Sunday, April 26, 2009


"The internets" is an amazing place. I recently discovered through that one of my ancestors was one of the first women executed at what would come to be known as the Salem Witch Trials, Sarah Averill Wildes. I wonder what my maternal grandmother would think. She did extensive family research many years ago to prove a connection to a Revolution-era ancestor in order to become a member of the Colonial Dames. But this bit of history goes back farther than that. Sarah, at age 65, was hanged on July 19, 1692.

I remember having to read something about the trials in English class and being pretty bored with all the"Goody this" and "Goody that" characters. It must have been The Crucible, unless it was another popular fictional account. As interesting as the subject matter was, the Salem witch trials came most alive for me in two fantasy shows from my childhood.

In a two- or three-part episode of Bewitched, Samantha goes back to Salem. I always loved that show and Elizabeth Montgomery, but especially liked how they took what had been a fun, fluffy, fantasy and special-effects show and combined it with some real history.
In one of my favorite episodes of The Avengers, "Murdersville," Mrs. Peel goes to visit a friend in his new home and runs into a village full of twisted, crooked individuals. In an extended scene she is hunted and then imprisoned in a chastity belt, and then later placed in the dunking stool, which is a torture device that was also used to ferret out "witches." What human beings will do to one another is astounding. And in the name of religion, too. This scene of public humiliation and torture to a modern, athletic, kick-ass woman brought the horror of how a crowd can be deadly and how a strong woman can be perceived as very threatening.

I have some more research to do, but various accounts of Sarah and her fate suggest that she may have been difficult to get along with, and her disputes with a neighbor woman over something as mundane as the borrowing of a scythe may have contributed to the accusation and her execution. It's difficult being a strong woman in any era, but terrifying to contemplate how a weak-minded herd could result in this sad chapter of history.


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