How Do We Know What We Know? Salem Witch-Hunt Primary Sources with Margo Burns, Part 2

How Do We Know What We Know? Salem Witch-Hunt Primary Sources with Margo Burns, Part 2 Thou Shalt Not Suffer: The Witch Trial Podcast

Part 2 of our enjoyable Margo Burns Witch Trial talk series brings more fun and informative conversation. This information-packed two part series, includes background on her research and editing of the book Records of the Salem Witch-Hunt. Be sure to catch both talks! Discover how we know what we know from the study of historical records. We have some laughs and heartfelt conversation about some of her new project discoveries on Chief Magistrate William Stoughton of the Salem Witch Trials. We connect past witch trials to today’s witchcraft fear with a discussion answering our advocacy questions: Why do we witch hunt? How do we witch hunt? How do we stop hunting witches? LinksThe Untold Story of Dorothy Good: A Tragic Life After the Salem Witch TrialsSupport our show, buy "Records of the Salem Witch Hunt" through this link.University of VA, Salem Witch Trials Documents and TranscriptionsSupport Us! Sign up as a Super Listener!End Witch Hunts Movement Thou Shalt Not Suffer Podcast Book StoreSupport Us! Buy Witch Trial Merch!Support Us! Buy Podcast Merch!Join us on Discord to share your ideas and feedback.Please sign the petition to exonerate those accused of witchcraft in ConnecticutSocial Media for Dr. Saud Anwar, State SenatorSocial Media for State Representative Jane GaribayFact Sheet for Connecticut Witch Trial HistoryWrite a Connecticut Legislator WebsiteTwitterFacebookInstagramPinterestLinkedInYouTubeTikTokDiscordBuzzsproutMailchimpDonateSupport the show

Show Notes

Part 2 of our enjoyable Margo Burns Witch Trial talk series brings more fun and informative conversation. This information-packed two part series, includes background on her research and editing of the book Records of the Salem Witch-Hunt. Be sure to catch both talks! Discover how we know what we know from the study of historical records. We have some laughs and heartfelt conversation about some of her new project discoveries on Chief Magistrate William Stoughton of the Salem Witch Trials. We connect past witch trials to today’s witchcraft fear with a discussion answering our advocacy questions: Why do we witch hunt? How do we witch hunt? How do we stop hunting witches? 


The Untold Story of Dorothy Good: A Tragic Life After the Salem Witch Trials

Support our show, buy “Records of the Salem Witch Hunt” through this link.

University of VA, Salem Witch Trials Documents and Transcriptions

Support Us! Sign up as a Super Listener!

End Witch Hunts Movement 

Thou Shalt Not Suffer Podcast Book Store

Support Us! Buy Witch Trial Merch!

Support Us! Buy Podcast Merch!

Join us on Discord to share your ideas and feedback.

