March 04, 2019

For Sale: The Home of A Salem Witch Trial Victim

Would you like to own a home connected to Salem witch trials? Now is your chance. The historic Solart-Woodward House in Wenham, Massachusetts just went on the market. The house has four bedrooms, two and a half bathrooms. and is priced at $599,000. That seems like a good price in this current market.

Although there have been additions since, the original part of the house was built in 1670. That's an old house. A friend of mine used to live in a house built in the 1680s, and you could feel the history seeping out of the walls. I imagine the Solart-Woodward house would feel the same.

The Solart-Woodward House
As you might expect, the house has a tragic history attached to it. It was built by John Solart, a French immigrant and the father of Sarah Good, one of the first people accused in the Salem witch trials. Solart operated the house as an inn but drowned himself a few years later. His wife (Sarah's mother) inherited Solart's wealth after the suicide and quickly remarried. Sarah and her sisters sued but failed to get any of the inheritance.

Sarah married Daniel Poole, an indentured servant who incurred heavy debts. She inherited these when he died in 1682. Sarah's second husband, William Good, paid off her debts but had to sell most of his property to do so. He and Sarah became homeless, wandering through Essex County begging for food and shelter with their young daughter Dorothy (often erroneously referred to as Dorcas in older scholarly works).

Many witch accounts from colonial New England follow a familiar pattern. A poor person (usually a woman) asks a wealthier person for food or money. When the wealthier person refuses them the poor person mumbles threats. The wealthy person then hits a string of bad luck (sick children, dying farm animals, household mishaps) and accuses the poor person of being a witch. Puritans were expected to take care of each other and offer hospitality, but resented it when they felt they were being taken advantage of. Witch accusations often arose from that resentment.

That resentment could sometimes turn deadly. It did for Sarah Good. When the afflicted girls of Salem began to name witches Sarah was among the first. As a poor female beggar she was an obvious target. She denied being a witch until the end, but the judges still found her guilty. They thought the contortions of the afflicted girls were credible evidence. They were convinced when four-year old Dorothy Good admitted to being a witch and accused her mother. They took William Good literally when he said he felt like his wife was a witch when she treated him poorly. Absurd as it now seems, it all added up to a death sentence for Sarah.

Sarah Good was executed on July 29, 1692. A well-known story claims that she uttered a dying curse. After she was sentenced to hang the Reverend Nicholas Noyes asked her once again to admit her guilt. She refused, reportedly saying, "I am no more a witch than you are a wizard, and if you take away my life God will give you blood to drink!" Sarah was executed, but twenty-five years later Reverend Noyes died from internal hemorrhaging. Blood gushed out of his mouth as he expired. Witnesses thought back to Sarah Good's dying curse.

Sarah Good's problems and death were caused by poverty. Ironically, after the witch trials ended William Good sued for damages and won. He received thirty pounds, which was several times more than the average laborer earned in a year.


Robert Mathiesen said...

Sarah Good's daughter, Dorothy / Dorcas, just 4 years old, was imprisoned with her mother, kept in chains throughout the term of her imprisonment, and not released until 8 months had passed (because her father could not afford the heavy fees required to free even an innocent person from jail in those days). The experience drove her insane and unable to take care of herself. Years later her father petitioned for financial aid from the Colony to help with his daughter, who since her imprisonment "hath ever since been very chargeable, having little or no reason to govern herself."

Peter Muise said...

Hi Robert! Thanks for the comment. There are some really shocking stories attached to the Salem trials, and Dorothy/Dorcas Good's is one of them. I think her treatment really gives us a window into the mentality of that time. We've become inured to the mistreatment of adults but her story still is surprising to me.

Sue Bursztynski said...

It was a dreadful time! Sad indeed about that girl who survived it but seems to have had a bad case of PTSD. I’m halfway through Stacy Schiff’s book about the Salem witch trials - amazing how much of it was politics!

Peter Muise said...

Hi Sue! Thanks for the comment. The Stacy Schiff book is good. She brings a lot of style to the story.

Rich Clabaugh said...

Thanks for the post, Peter! It's bad enough refusing to help someone who's hit hard times but to go around and then accuse them of witchcraft is a whole new level of mean.