Let’s Talk About: Salem Witches

Can you imagine being dunked to prove your guilt or innocence? The poor man or (usually) a woman was tied to a chair and dunked into deep water until they confessed. If they could not recite the Lord’s Prayer without any error, they were a witch and dunked for good. 

Dunking was only one of seven “tests” administered to determine witches. One other was:

As part of the infamous “swimming test,” accused witches were dragged to the nearest body of water, stripped to their undergarments, bound and then tossed in to see if they would sink or float. Since witches were believed to have spurned the sacrament of baptism, it was thought that the water would reject their bodies and prevent them from submerging.

According to this logic, an innocent person would sink like a stone, but a witch would simply bob on the surface. 

Much research has been done on the genealogies of these twenty poor souls. If you suspect a connection to one of these twenty, here are some resources for you:

  • review your family tree for relatives living in Essex County in 1692-3
  • further build your Essex Co lines using verified sources (probate, journals)
  • compare surnames of the witches, and their children, to your own genealogy
  • consult the titles below:
    • Associated Daughters of Early American Witches Roll of Ancestors, by Kimberly Ormsby Nagy, 2012
    • The Witch hunt of 1692: A Tragedy in Massachusetts, by Marjorie Wardwll Otten, 1990
    • The Salem Witch Trials: A Day-by-Day Chronicle of a Community under Siege, by Marilynne K. Roach, 2002
  • AmericanAncestors.org provides a variety of resources
  • FamilySearch.org/wiki has pages and pages of resources for Essex County

Thanks to David Allen Lambert’s article in the American Ancestors Magazine for this information.