By Daniel Hubbard | October 30, 2011
Purely by coincidence I happen to be researching a family connected to the Salem Witch Trials. Honestly it has nothing to do with the approach of Halloween. I’ll confess that I’m writing about them now rather than later because of Halloween but that is another matter.
I’m not going to write about the gory details of the trials, torture, and executions. If a witch story is what you want, try my post from last Halloween. What I was struck by in this story was the size of the changes from one generation to another. We often think that long ago, little changed from generation to generation. In some cases that can be true but it isn’t always so. Sometimes things happened in a grandson’s life that a grandfather would never have believed and perhaps could never have believed. By focusing us on the people of the past and their relationships, genealogy gives us a perspective from which to notice things we would not have seen otherwise.
The people that I’ve been working on lead back to the Putnam family. That is a family well enough known that they are sure to attract false claims through the gravitational attraction of fame. In the case of the man who was my starting point, there was more than one claim. Any one of the claims might be true. It is impossible for more than one to be true and one should wonder if there is any truth to any of them. Research did lead me back to the Putnam family but not in any of the ways alleged. Nevertheless, it has given me a reason to look into what is known of this fascinating family and write a little bit about them.
Thomas Putnam was born in England in 1614. Thomas, his parents and his siblings migrated to New England in the 1630s, like so many other Puritans. A generation later many of his children and older grandchildren played roles in that great witch hunt of the year 1692. Some defended the accused, most made accusations or even supposedly battled witches. Another was allegedly killed by witchcraft. One, twelve-year-old granddaughter Ann, was one of the children who claimed to be tormented by witches and who left countless depositions. Fourteen years later, she confessed her guilt in the affair. Times were changing.
What really struck me though was what Ann’s younger cousin Israel did later in life. The contrast was and is something that makes me stop and think. His parent’s generation had hunted witches. His grandparent’s generation had left behind an England they still loved and hoped, somehow, to reform. Israel Putnam left behind his plow in his field on April 20, 1775. He arrived outside Boston the following day. Soon he was the second highest ranking officer in the Army of Observation that surrounded Boston after the Battle of Lexington and Concord. There he eventually was responsible for the fortifications on Breed’s Hill and some say was the man who initiated the famous order “Don’t fire until you see the white’s of their eyes.”
The Times They Were A-Changing
How quickly things can change, even in the past when, supposedly, nothing ever changed. The grandson of a man born and raised in England did not just take the field against his grandfather’s native land. He commanded the force that inflicted the highest casualties of the American Revolution. The son of a generation that hunted witches was an early leader of a revolution that was based, in part, on the philosophy of the Enlightenment. One generation from “Confess that you are a witch!” to “We hold these truths to be self-evident…”
“The Confession of Anne Putnam, when she was received to Communion, [25Aug]1706.
“I desire to be humbled before God for that sad and humbling providence that befell my father’s family in the year about ’92; that I, then being in my childhood, should, by such a providence of God, be made an instrument for the accusing of several persons of a grievous crime, whereby their lives were taken away from them, whom now I have just grounds and good reason to believe they were innocent persons; and that it was a great delusion of Satan that deceived me in that sad time, whereby I justly fear I have been instrumental, with others, though ignorantly and unwittingly, to bring upon myself and this land the guilt of innocent blood; though what was said or done by me against any person I can truly and uprightly say, before God and man, I did it not out of any anger, malice, or ill-will to any person, for I had no such thing against one of them; but what I did was ignorantly, being deluded by Satan. And particularly, as I was a chief instrument of accusing of Goodwife Nurse and her two sisters, I desire to lie in the dust, and to be humbled for it, in that I was a cause, with others, of so sad a calamity to them and their families; for which cause I desire to lie in the dust, and earnestly beg forgiveness of God, and from all those unto whom I have given just cause of sorrow and offence, whose relations were taken away or accused.”