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Salem Settlement

Figure 1: Map of Salem, 1692

Salem was the second settlement in Massachusetts colony and was established eight years after Plymouth.  It was established by Roger Conant, a fisherman.  In 1624, he and others established Cape Ann for the Dorchester Company.  The settlement proved unsuccessful and Conant got permission to move it to the Naumkeag River where an old Native American village and trading center used to be.  This settlement was originally named Naumkeag and was established in 1626 with Roger Conant as the leader.

A change in leadership

Figure 2: Statue of Roger Conant

Roger Conant was a good leader and helped the young colony thrive.  However, the Dorchester Company failed and was replaced with the Massachusetts Bay Company which included several of the original investors in the Dorchester Company.  With this change the Massachusetts Bay Company sent a replacement for Conant, John Endecott an English magistrate and soldier.  The transition to Endicott was a peaceful one with Conant stepping down and receiving land as compensation for his service.  Even though Conant was no longer leader of the colony throughout his life he served in many high ranking community positions and remained a strong influence in the colony. 

Figure 3: John Endecott

John Endecott became the first governor of Naumkeag and the Massachusetts Bay Company.  Due to the peaceful transition it was agreed to change the name of the settlement to Salem which means peace.  Salem was incorporated in 1629.

Religion in the colony

Salem was a Puritan community and the leaders reflected this.  Even though the Puritans settled in the area to be able to worship as they pleased, they were highly intolerant of others’ religious views.  The laws of the era reflected this and there were punishments for expressing views dissimilar to those of the accepted Puritan values.  This emphasis on religion was a leading factor in one of Salem’s most well knows points in history, the Salem Witch Trials. 

Salem Witch Trials

Figure 4: Witchcraft at Salem Village

The Salem witch trials are a significant part of American history.  The manner in which it played out was one of the reasons the founding fathers wrote the Constitution the way they did, on the basis that everyone is innocent until proven guilty.  The Salem witch trials started in February, 1692.  Political and social tensions ran high in the area which was a likely contributor to the tensions which led to such mass hysteria.  Added to this was the religious fervor and belief that the supernatural was present in everyday activities.  Belief in demons, witchcraft and Satan was common. 

Two young girls, Betty Parris and Abigail Williams began to act strangely.  When no physical cause could be found, they turned to witchcraft as the probable cause.  After being questioned, the girls pointed to three women as witches.  This was the start of a massive witch hunt.  These allegations were supported by others with quite a bit of drama and the numbers of those “afflicted” grew.  While all those originally accused initially declared their innocence, one eventually confessed.  Even if the initial accusations may have been met with some skepticism, after the confession those who doubted started to believe.  Thus began a witch hunt in earnest.  Although the people who were accused at first were the outcasts, poor and the more unusual members of society, the accused started reaching into the more prominent, upstanding citizens. 

Figure 5: Examination of a witch

The evidence that was allowed to be heard in court included accounts of spectral images and fantastic stories that were taken as fact with no physical evidence to support it.  Accused witches were examined and tortured to elicit a confession.  During this brief period as many as 200 people were accused of witchcraft, arrested and imprisoned.  Four accused died in prison, one man was crushed to death and nineteen accused witches were executed including one member of the clergy.

There are many theories as to why this occurred.  The girls may have enjoyed their notoriety, there may have been family feuds which fueled accusations, there may have been greed as an impetus or there may have been some genuine concern there were witches in their midst.  Regardless, the way this event in history was handled was unjust in the extreme.  Apologies were given, the convictions ultimately overturned and compensation made to families for the injustice. 

It is not the only reason but the Salem witch trials certainly played a significant role in forming the way the United States judicial system works in an attempt to right the wrongs that occurred in the past.  See also [click here for Article I of the Constitution] and [click here for Article III of the Constitution].

(Examination of the Salem witch trials is a long and complicated, yet fascinating subject.  These few paragraphs are a brief summary.  A more in depth account will be available in the near future.  Keep checking back!)

The Revolutionary War

Figure 6: Salem Harbor

Salem was a key city during the Revolutionary War.  They became a hub for privateers, individuals who use their own ships for the government during times of war.  In order to be a privateer a letter of marque, which is a form of a license, was issued by the government authorizing the person or ship to act on the government’s behalf.  Salem was a famous seaport and was responsible not only for becoming a port for privateers but also as a center for trade.

Growth of Salem

Salem was a prosperous settlement with several historical sites and famous architecture.  Although most well-known for the Salem Witch Trials, the location of Salem made it a pivotal area during times of conflict.  Currently, tourism plays a significant role in the economy of the city between historical sites, literary points of interest, museums and areas related to the witch trials. 

