Paranormal Yakker with your host Stan Mallow

Click on Marilynne Roach photo below to view video Interview



Season 1 Episode 22

Marilynne Roach. Author of two popular books that explore in detail the infamous Salem Witch Trials.
Marilynne Roach is a freelance writer, illustrator, researcher, and presenter of talks on historical subjects. She has also written two outstanding books about the infamous Salem witch trials. They are Six Women of Salem: The Untold Story of the Accused and Their Accusers in the Salem Witch Trials, and The Salem Witch Trials: A Day-by-Day Chronicle of a Community Under Siege. In her interview with Stan Mallow, the Paranormal Yakker, Marilynne discusses both books. She explains how and where she researched them and gives us an up-close and personal look at the accused, their accusers, and daily happenings in the courthouse where the trials were held. We learn what life was like in Puritan Salem in the 1600s. The events that led up to people accusing their neighbors, friends, and family members of being witches and being possessed by the devil. We learn the fate of the accused and the aftermath, once the trials ended.

Transcript of video Interview

Stan Mallow
Hi, everyone, I'm Stan Mallow. Welcome to "Paranormal Yakker." My guest on today's show, who I'll be yakking with, is distinguished author-historian, Marilynne Roach. She has written two outstanding books about the infamous Salem witch trials. Those books are "Six Women of Salem: The Untold Story of the Accused and Their Accusers in the Salem Witch Trials," and "The Salem Witch Trials: A Day-by-day Chronicle of a Community Under Siege." Marilynne Roach, welcome to "Paranormal Yakker."
Marilynne Roach
Thank you for the opportunity.
Stan Mallow
What motivated you to write about the Salem witch trials and doing it in the manner you did? Was it the historian in you, the curiosity in you, the need to separate fact from fiction when it came to the trials, or was it something else?
Marilynne Roach
Well, the subject was always interesting, I have to say, because of the spooky parts. But back during the bicentennial of the American revolution, there was a lot of emphasis on local history generally. And I got a guide book that was published by the city of Salem at that time and decided I really wanted to go up there and see for myself what I'd been reading about, at least the play. And this was back in 1975. I went up on the train, I'm not that far away. It was a gorgeous day, everything was beautiful. It's a very nice setting. Anyway, it has a lot of history other than that disastrous year. I went to a certain historical place that was associated with it and a couple exhibits. It wasn't nearly as tourist-driven as it later became. I thought some of the things that I've been told or seen didn't quite match what I'd read. What I did know is what I read wasn't all that accurate, necessarily, either. I thought there might be a book in it. And then 27 years later, But yes, I was trying to separate fact from fiction. And the more I got into it, and the more real the people were to me, right now, I want it to be their voice, some of them. Some I like more than others. I'm trying to separate fact from fiction when I can. And I managed to find things in the Massachusetts archives that I hadn't known about. At that time, there weren't as many books out on the trial. Going back to the original source is very important.
Stan Mallow
In Salem, many women were accused of being witches. You focused on six of them in your book, "Six women of Salem." How did you go about deciding which six women you would hone in on?
Marilynne Roach
Well, of course, there were men accused too. With these particular women, there was some biographical material that I knew existed, some more than others, and usually in relation to whoever they were married to. Men's activities tended to get into the records more. Except, of course, if you were involved with court as they were in '92, you'd get some more information about them. It was hard on them, but it was great for the historians. Yeah, there was more information on those, which it wasn't really, it was only what was in the trial record and very little else. Snippets, but it was enough to make a story, accurately as I could, about those particular individuals. Whereas some people, you know even less about.
Stan Mallow
Did those who are accused of being witches fit a certain profile, or was there a diverse range of people ranging from young to old and single to married?
