant wife but he was hanged. Years later, the young ringleader admitted that she, at least, had acted out and staged her fits of possession.
As I said, I had not read much of the history of the trials but I had seen the movie The Crucible by Arthur Miller. In that version, Proctor’s young serving girl was changed to a 17-year-old with whom he had an affair. When he ended the affair, the vengeful girl accused his innocent wife of witchcraft. Of course, Proctor defended her and was hanged. Only Hollywood could turn a true hero into someone whose motive was guilt.
It’s a shame Salem will be remembered for its witchcraft trials because my memories are far different. After my visit to the sailor’s museum in Boston, I had a healthy respect for American sailors…military and maritime. Their life was hard, dangerous and many times unrewarded. America is known for its western cowboys but its eastern sailors deserve as much respect and acknowledgement. We shouldn’t forget their women either.
Nathaniel Hawthorne might have created his strong Scarlet Letter heroine out of respect for his cousin, Susanna Ingersoll. Her father was a captain and the wealthy owner of a shipping company. He built the house of the Seven Gables. As I stood in the small parlor with its hand-painted wallpaper and its lead-glass pane windows, I could understand why, at one time, this parlor was known throughout the colonies as the epitome of elegance. The incredible view down the sloping grass hill to the mouth of Salem harbor didn’t hurt either! I could well imagine the ships crossing in front of the harbor, winter and summer. It must have been an exciting time to be in Salem.
Susanna’s father and brother died of fever on a sailing trip. At the time, the laws of the land allowed male members of the family all legal rights. When word reached Salem of Susanna's father’s death, male relatives moved their family into the house and kicked her out! She took them to court and sued them. Amazingly, she won and later went on to shock society again by running her father’s shipping empire. She was very successful and became famous for her philanthropic causes, especially the plight of orphaned children.
I’ve watched Easterners battle snow, floods, a hurricane and to my mind, constant rain. I’ve said many times that they had stamina and were stronger than I realized. Now I know it’s because they come from sturdy stock.