Salem Timeline

1624 Roger Conant established Cape Ann for the Dorchester Company.  This settlement would prove unsuccessful

1626 Naumkeag, later Salem, was established, led by Roger Conant

1628 Roger Conant replaced by John Endecott as leader of the settlement

1629 Salem incorporated

February, 1692 Salem Witch Trials begin

May, 1693 end of the Salem Witch Trials

March 15, 1664/5 John Endecott died

November 19, 1679 Roger Conant died


Figure 1:  Salem Village map of 1692, at the start of the Salem witch trials, as created in 1866 from historical records by Charles W. Upham, Salem Witchcraft, With an Account of Salem Village and a History of Opinions on Witchcraft and Kindred Spirits (1867).

Figure 2: Statue of Roger Conant. Sculptor Henry Hudson Kitson.  Photo by wagner51

Figure 3: John Endecott portrait, c. 1665.

Figure 4: Witchcraft at Salem Village. Engraving. The central figure in this 1876 illustration of the courtroom is usually identified as Mary Walcott. 1876. William A. Crafts (1876), Pioneers in the settlement of America: from Florida in 1510 to California in 1849 (Pioneers in the settlement of America: from Florida in 1510 to California in 1849. ed.), Boston: Published by Samuel Walker and Company

Figure 5: Examination of a witch.  1853. Collection of the Peabody Essex Museum. Thompkins H. Matteson, painter. 

Figure 6: Salem Harbor by the American artist Fitz Hugh Lane. Oil on canvas. Courtesy of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. 1853


Douglas O. Linder (September, 2009.)  Famous American Trials. Salem Witch Trials 1692. Retrieved from

John Endecott. (2012, June 1). In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved 15:32, June 7, 2012, from

Roger Conant (Salem). (2012, April 28). In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved 15:32, June 7, 2012, from

Salem, Massachusetts. (2012, June 6). In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved 15:30, June 7, 2012, from,_Massachusetts&oldid=496352884

Salem, Massachusetts: The City Guide. The Salem Witch Trials.  Retrieved June 7, 2012 from

United States History.  History of Salem, Massachusetts.  Retrieved June 7, 2012 from

Discussion Questions 

  1. What colony was Salem located in? Massachusetts
  2. Who established the colony? Roger Conant
  3. In what year? 1626
  4. What settlement was he a part of before Salem? Cape Ann
  5. Was this a successful settlement? No
  6. What did Conant want to do? Move to the mouth of the Naumkeag River
  7. Who did he get permission from to move? The Dorchester Company
  8. What was the name of the new settlement? Naumkeag
  9. Where was it located? At an old Naumkeag Indian village and trade center
  10. Was the Dorchester Company successful? No
  11. What entity took over for the Dorchester Company? The Massachusetts Bay Company
  12. Who was sent from the Massachusetts Bay Company to replace Roger Conant as leader? John Endecott
  13. The name of the Naumkeag settlement changed.  To what? Why? It was changed to Salem which means peace because of the peaceful transition in leadership from Conant to Endecott.
  14. When was Salem incorporated? 1629
  15. What was the religion practiced in Salem? Puritanism
  16. Was religion a casual or important part of Salem society? It was an integral part of their lives
  17. When did the witch trials begin? 1692
  18. Who were the girls who started the accusations? Betty Parris and Abigail Williams
  19. Were the girls actually possessed or under a spell? Not likely
  20. What was cited as the reason the girls were ill? Witchcraft
  21. Were the accused witches actually witches? No
  22. Were the accused witches treated fairly? No
  23. Were the accused witches granted a fair trial? No
  24. Explain some examples of how the accused witches were treated unfairly.  Tortured to confess, no physical evidence necessary, no proof, use of spectral images allowed as evidence, etc.
  25. What are spectral images? Ghosts or spirits of the person
  26. Were any innocent people convicted of witchcraft? Yes, all of them were innocent
  27. What was the worst thing that happened to convicted witches? They were executed
  28. What lessons were learned from this period in history? People should be assumed innocent until proven guilty, People should be entitled to a fair trial, etc.
  29. How did the Salem witch trials play an important part in the shaping of America? It influenced how the judicial system worked for the framers of the Constitution
  30. During the Revolutionary War why was Salem important? It was a trading center and it served as a base for privateers
  31. What is a privateer? An individual or their property, typically a ship, that is acting for the government in times of war
  32. What does a privateer need in order to serve a government? A letter of marque
  33. What is a letter of marque? A license, permission from the government, to act on their behalf
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