Marilynne Roach
Well in 1692, just about anybody could and was accused. There was a five-year-old girl who was the daughter of someone else who was accused. There was the richest woman in Salem. Someone who had to beg now and then to get something for her children. Young, old, in intact families, on their own, it was a spooky year to live through. But before that, it was usually older, widowed women who didn't have a lot of support to speak up for them, who maybe had to ask more favors than was convenient for the neighbors. And so, one theory is that then the neighbors would feel guilty about maybe turning them down for something, and then if something happened after that, like let's say, they might blame it on the neighbor, but nothing was typical in Salem.
Stan Mallow
That's interesting, now, what was life like in Puritan Salem in the 1600s that created the conditions that led to fellow citizens, accusing innocent neighbors, of being witches and doing the devil's work?
Marilynne Roach
Well, there had been witch trials before, throughout new England, but not a lot. Now and then, maybe one or two people at a time. It was enough, it wasn't business as usual. The outbreak in '92 was really different. It was an anomaly in its own time, as well as in history. It was a particularly stressful time when everything that could possibly go wrong, went wrong. Since I'm speaking across borders here, I'm sorry to say, we were at war with Canada at the time. And there were frontier raids on both sides. That was a real danger. That was because there were two nations at war, France and England, ultimately in the colonies, there were privateers licensed by each side. So each side was jeopardized by that, it did the economy no good at all. And the fishermen who went out fishing with the major industry, they could get caught by the enemy, or they could get caught by pirates because there were also freelance pirates. Now and then there were also smallpox epidemics, that didn't actually blossom into a full-blown epidemic at that time, but it had happened and it would happen again in the next *. So there was all this that could possibly go wrong, Massachusetts, like other colonies, had lost its charter. So we hadn't been a legal governing entity really, for several years. A new charter had just been granted at the end of '91, and nobody really knew what was in it yet. So how much self -government was there going to be? There was more than some places had still, they could lose that again at any time. So there's another, and locally in Salem, the more distant rural part of town called Salem Village, it's not a separate town, part of greater Salem. It is a different town now. But there was a faction that wanted it to split from the rest of Salem. The Salem town fathers didn't want to give up any more land, 'cause there'd been three or four other towns split off already. And then within Salem Village, there were people who didn't want to split from greater Salem. Those who did, and they had their own parish, out there so there were people who had decided they didn't like the minister they'd hired. There'd always been controversy before they got a regular minister. They got a world of versions of three different people and they had their fourth one. He's supposedly the permanent one who, and then we'll have a happy time, a peaceful time for the rest of his life. And that didn't happen. So there were people who want to get rid of him and people who support him. And they're at loggerheads, and the people who want him to leave have decided they won't pay towards his salary. So it's winter, it's cold, and there's a frontier attack. The woodpile is almost gone, he hasn't been paid in over a year. Within his household, whatever started to go wrong, sort of comes to a head. The two girls in the family, his daughter, and a niece who was part of the family, the daughter is like seven or eight, and the niece is 11 or 12, and they start acting oddly, they seem sick from something. They try home remedies, that doesn't work. They pray, of course, and that doesn't relieve them. they call in the local physicians, one after another, there's various ones who sort of ride circuits through areas to see who's sick, and some who live nearby. And none of them come up with a solution. And finally one of them suggested maybe they're under an evil hand, meaning under a curse, and of course there's someone behind it. So a neighbor, the parents, Mr. and Mrs. Parris, don't do anything yet about it. They're away one day, they're both out of the house. And a neighbor who should know better and who is a full member of the local church comes over to the house with the suggestion of some counter magic, traditional British folklore, apparently, that people had done for generations thinking that either good spirits do this, or it's a natural cause and effect, but you know, my grandmother did it, so it's great. So she suggests to the two servants in the family, the Parris family, who are enslaved, how to make a witch cake, which is supposed to take some of the hurt that's in the girls, you can take some of their urine, cause it's easily a product of the body without hurting. You mix it with cheap flour, right? And you make