Please sign the petition to exonerate those accused of witchcraft in Connecticut

Social Media for Dr. Saud Anwar, State Senator

Social Media for State Representative Jane Garibay

Fact Sheet for Connecticut Witch Trial History

Write a Connecticut Legislator 











Josh Hutchinson: Welcome to Thou Shalt Not Suffer: The Witch Trial Podcast. I'm Josh Hutchinson.
Sarah Jack: And I'm Sarah Jack.
Josh Hutchinson: Today, we feature part two of our interview with Margo Burns, associate editor of Records of the Salem Witch-Hunt.
Sarah Jack: In our conversation, you'll hear how Margo is not done researching and investigating. She has an exciting project that she is working on, the biography of William Stoughton. She even traveled across the sea to look at his handwriting. 
Josh Hutchinson: She tells some wonderful stories from her research and what [00:01:00] she's been able to uncover, what she still looking for, and what she wishes still existed that unfortunately has been lost. We talked about Robert Calef's More Wonders of the Invisible World and whether or not his records can be trusted and how historians use those documents in Records of the Salem Witch Hunt.
Sarah Jack: And what is it like to do one of these biographies on a main character from the Salem Witch-Hunt. We heard a little bit from Dan Gagnon on what it's like. His project's complete Margo's in the trenches with it right now, and it's very interesting.
Josh Hutchinson: And similar to Rebecca Nurse, William Stoughton didn't leave a lot of documents behind.[00:02:00] Nobody knows where his records are, if they're still in existence at all. Unlike the Mathers, where you have volumes and volumes of their diaries and their correspondence to anyone whoever wrote them a letter, you just don't have the papers there to analyze Stoughton's life. So Margo is having to use a tangential approach, I would say, where she's coming in at it sideways, looking at all of his associates to find out what they ever wrote about Stoughton and looking through other people's correspondence to see what was said about his life at the time. And she's traveled back to [00:03:00] Oxford in England to have a look at where he studied and see if he left anything behind there.
 We also talk about Stoughton's other side. We know him as the villain of the Salem Witch Trials, but he did have a philanthropical side, where he did bequeath sums of money to charitable causes. So you get to learn more about that, and you get to hear all of Margo's great stories about chasing down the shadowy figure.
And we talked to her about the records that we know are missing and what could be missing, because Governor Thomas Hutchinson wrote a history of Massachusetts Bay [00:04:00] in the 18th century and included references and transcripts. He said he had the documents, the primary source documents from the Salem Witch Trials and copied them into his history, but those documents are missing, and it's believed that they disappeared in the Stamp Act Riot, when patriots stormed his house and went through all his things and threw everything out into the streets.
But how do you know what's missing? I wanna know how do we know what we don't know? So we ask both questions, how do we know what we know, and how do we know what we don't know?
Sarah Jack: Now, one thing we know is that Dorothy Good's name was not Dorcas.
Josh Hutchinson: And we know that because Margo got on the case [00:05:00] and corrected the transcription of the records about Dorothy Good, not Dorcas. There was a transcription error long ago, and people have been using the same transcription for decades and repeating the name Dorcas, until Margo came along and discovered that her real name was Dorothy.
Sarah Jack: And you'll hear Margo talk about the handwriting analysis, and it's a science, and she applied it.
Josh Hutchinson: We'll have a link in the show notes to a talk given by Salem Witch, museum Education Director Rachel Christ-Doane about Dorothy Good and what we know about her life after the trials.
Sarah Jack: Thank you, Margo.
Thank you, Rachel.
Josh Hutchinson: Yes, thank you Margo and Rachel for [00:06:00] setting the record straight on little Dorothy Good, the four year old child who was chained up in the prison.
We talk to Margo again and get some good stories, and it's awesome, and you're gonna love it, and it's fantastic.
Sarah Jack: And now here's some great history from Josh. 
Josh Hutchinson: William Stoughton was the chief justice of the Court of Oyer and Terminer that met in Salem to try those accused of witchcraft in Massachusetts in 1692. Still, no biography has yet been written about him. What we do know about Stoughton is that he was born in 1631 or 1632, the son of Elizabeth Knight and Israel Stoughton. William's family migrated to Dorchester, Massachusetts shortly after his birth in England. William graduated from Harvard College in 1650 and Oxford University [00:07:00] in 1652. He began his working life as a minister and preached in Oxford until 1660, when King Charles II was restored to the throne.
