Troubles, Trials, and Tribulations

1.  The Pynchon Empire Expands

By the time that William Pynchon's book was burned on Boston Common, the New England colonies had fallen into a somewhat uneasy and intolerant frame of mind. The empiricist approach they brought to their religion meant that they did not feel they could know God's will directly, but only through events in the world and their personal inner states. In the early days of settlement, when the fertility of the land (and that convenient plague that had left it so empty of native inhabitants) meant that their hard work was rewarded many times over, it was easy to feel that all was right between them and God. But by the same token, any time things went wrong the very basis of their existence could seem to be called into question.

Doubts of this sort began to appear in the 1640's, when it became apparent that the intense devotion of a decade earlier was no longer there. The success of the Puritan Revolution in England in 1641 had interrupted the flow of new immigrants. The first generation of leaders was aging and dying, and those who replaced them were not of the same stature. The children and grandchildren of the original settlers often lacked the fervor of their parents. And the very prosperity that could be taken as a sign of divine approval had also brought with it a certain degree of worldliness As a result, the Puritans concluded that they were in a state of moral decline and looked around for someone to blame. 

That was why a mildly heretical work like "The Meritorious Price of Our Redemption," which might previously have been overlooked, now touched a raw nerve. Witchcraft persecutions were also increasingly common, and by the 1650's, any Quakers who made a nuisance of themselves in Boston (as Quakers in those days were wont to do) were likely to be treated severely or even executed.

However, if members of the second generation were not quite up to the high moral standards of their parents, they still had useful work of their own to do. John Pynchon, having succeeded to his father's estate when he was in his twenties, spent the next fifty years developing the Pynchon empire. If even today the name "Pynchon" evokes a kind of old-world lordliness, it is only a faint recollection of the status enjoyed by the family during this period.

John Pynchon's wife was Amy Wyllys, the daughter of Governor George Wyllys of Connecticut, whose aristocratic pedigree has already been mentioned. In 1673 their son, John Pynchon, Jr., married Margaret Hubbard of Ipswich, MA, the daughter of William Hubbard, an eminent preacher and historian. Margaret's maternal grandfather, the Reverend Nathaniel Rogers, had been considered one of the greatest preachers in New England and was the son of John Rogers, the most noted English Puritan of the early 1600's.

As Springfield grew, more settlers came from Connecticut and elsewhere, and new towns were established, such as Northampton and Westfield. Many Padget ancestral lines first arrived in western Massachusetts at this time. For example, John Ingersoll, who had come to Salem with the Higginson Fleet in 1629 and then spent some years in Hartford, CT, arrived in Northampton in 1655. 

Northampton lay north of Springfield on the Connecticut River, but Westfield was on a small tributary of the river, at the very edge of the Berkshire Mountains, and would be especially important as a jumping-off point for later migration westwards.  Padget ancestor Walter Lee was one of the earliest settlers of Westfield in 1665, and John Ingersoll showed up there in 1666. Robert Ashley's son David was another early settler, as were his sister Mary and her husband, John Root, Jr. of Farmington, CT. Thomas Dewey, Jr., who is a Padget ancestor on two different lines, and Ambrose Fowler, whose granddaughter would marry John Pynchon, 3rd, settled in Westfield as well.

2.  Kings and Sachems

The failure of the Puritan Revolution in England and the restoration of King Charles II in 1660 placed a great strain on the colonies, not so much for religious reasons as because now there was a government in England that was inclined to view them as resources to be exploited rather than as troublemakers to be ignored. The British takeover in 1664 of the Dutch colony of New Amsterdam was one sign of this new interest. At first, however, the New England colonies were given a good deal of latititude. The charter of the Massachusetts Bay colony was reconfirmed, and Connecticut for the first time received a charter of its own. 