a little board out of that, cook in the ashes and then you feed it to the dog. And this hurts the witch who has sent her malefic powers into supposedly suffering girls. And now some of that's in the cake and the dog chews up and digests and it and causes distress, theoretic, and that's supposed to reveal whoever's behind it. Someone's supposed to come to the door and say, you know, "what's going on?" And it shows that they're the guilty party, but I don't think anybody actually did. It's just that now the adults are taking these theories seriously, and I think it just scared the girls more, so they show worse symptoms. I think they scared themselves into self-fulfilling prophecies and feeling worse. So they have splitting headaches and they start to see apparitions. Apparently if you are panicked enough, the situation closes in your peripheral vision, the blood flow isn't right, or something I've heard. So that right there could look as if something was sneaking up on you. But anyway, they say they see specters, there isn't an episode where it pins it down, but the adults are probably suggesting names. Well, you know, "if you think there's someone after you, do you think it's so-and-so, do you think it's so-and so?" Or they hear them speculating, "well I wouldn't put it past Goody Osborne." So they named names. They named three people, Tituba was the Indian woman who was enslaved in the household, Sarah Good, who's the near beggar, who's got a temper because she used to be financially better-off than that, and she doesn't like her situation as it is now. And Sarah Osborne, a woman in the neighborhood who had made a disastrous second marriage to her former bond servant, who has kept the first husband's property away from the sons of the first marriage. So anyway, they're named, and now there seems to be a name behind bewitchment, if that's what it is. And then they go to law. And there's two other girls on opposite sides of the village, one to the east, one to the west, from the parsonage. And again they're having the same symptoms and seeing, that's from that--
Stan Mallow
Do you know, sorry,
Marilynne Roach
It escalates badly.
Stan Mallow
Do you know how many people were accused of being witches, and of those who were accused, how many of them were executed?
Marilynne Roach
There are about 191 names. I found that, mentioned as being suspected. And it seems this is during one summer, which is more than has been suspected in all of New England up to that point, there is about 164 of them are mentioned in legal papers. So we know there was something, there were, all in all, there were 52 trials, most of them after the pack. 30 people were found guilty and 20 were put to death.
Stan Mallow
Your book, "The Salem Witch Trials: a Day-by-day Chronicle of a Community Under Siege" was written, you said, a period of over 27 years. How did you mentally psych yourself up to stick with this undertaking for such a long period of time?
Marilynne Roach
First off, I didn't know it was gonna take that long. And after the first draft, when I used published source, I discovered that there were a lot of papers available, mostly on microfilm in the state's archive. And that it mentioned everything else that was going on, like the wars, the frontier attack, the economy. So I had to start over. It got turned down by quite a few people, but I kept going with it because I had, at one point I realized I've invested so much of my life with this, if I just drop it, I've wasted that much of my life. Finally, I found an editor who was interested in the topic to begin with it's, From there I went on, but it's an agonizingly slow process.
Stan Mallow
But you stuck with it and had to be a labor of love.
Marilynne Roach
Oh, it was, and it still is. 'Cause information keeps turning up and I keep working on stuff.
Stan Mallow
Now your book was based on original archival research, including discovery of previously unknown documents. How and where did you go about finding these previously unknown documents? I'm sure Agatha Christie would be proud of you. There had to be a lot of detective work involved.
Marilynne Roach
Well, I was stubborn. Well, I just, I was going through just about everything I could in the archive that was on microfilm the most. But at the beginning I was saw some of the actual documents, but it took so long, they digitized things or microfilmed them. I just thought that I would look through all of the topics. There was a volume that was, it said witch trial note, but I went through the others too, like the war, frontier tax, Indian relations, and then maritime stuff. Anything that had to do with that time period, I wanted to look at. There were unpaid jail bills from Boston in the pecuniary book, apart from the other jail bills that were with the witch trial. So I, that told me how long certain people were in the Boston jail, because they were in four different, there were four different jails in that summer and it wasn't the most, well, it was, it was interesting. I realized that it wasn't known before, yeah. When people logged in and logged out and who else was there at the same time, there were other people too, 'cause there were burglaries and pirates and frontier attacks.
