19th century life and 17th century witch trials

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Working farm at Old Sturbridge Village             Rebecca Nurse on trial in Salem

Two different parts of American history gained our attention after arriving in Massachusetts. The first was typical New England life in the early 19th century and the second was the world renowned witch trials that took place in Salem in 1692.

Old Sturbridge Village is a living history museum that sets out to show life in a New England agricultural village in the 1830s, although some parts date back as far as the 1790s.

It is a massive site that includes more than 200 acres of land, some 60 antique and replica buildings, a farm complete with animals, three different types of mills close to a mill pond – with costumed guides ready and willing to explain life in the 19th century.

Started as the result of the historical collections of antique furniture and clocks, and spurred on by one family, the village has grown since its beginnings. While the project was put on ice during the second World War, it reopened in 1946 and has steadily expanded the number and type of buildings it possesses; often relocating them from their previous sites throughout the New England states.

It was a real eye-opener to see, at first hand, such a great example of living history and it was an absolute delight to see, and talk, various costumed people working in the village. During our visit, these included a farmer working as a potter as the farm permitted, a schoolmistress, family and workmen at the working farm, a tin worker, two blacksmiths, a tinsmith and a printer, to name just a few.

The village is both entertaining and educational; it is well worth a visit.

A two-hour drive took us to Salem that was the location of the infamous witch trials that took place in 1692. There are a number of museums dedicated to those events and we chose to visit the Salem Witch Museum.

The museum sets out to both examine the events surrounding the trials and explore today perceptions of witches and witchcraft. To do this, it has two presentations:

The first is based on actual trial documents. In that, we experienced the drama of that dark time though thirteen life-size stage sets, figures, lighting and a stirring narration that unveiled the web of lies and intrigue of the Salem Witch Hunt.

In the second presentation, Witches: Evolving Perceptions, an extremely knowledgeable guide took us through changing interpretations of witches, the truth behind the stereotypes, Wicca and witchcraft practice today and the frightening phenomenon of witch hunting.

Afterwards, Lisa and I spent a most pleasant few minutes talking with our guide during which we congratulated the museum for its handling of the whole story and the modern day part which had been so very well researched.

To understand the events of the Salem witch trials, it is necessary to look at the times in which accusations of witchcraft occurred. There were the ordinary stresses of 17th-century life in the Massachusetts Bay Colony. A strong belief in the devil, factions among Salem Village families and rivalry with nearby Salem Town combined with a recent small pox epidemic and the threat of attack by warring native tribes created a fertile ground for fear and suspicion.

Soon, prisons were filled with more than 150 men and women from towns surrounding Salem; their names had been ‘cried out’ by tormented young girls as the cause of their pain. All would await trial for a crime punishable by death in 17th-century New England – the practice of witchcraft.

In June 1692, a special court sat in Salem to hear the cases of witchcraft. The first to be tried was Bridget Bishop who was found guilty and was hanged. Thirteen women and five men followed her to the gallows on three successive hanging days before the court was disbanded by Governor William Phipps in October that year.

The Superior Court of Judicature, formed to replace the “witchcraft” court, did not allow spectral evidence. This belief in the power of the accused to use their invisible shapes or spectres to torture their victims had sealed the fates of those tried earlier. The new court released those awaiting trial and pardoned those awaiting execution. In effect, the Salem witch trials were over.


The accused

Hanged: Bridget Bishop, Sarah Good, Rebecca Nurse, Susannah Martin, Elizabeth How, Sarah Wilds, George Burroughs, John Proctor, John Willard, George Jacobs Snr, Martha Carrier, Martha Corey, Mary Eastey, Alice Parker, Ann Pudeater, Margaret Scott, Wilmott Reed, Samuel Wardwell, Mary Parker.

Pressed to death: Giles Corey.

Accused, not hanged but died in prison: Sarah Osborne, Roger Toothaker, Lyndia Dustin, Ann Foster.

Customs cause disembarking madness as Anthem reaches USA


Royal Caribbean’s Anthem of the Seas arrived in New York on 4th November, passing under the Verrazano Narrows Bridge before reaching the Statue of Liberty shortly after 3am. We finally docked at Cape Liberty, New Jersey, at about 5am.

Lisa and I enjoyed an early breakfast and by 7am we were ready to go ashore. US Customs and Border Protection, however, had other ideas. We never found out what their problem was but it caused absolute havoc as passengers queued to disembark.

Having been ready so early, it was extremely irritating that we did not manage to exit the cruise terminal until 10.30am and then find our pre-booked transport was not there. Lisa searched but found nothing, finally managing to contact the company that claimed that their driver had been there but they had recalled him as we were not there at the booked time of 9.45am. If he had been there, and we have reason to believe he wasn’t, many other drivers were waiting for their passengers because of the delays – but not ours.

Good news though, the office said that they might be able to send another driver. Bad news was that the company would treat it as a new booking and would require a second payment. We refused to buckle in the face of such awful treatment and made other arrangements. We will now be seeking a full refund from the company that failed to provide us with the service for which we had pre-paid. In the event that it does not happen, I am prepared to go public and both name and shame them in both the UK and USA. The company has offices in both countries.

After we finally arrived at Dollar rent-a-car, we found our pre-booked hire car waiting for us, a gleaming white 2015 Chrysler, and quickly completed the formalities, packed our luggage and my wheelchair, and set off on a long drive through northern New Jersey, New York state, Connecticut finally arriving in Sturbridge, Massachusetts, at 11.20pm. I should explain that we had made a couple of stops along the way and that, once again driving a left hand drive car, I was taking it easy and making sure to always remain within the speed limit.

By the time Lisa and I reached our motel in Sturbridge we were both absolutely shattered. We had been up since 2am to watch Anthem’s arrival in New York, had suffered so much frustration trying to get off the ship and through customs and border protection, then discovered our transport had failed us, causing us to arrive at the hire car outlet some three hours later than planned.

At midnight, having been up for 22 hours, we crashed into bed and were soon out for the count.

Thank goodness Lisa had planned a quieter day for today but more about that in my next post.