Rhode Island made out even better, with a new royal charter that not only confirmed its autonomy but also endorsed its commitment to freedom of conscience. The charter, which continued in use until the 19th century and is still prominently displayed on Rhode Island's website, names two dozen prominent citizens who had petitioned for it -- including Padget ancestors John Smith, Jr., Gregory Dexter, John Greene, Richard Tew, and Thomas Harris -- and then goes on to state:

Now, know ye, that we, being willing to encourage the hopeful undertaking of our said loyal and loving subjects, and to secure them in the free exercise and enjoyment of all their civil and religious rights . . . and to preserve unto them that liberty in the true Christian faith and worship of God, which they have sought with so much travail... and because some of the people and inhabitants of the same colony cannot, in their private opinions, conform to the public exercise of religion, according to the liturgy, forms and ceremonies of the Church of England . . . do hereby publish, grant, ordain and declare . . . that no person within the said colony, at any time hereafter shall be any wise molested, punished, disquieted, or called in question, for any differences in opinion in matters of religion . . . but that all and every person and persons may . . . freely and fully have and enjoy his and their own judgments and consciences, in matters of religious concernments.
A second, and more severe, shock to the Puritans' self-confidence was the outbreak of King Philip's War. As the colonies expanded, they had increasingly encroached on the land and rights of the Indians. The original inhabitants had not been forced out, but their traditional culture and way of life were being destroyed and they were becoming economically dependent on the Europeans. In response to these pressures, a leader known to the settlers as King Philip plotted an uprising, which broke out in June of 1675. Several settlements in Plymouth colony were attacked, settlers were killed, and many houses were burned, including those of Padget ancestors Anthony Sprague in Hingham, MA and Richard Sisson in Dartmouth, MA.

Militia soon arrived from all the colonies in an attempt to contain the uprising -- the children and grandchildren of Massachusetts Puritans fighting side by side with those of Rhode Island dissidents. But their clumsy attempts to catch Philip, who easily slipped away to the Connecticut Valley, only encouraged other tribes to join him. 

By September, all of New England was in flames. Springfield was burned on October 5, 1675. John Pynchon wrote that, "All my mills, both corn and saw-mills, are burnt down; those at home, in this town, and also those I had in other places, and four of those houses, and barns to them, which were burnt in this town, belongeth to me also. So that God hath laid me low." His daughter-in-law Margaret took refuge back east, in her home town of Ipswich, where she gave birth to John Pynchon, 3rd.

In proportion to the population at the time, this was the bloodiest and costliest war in our nation's history, and many Padget ancestors were involved in one way or another. There were attacks on Northampton and on Westfield, where the houses and barns that were burned included those of Walter Lee and Ambrose Fowler. A separate uprising took place in the area of Scarborough, Maine, where Andrew Alger was killed. 

A major battle, known as the Great Swamp Fight, took place in Rhode Island in December 1675. Among those fighting were Captain John Dodge of Beverly, MA and Ensign Hugh Mosher of Newport, RI -- the husband of Rebecca Maxson, who as a little girl had escaped with her mother by boat after her father was killed by Indians on Long Island. 

The settlers were victorious in that battle, but the raids continued. James Kidder of Billerica, MA died in the spring of 1676, while commanding a garrison house. Launcelot Granger of Suffield, CT took a musket ball in the leg, which he carried to the end of his life. John Ballou of Providence, RI was also wounded in the fighting.

King Philip may have had the short-term advantage, but many of the tribes were not behind him and he was growing desperately short of food. In the summer of 1676, the Europeans counter-attacked strongly. By August, Philip was dead and his uprising was put down with great harshness. From that point on, any possibility of genuine coexistence between Europeans and Native Americans had vanished for good.

One of the standard sources of information about this conflict is a book by Padget ancestor William Hubbard, which appeared the following year. Its title page announced it as "The Present State of New-England. BEING A NARRATIVE Of the Troubles with the INDIANS in NEW-ENGLAND, from the first planting thereof in the year 1607, to this present year 1677: But chiefly of the late Troubles in the two last years 1675, and 1676.  . . .By W. Hubbard Minister of Ipswich."