Stan Mallow
When you were writing your books about the Salem witch trials, did you ever feel a psychic connection with the witches and that in some way you were channeling their spirits and that they wanted to tell their stories to you?
Marilynne Roach
I wish.
Stan Mallow
Okay.
Marilynne Roach
In the first place, they're not witches. They weren't witches by the definition of their own time. And it's not more than Wiccans and other religious groups, but, well, I feel, I feel possessive of them, of course, and I want to tell this story. And of course in six women, I'm trying to get inside their head, that's way I present it. I can only hope I did it accurately, or at least sort of accurately, as to what they really thought. Because I have, you know, end notes to say where I get the material. Trying to just tell the story in that way. But I also have sections that are clearly marked as being more imaginative as to what I think of what specific individual. No, unfortunately, I mean, I'd like to, but--
Stan Mallow
I had to ask you that question, I was debating with myself, should I or shouldn't I ask this? I've gotta ask her that
Marilynne Roach
Oh, go ahead. because you're so in tune with them, I was wondering if there is that, you know, paranormal connection to it. Well, not to notice anyway.
Stan Mallow
Okay, now at the trials, did the accused have lawyers or someone, even a family member who would speak up for them and defend them, or did they have to fend for themselves?
Marilynne Roach
I don't think anybody did for any kind of a case back then. I'm not certain, but I don't think they did. There were, well they called them attorneys, you didn't have to be a lawyer per se. People could speak on business suits, for example, if somebody was at sea and there was business back home that needed to be tended to. So someone else could speak for you then, but I don't think so. The idea was you tell the truth, which they did and weren't believed, but telling the truth was supposed to be enough. There were people who did offer to testify for various neighbors, I don't know if they were given a chance or not, but the paperwork is there. They're saying, "this is a good Christian woman. I've known her so long, and she's always been a decent neighbor. And I'm on record saying that." And there were at least four different petitions that have survived signed by dozens of neighbors speaking up for different people. It didn't do any good, they did put their names out there.
Stan Mallow
Were all who were found guilty of being a witch hanged, or other types of punishment given?
Marilynne Roach
Oh, well, 19 of the people who were found guilty were hanged. The others were actually eventually, if they hadn't died in prison of natural causes or escaped, they were let go. There were people who had still had the death penalty hanging over them, but they were free to go. One man was pressed to death. I'm sure everyone's heard Giles Corey. He wasn't actually tried because he was so stubborn, he wouldn't cooperate with being tried and didn't trust this court, which was logical actually, at that point, he pleads not guilty. And then when they asked him, "how would you be tried?" And there's a phrase you agreed to saying, "by this court," he shut up. He wouldn't say anything. He wouldn't give him the time of day. Apparently under English common law, it was legal to threaten to press someone, which is putting heavy weights on them until they either give in or they die. Well it's too late to escape it so he was pressed to death. The one and only time it was done, nobody else was, but he is included in the reparations afterwards, in the names of people being cleared, but he was never actually tried. 30 people were found guilty, but of that only 19, one died in jail because of the unsanitary, jails were not intended to hold a lot of people or anyone for a length of time. And it was crowded and it was a long.
Stan Mallow
How did the locals of Salem treat family members of the accused? Were they shunned, tarred and feathered out of the community, accused of being collaborators with the devil themselves?