In 1662, Stoughton returned to Dorchester and began a career as a merchant. He was first elected to the General Court in 1671 and went on to hold many significant posts in the militia, judiciary, legislative, and executive branches of the Bay Colony's government. In May 1692, Stoughton was appointed Lieutenant Governor and named Chief Justice of the Court of Oyer and Terminer. He presided over the trials and executions in 1692 and then served as chief justice of the new Superior Court of Judicature in 1693, signing more death warrants, which fortunately were not carried out, as Governor Phips granted a reprieve. As Deputy Governor, [00:08:00] Stoughton led the colony from the death of Governor Phips in 1695 until his own death in 1701. 
Sarah Jack: Thank you for that great history, Josh.
Josh Hutchinson: You're welcome.
Sarah Jack: Is everybody ready for part two? Here's Margo Burns, historian, associate editor, and project manager of Records of the Salem Witch Hunt.
Josh Hutchinson: Yay. Applause.
Margo Burns: William Stoughton is responsible for just about everything. I will give some of that credit, if it's credit, to Hathorne and Corwin, the two initial magistrates who were interrogating people, because they just accepted every, single accusation, and they kept everybody in jail and just went forward. But when we finally get to the trials, William Stoughton is in charge of everything. He set down the rules. He was making sure everything went correctly, if I put it that way. So when Rebecca Nurse was [00:09:00] found not guilty, he sent the jury back to reconsider, twice. Twice! And even though it turns out that she hadn't heard a question the second time, and she couldn't answer, and that was, of course, if you get asked a question and you don't have a reply, that's tantamount to saying, "you got me."
And that's what ended up happening, but you can imagine the chaos in that courtroom when she was found not guilty. And she didn't hear. Now a lot of people say, "oh, she was deaf." I challenge just about anybody to hear over what ruckus had to have been happening in that room. And later on, we have the account of the grand jury foreman and we have her account that, no, that wasn't what it was. And they appealed. They appealed. But we have a thing in Calef saying that the governor was ready to do it, but then a gentleman of Salem talked him out of it. Stoughton was in charge. He got it exactly. Now he wasn't a gentleman of Salem. We don't know who that was that got the governor's ear [00:10:00] and said, "nah, you shouldn't do that." A lot of us speculate. We try and figure out who it could have been, but we don't know. 
Sarah Jack: I've been wondering why Robert Calef's reports are given so much weight. 
Margo Burns: He published them. That's the thing. You find out more about people if they left a paper trail. And he also, he and Cotton Mather were at it all the time. They were just public foes writing things about each other. So this just sorta fit right in. And Calef had access to some documents and accounts that nobody else had. We don't have a hard copy of John Alden's description of what happened to him. We only have it through Calef. And we do try and keep track of what Calef says, not just because he hated Cotton Mather, but he does have some accounts from other people. So when we have this document, as put into Calef, that is Rebecca Nurse saying this is what happened, and we have other pieces that he [00:11:00] puts into it. That's not necessarily him, but that's him picking and choosing. The joy of being an editor, you get to pick and choose what pieces you'll put in, but, generally speaking, people have found his sources credible. And also, when you leave paper trail, you're the one that people are interested in.
And there's an explanation why the Salem Village cases are more interesting to people than the Andover cases. Well, not if you're from Andover, they're more important. But part of that is the vivid descriptions from those interrogations that were done by Samuel Parris. We like vivid. We wanna see the paper trail. And when we get to Andover and just have all these things that say, "after several questions purpounded and negative answers given, she confessed." So those start sounding the same, and we're not as interested in those. So that's why the interest in the Salem Village accounts hold people. When you have a paper trail, [00:12:00] that's what you look at.
And, in my research in Stoughton, I tell people a little joke, and it goes like this. There's somebody, one o'clock in the morning, crawling around on the sidewalk underneath the streetlight. 
And police car stops by to say, "excuse me, what's going on here?" 
And the guy says, " I dropped my wallet. I'm looking for it." 
And police officer has a nice big flashlight, looking around and going, "dude, it's not here. If you dropped your wallet here, I'd find it. Are you sure you dropped it here?" 
And the guy said, "no, I dropped it in that dark alley back there." 
And the officer says, "okay, what are you doing looking for here?"
And the guy said, "the light's better."
And that's what a lot of history ends up being. We have a lot of interest in Samuel Sewall, because he kept a diary. He had letters, he had ledgers, he had all sorts of stuff. He had ancestors. People are really interested in his stuff, and is he necessarily the right person that you want to say, put everything on for being a witch judge?