Even as New England was recovering from these conflicts, the colonies began to feel increasing pressure to acknowledge themselves part of the new political and economic system which the British government was creating. Massachusetts in particular had maintained a considerable degree of autonomy, with its own courts, its own coinage, and its own religious requirements for citizenship. London, never happy about the situation, now began to push harder to bring them into line. The colonists were terrified of giving up the Puritan way of life and refused to compromise on a single clause of their charter. As a result, in 1684, the charter of the Massachusetts Bay Company was summarily revoked.

This revocation was not actually put into effect until 1686.  By then James II had become king, and his plans for asserting royal authority were far more ambitious. He suspended the charters of all the colonies and merged them into a single Dominion of New England under one royal governor. Local self-government was to be severely curtailed. 

At first, wealthy merchants and men of power tended to welcome this change, while the more conservative countryfolk and traditionalist Puritans feared it. But eventually, even the elite came to resent the imposition of arbitrary taxation, threats to the established system of land tenure, and heavy-handed attempts to introduce the Church of England. 

When word arrived on April 18, 1689 that James II had been overthrown and had fled England, the citizens of Boston rose up, arrested the royal officials, and reestablished their former government. The seeds of the American Revolution, which would break out exactly 86 years later, were present in that moment.

But this was not the end of the colonies' troubles. The balance of power in Europe was such that the change of rulers in England almost immediately brought on a war with France, known to the colonists as King William's War.  This, in turn, led to a renewal of Indian raids, in many cases by tribes who had fled to Canada at the conclusion of King Philip's War and were now allied with the French. 

The governments of the colonies were in too much disarray to act effectively in concert, so Massachusetts decided to act alone and planned a grand assault on Quebec. This expedition, in which Padget ancestor Nathaniel Clarke of Newbury, MA died of wounds received along the way, was a total fiasco, and the raids continued for another seven years. 

Meanwhile, all the suspended charters had been restored -- except for that of Massachusetts, which was replaced by a compromise version that curbed some of their autonomy but left most of their basic rights intact.  However, in a larger sense, there was no going back. The 17th century, a period of religious wars and sectarian disputes, was giving way way to a new era that woud be defined by maneuvers for world-wide political and economic power. 

King William's War was only the first of seven to be fought over the next 125 years, in which France and England contended for world domination. England was evolving into the British Empire, and New England would have no choice but to be part of that larger world system. 

3.  "I am Innocent as the Child Unborn" 

However, not everyone was ready to accept this change. There were many people in New England who wanted things to be the way they always had been, hoped that the overthrow of James meant things would go back to being the way they had been, and were not prepared to acknowledge that things could never be the way they had been. All these uncertain feelings, the outcome of the strains and tragedies of the past thirty years, would explode in 1692 in the town of Salem. 

Salem has come into this narrative briefly as the place where several Padget ancestors landed in 1628-29. William Sprague and John Ingersoll soon moved on, but William Dodge settled down in the neighboring town of Beverly and raised his family there. 

William's son, John Dodge -- the same John Dodge who served as a captain during King Philip's War -- was a miller in Beverly. He had married Sarah Proctor in 1659, and their son, John Dodge, Jr. would marry Mary Bridges, the daughter of Edmund Bridges of Salem and Sarah Towne.  Sarah had been widowed in 1682 and remarried to one Peter Cloyce.

These names are important to note if we are to understand the effect upon the families of John Dodge and Mary Bridges of the devasting events that took place in Salem in 1692.

It all started during the winter, when a group of adolescent girls passed by time by dabbling in fortune-telling with a slave-woman from the Caribbean named Tituba and then scared themselves into fits over what they had done. Their bizarre behavior caused the local ministers to be brought in to examine them. These included Padget ancestor John Hale, a Harvard-educated preacher who had been serving the congregation at Beverly since 1664. He and his fellows quickly arrived at a diagnosis of witchcraft.

In the proto-scientific way typical of the 17th century, the ministers were skeptical of the old medieval tests for identifying witches.  No trial by water for them! They wanted only hard, factual evidence -- which meant direct testimony by the affected girls. And the girls obliged, accusing Tituba, and two other local women. 