Marilynne Roach
We'll take as an example, Rebecca Nurse's family, they stuck by her the whole way. They spoke up for her, they had written depositions saying that she's a good woman, and that the person who said such-and-such was not to be trusted. They got a petition together after she is found guilty. They take paperwork as high as the governor and get a reprieve, but that falls through, so she does hang. They state very publicly supporting her afterwards. They don't try to blend into the woodwork or anything. They're on the opposition to the separating from Salem, and getting a new minister and stuff, but they're very much evidenced, they're not hiding. Whereas some of the family in Andover, and there were more people accused in neighboring Andover than in Salem, Some of them, of the women who were accused there and actually confessed, because quite a few confessed, and they said afterwards, they didn't know what they was saying at the time. They were so frightened and confused. Some of their family members were convinced temporarily. Maybe she is a witch and it would be best to confess it. As one brother-in-law said to his sister-in-law, "God wouldn't let so many good men be this mistaken, but that does happen from time to time."
Stan Mallow
Indeed, if the, indeed, hysteria and madness ended, was there any remorse or apologies on the part of the accusers and those who joined in the insanity that prevailed or did they just try to sweep it under the rug?
Marilynne Roach
I imagine a lot of them didn't want to talk about it. Well, actually, when it ended, there were some people who thought there was a cover-up and that the devil really was recruiting in Massachusetts. I'm hoping that was the minority at that time. But as for personal apologies, Samuel Parris, the minister in whose house it started and, and two of the girls in his family were afflicted, he was quite evident, certainly at the beginning of this, and believed, I think sincerely, that things were going wrong. I say sincerely, but it was, he was not apt to trust the people who'd already died. He makes a half apology a little bit. It was too little too late. But the province of Massachusetts in 1697, ordered a public fast, which is where everybody goes to their respective churches in a service where everybody collectively apologized to God and to the community, for whatever was going wrong. The wording for the fast was sufficiently vague that it got passed by the legislature, and everybody knew that this is about the witch trial. One of the judges, Samuel Sewall, stood up during the service at his church. His minister led a personal apology from him, for his part in messing things up. There wasn't a lot, or if there were personal apologies, it didn't get recorded. Ann Putnam, who was one of the earliest afflicted girls, quite evident as an afflicted witness accuser throughout many of the trials, when she was an adult and wanted to be a fully community member of her local Salem Village church, for confession of faith that she gave for the later minister there, she apologizes for her part in the witch trials, being deluded by the devil, which is collaborating, if you put it that way. And especially causing the deaths of miss Goody Nurse and her relatives. And she apologized specifically to the relatives in so many words. Well, it was more than you see in other people. And the Nurse family didn't oppose it. They could have voted, no, she's not.
Stan Mallow
Now it seems, you know, there are a number of people that apologize, but obviously a lot of years have passed since that dark time in the history of Salem. Has any politician or some group have a movement to grant pardons, posthumously, to those innocents who were wrongly accused of being witches?
Marilynne Roach
Starting in 1703, I think one of the women who had been found guilty, but she's still alive, she petitioned to have her name cleared, just in case something went wrong and the panic starts up again. She could be put to death, which didn't happen, but she, her name and two of the other women are specifically mentioned as the verdict being reversed, their names are cleared. And then more people who had their death sentences passed on, or the families of the people who did not survive, petition and, it takes time for anything to go through the legislature.
Stan Mallow
Sure.
Marilynne Roach
By 1711, Massachusetts issued a reversal of attainder on the people who were found guilty, according to whatever petitions they had. And there's all these names that are listed. They're not to be considered as having been in the devil's snare. And it's no smear on their descendants. I guess in the fine print it says, "and you can't sue the court about it." So their names are cleared, but a couple were left out 'cause they never got into the petition. Five, a descendant of, one of the Marblehead women, a Marblehead woman, Wilmot Redd, petitioned the state legislature back in the 1950s, to clear her name. And they passed a resolution or something saying, "well, it's England's fault, and then England said, no, you're your own country now." So obviously nobody believed she was now. But back in the 1990s, there were five names that were noticed that had been left out. A number of people on the north shore of Massachusetts and their legislature got this through the government. They were deep, their names were cleared officially in 2001, which was just as I finished the book, writing the book.
Stan Mallow
Time for a sequel. Now should someone visit Salem, can you recommend any sites related to the witch trials? Any accused witches themselves that are off the beaten track?
