The Witch House of Salem is the only structure still standing with direct ties to the Salem witch trials of 1692
One of the worst developments of the Middle Ages was the belief in the devil’s part in endowing some individuals with other-world abilities—those that may be utilized to hurt people. This idea, and the associated dread of the occult, spread like wildfire over Europe as early as the 14th century, and the witch-hunt mania took the lives of tens of thousands of people in the following decades.
The majority of witch-hunt victims were either hung or decapitated, typically in public. Furthermore, as part of the heinous penalty, the victims’ bodies were burnt to prevent a curse from being triggered after their deaths. The most disturbing feature is that a large percentage of the condemned were burnt alive, resulting in the most agonizing method of death.
This superstition and panic spread over the oceans and infected other continents, so when colonists arrived in the new land of America, they brought their superstitions with them. These beliefs were firmly felt in colonial New England. It was here that one of the most infamous occult stories in American history occurred, that of Salem Village, today known as the town of Danvers in Massachusetts.
Unrelenting hardships dominated life in Salem village in the 17th century. The inhabitants were undoubtedly affected by the British-French war, which erupted in the American colonies in 1689, and the hamlet was also recuperating from a smallpox outbreak. There was the village’s long-standing rivalry with the more prosperous Salem Town, as well as dread of being invaded by one of the surrounding Native American tribes.The Salem Witch Trials began in the spring of 1692, after the claims of a few local girls that they were possessed by demonic spirits. The number of women accused of witchcraft in Salem Village gradually climbed. The frenzy swiftly spread throughout colonial Massachusetts, and a special court would convene in Salem to hold hearings and conduct investigations. Bridget Bishop was the first “witch” found guilty, and she was executed in June of that year. After her execution, the judge assigned to the court, Nathaniel Saltonstall, resigned, and Judge Jonathan Corwin took his place.
During the year, 18 more victims suffered the same fate as Bridget Bishop, and 150 more persons were charged and imprisoned. As the year came to a close, public sentiment shifted overwhelmingly against the trials, but the damage had already been done.
The play concluded in May 1693, when the last victims were freed from jail. However, many individuals were already enraged by what had occurred. The Salem Witch Trials would leave an unpleasant and frightening legacy for decades.
All that remains now to remind us of this heinous tragedy is Judge Jonathan Corwin’s former home. His house is the only surviving structure in Salem that is directly involved with the witchcraft trials of 1692.
Corwin is said to have bought the house in 1674 when he was 24, and it was only half constructed at the time. He would dwell in this house for the next 40 years, and as a local civic officer and leader, he was called to participate in the special court’s investigations. Because Corwin was actively involved in the Salem Witch Trials, his home was given the moniker Witch House and is now a historic house museum in Salem. It is regarded as an excellent example of 17th-century architecture.
Judge Corwin’s ashes are interred at the neighboring Broad Street Cemetery. Following his death, the property remained in the Corwin family for the next two centuries.
The actual date of construction of the home is unknown. Some Victorian academics believe the house was built between 1620 and 1630. They also stated that Roger Williams, the founder of the Rhode Island colony, lived in the area during the 1630s. However, according to Corwin’s family documents, the home was not completed until 1642.
During the height of the controversy, it was rumored that Judge Corwin might conduct interrogations or trials within the residence. However, there are no papers indicating that any of the accused discussed coming to Corwin’s residence for a hearing. It is also doubtful that Corwin would have permitted court procedures to take place on his own land. The proceedings were most likely held elsewhere, possibly in the village’s Old Meeting House or at Ingersoll’s Tavern.
The Witch House was under fear of demolition in 1944 because a nearby roadway needed to be extended. This inspired a group of volunteers to completely repair the Salem site. They were able to generate $42,500 for the repair work.