EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

Merrimack Valley

October 26, 2008

Researcher unearths Andover's role in witchcraft trials

ANDOVER — Nearly a third of the more than 150 people accused of witchcraft during the Salem Witch Trials were from Andover, according to linguist Margo Burns.

Burns, who lives in Manchester, N.H., and has family in Andover, is wrapping up a decadelong research project on the infamous events of 1692. Her ancestor, Rebecca Nurse, was one of the 19 people hanged as witches during the trials.

On Wednesday, Burns will present a lecture, "New Insights on Andover's Role in the Salem Witch Trials" at the North Andover Historical Society, 153 Academy Road. The event starts at 7:30 p.m. and costs $5 for non-members.

— Brian Messenger

What did it take to be accused of witchcraft in 1692 Salem?

Not much. In many cases, if somebody had fallen ill or if a cow had died or something, people would try to figure out why this happened. Their lives revolved around an understanding that things happened for a reason. All you had to do was have a little bit of a temper sometimes and you might get accused, if somebody had something bad happen to them or their family.

You said the majority of those accused in Andover confessed to witchcraft. Why?

Most of them were children. False confessions are very easy to coerce from young people. Some of the people were described by others as not being especially intelligent. Most of the confessions were achieved during very intense interrogation and sometimes torture. They picked on weak people. They felt they needed to get a confession to justify the witch hunt.

What was the punishment for admitting to witchcraft?

There was only one law on the books, and it was a capital felony. You would be executed, and the method of execution was hanging. They didn't always hang people, but they sometimes kept them in jail for a long time.

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