Marilynne Roach
Alleged witches.
Stan Mallow
Alleged, yes.
Marilynne Roach
Yes, and of course, right now, everything, a lot is closed because of the pandemic. In Salem itself, there are two memorials in the city of Salem, one in downtown Salem, adjacent to the ancient burying ground, sort of a landscape design that was done from an international competition back for the 1992 anniversary. It's a green space with some trees and Stonewall bench-like slabs coming out. One for each of the people who had died who had either been hanged or, and Giles Corey, with the dates of their deaths. People leave flowers on it all the time, to my great, great grandmother, 'cause there's plenty of descendants out there, and the second site in Salem itself, is the location where the hanging took place called Proctor's Ledge. Now there's a semicircle with the names carved in the stones in the wall. There's a tree that's going to grow up. And that's particularly, I was fortunate enough to be instrumental in verifying that that was the site, although it was really explained back in 1901, that it was there and not the top of the hill, which you cannot see from the street. Therefore, how do you have a public example of hanging people if it's way where they can't see it, it's too steep to bother calling someone up. It was that spot, 99, 100% sure. In the town of Danvers nearby, which was Salem Village then, there is a memorial also from 1992. There is the site of the parsonage, which was excavated archeologically back in the 1960s and '70s. You see the stone cellar hole and then the other two rooms out there. But if you've read the trial transcripts obsessively, and you're familiar with the vernacular architecture of the time, you can, you know, the room above the root cellar is where the girls were having contortions and fits and seeing the devil, and in the other room is where Tituba was listening to this and then trying to make sense of it. And then Rebecca Nurse's house is standing. Parts of it, I think, really go back that far. But the family have had that farm for a long time and the house and a good deal of acreage around it is still existing with the family burying ground, where she presumably is buried. Also a memorial from the 1880s that her descendants raised to her, which was the first memorial for someone who had been executed as a witch anywhere, and also a replica of the meeting house from Salem Village, where some of the early hearings took place, because a meeting house does civil as well as religious gatherings. That's where some of the first hearings took place. It was replicated for a film that was produced back in the eighties, based on the exact measurements that are in the village records, as well as vernacular, it's very evocative of what, Oh, and in Salem itself, Judge Corwin's house is still in existence, right in the middle of town. It's called the witch house because that's what people called it for generations and they're kind of stuck with the name, but it's where he and his family lived. Let's see, other places are really represented by plaques on the wall. And if you're walking around, you could get a sense of how far apart sites were, where you know certain things happened, or actually didn't happen, because if it was spectral, it hadn't actually happened.
Stan Mallow
Now should any of my viewers want to order your books, "Six Women of Salem: the Untold Story of the Accused and their Accusers in the Salem Witch Trial" and "The Salem Witch Trials: A Day-by-day Chronicle of a Community Under Siege," how do they go about doing that?
Marilynne Roach
It's on Amazon and your local bookstores, independents are very good. My website should have links to there, and has a lot of other information, if anyone's interested. MarilynneKRoach.com, spell Marilynne and Roach correctly, because neither one is the usual way.
Stan Mallow
Great, Marilynne Roach, I thank you for being my guest on "Paranormal Yakker," it's been quite informative and I do look forward to interviewing you again. We'll be discussing another groundbreaking book I know you'll be writing, I'll be reading.
Marilynne Roach
And I'm working on it.
Stan Mallow
Yes, it's--
Marilynne Roach
- Thank you so much.
Stan Mallow
- That's in the air, thank you, bye bye. Hi everyone, I'm Stan Mallow, host of "Paranormal Yakker," an exciting, free YouTube series that explores everything from ghosts to UFO's. To view this series, just click on any of the photo thumbnails below. I would greatly appreciate it if you subscribe to my free YouTube channel. All you have to do is click on the Subscribe for Free button at the top of this page, thanks.