The business might have ended there, except that Tituba, in her own confession, claimed there were others involved whose names she did not know. So the preachers turned again to the hysterical girls, who obligingly identified six more witches over the next few weeks.

One of the first of those six was Mary Bridges' elderly aunt, Rebecca Towne Nurse. Rebecca, who was seventy-one years old and in poor health, was known to all as a pious, loving woman,. But the girls had given her name, and that was testimony enough to arrest her. 

Mary's mother, Sarah Cloyce, did not try to hide her anger at the accusations against her sister, and as a result she was arrested as well. Next came Elizabeth Proctor, whose husband, John Proctor, was the uncle of John Dodge, Jr. So vigorous was John Proctor in the defense of his wife that he quickly followed her into custody. The next group to be named resulted in a dozen more arrests, including Mary Bridges' other aunt, Mary Towne Esty.

What a shock for the families of these innocent victims! And what a nightmare they would live through over the next several months. Whether John Dodge and Mary Bridges were newly married at this time, or whether it was their mutual tragedy that brought them together, there could have been no couple more deeply affected by the events that took place in Salem that spring.

The jails were filling up, but in March and April of 1692, Massachusetts was still in a state of charter-less disorder. The new charter finally arrived from England in May, and in June the arrests began to proceed to trial. 

Rebecca Nurse, who had been one of the first taken, was also one of the first tried, and her supporters put up one of the strongest defenses. But the hysteria of her accusers trumped her defenders every time. The jury initially returned a verdict of not guilty -- but the girls fell into fits, so they reversed it. Then the new royal governor issued a reprieve -- and the girls fell into fits again. Eventually the frail old woman was hanged. The date was July 19, 1692.

After that, the trials proceeded apace. John Proctor was hanged on August 19 and Mary Esty on September 22. But after Mary's death, the prosecutions faltered, in large part because the number of those accused, and of those confessing, had reached an unbelievable level. 

A turning-point came when Rev. John Hale's own wife was accused. He had always been the most thoughtful and conscientious of the witch-hunters, and now he began to doubt the wisdom of relying on the testimony of hysterical girls. It was possible, after all, that it was not witches who were afflicting the girls but the devil who was deluding them into accusing innocent people. "It cannot be imagined," he would state dryly, "that in a place of so much knowledge so many in so small compass of land should abominably leap into the devil's lap at once."

More ministers and judges began to speak out in a similar vein, and the trials were never resumed. In 1693, those who remained in prison -- including Sarah Cloyce and Elizabeth Proctor -- were finally released. And over the next several years, there was a great outpouring of expressions of shame and repentance, Rev. John Hale's being the most eloquent among them. There would be no more witch-trials in America. Eventually, compensation would be paid to the survivors of some of the victims, and there were reversals of some of the sentences and excommunications. 

The descendants of Rev. John Hale remained in and around Salem. His son, Dr. Robert Hale, a Harvard-educated physician, married Elizabeth Clarke, the daughter of that Nathaniel Clarke who had died on the ill-fated expedition to Quebec. Their daughter, Rebecca Hale, married Rev. John Chipman of Barnstable, MA -- a great-grandson of Mayflower passenger John Howland -- who had attended Harvard and then served Beverly as minister. 

Their daughter, Elizabeth Chipman, married yet another Harvard-educated minister, the Rev. John Warren of Wenham (a small town which lies slightly north of Salem and Beverly.) And their daughter, Elizabeth Warren, married Abraham Dodge, the grandson of John Dodge and Mary Bridges. 

When I first worked out the relationships involved, I was amazed to discover this marriage between the great-grandson of the accused and the great-great-granddaughter of the accuser. If it is true that time heals all wounds, we can measure exactly how much time it took to heal this one. The date of Abraham and Elizabeth's marriage was March 27, 1752, sixty years to the week since Rebecca Nurse had been arrested for witchcraft and Sarah Cloyce had prompted her own arrest by slamming a church door in anger.

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