 We also have conversion [00:13:00] narratives. That was a big thing, when you wanna become a covenanted member in a church. And Thomas Shepard wrote them all down in Cambridge, so that we have these incredible records. But was that really emblematic, or was that just, we have this, so we can talk about it? We know about a whole lot of people's lives, and are they necessarily the right people for us to be investigating and extrapolating from? 
So when I decided, what can I do? I've read everything. I've read everything, and I'm going, what do I add to this? We've done Records of the Salem Witch Hunt. That's great. People are using it. That's great. But what do I get to do? What am I gonna do? And I looked for, I looked down the dark alley. I said, "what's down the dark alley, and who do we wanna know more about?" Yeah. There's this wonderful play recently on, on Nathaniel Saltonstall, then what his role was in these, but the key person is William Stoughton. He's the one who's in charge of things. 
So I said, you know what, [00:14:00] I'm gonna go down that dark alley, and I've had to bring a little flashlight and tweezers to find things. And there's a reason why nobody has written about him before. There isn't a cache of documents. He did not leave a paper trail. So we get little teeny pieces about it, and people make up stuff about him.
Go, "oh, he must have hated women." "He was not married." "Oh, maybe he was gay." All these things to explain why he did what he did to convict and execute all these people. But there's really not much information. There's not much more than what you can find in Sibley's history of Harvard Graduates.
And most times when people talk about 'em, that's all they can cite. They don't have more. I decided I would keep hunting. Now when I say this, there's no cache of papers, that doesn't mean there never was one. There had to have been a cache of papers. Just his library alone, his library, he donated the bulk of it to his niece's husband, John Danforth, who was the minister in Dorchester, and his law books he gave to John [00:15:00] Temple, who was the husband of another one of his nieces.
So there were books. There were books out there. I've only been able to locate seven. Seven books from his library. That just amazes me. And somebody recently said, "oh, I found three more for you. There's a fellow who's written this book. He found them in his attic when he was a kid, and he's written a book about it." I said, "great, that's wonderful." And then I read the book and went, "oh, nope, I already knew about those three. They went up for auction in 2015." So that's a lot of stuff that I can't find. 
Somebody said, "oh it'll turn up," and I'm going, "that scale." We don't have letters, we don't have anything personal. We don't have ledgers. He got his money from land. You have to keep track of that stuff. Where is it? He also had a silver ink stand. They called it a standish. And in his will, he gave that to John Danforth as well. And that doesn't exist. I've talked to all the leading colonial silver people, the curators at the Met and Yale, [00:16:00] and a silver ink stand is very rare. So if that survived, we'd know about it. We would know about it. So where did it go? For something like that, you have to have catastrophe. Otherwise it's little pieces missing here and there. But that's a lot of stuff, a lot. 
And I've been looking at the family houses, and his particular mansion house in Dorchester went down through his nephew, William Taylor, who also became lieutenant governor of Massachusetts. But it went down through the Taylor family, and I found records of it to 1752, when it was in a probate record, a little map. But by 1831, the maps of Dorchester, which label all the different buildings in it, there's no building there. So maybe something happened there. But then again, he gave his books to a different person. So maybe something happened to one of those houses. 
But then I came across this little fact. [00:17:00] In 1764, Harvard's library burned to the ground and nothing was salvageable, nothing. The only books from their library that exist are ones that were already checked out. So I don't have evidence for this yet. I'm looking for it, but I think on the scale of the loss of primary sources and the paper trail, that there's so much missing, a catastrophe that size.
It could have been that the family gave his papers and all of his things to Harvard for safekeeping. I'm looking for anything. I'm looking for other catastrophic events. Did the Danforth house burn down or things like that, because fires happened? But I haven't found anything. That's the only working theory I have, and I have to call it a working theory, because I don't have any primary sources. How do I know this?
This one is one of those times where you have to say, "are these two things connected?" That book that came out recently that had the three books, the fellow, [00:18:00] he made a couple of these leaps. Anytime you have two pieces of things and you, two pieces of evidence, and you're trying to figure out how they're connected, and I'm making a, I'm making a leap saying it could have all burned up in the Harvard fire. He would find things and make leaps, but his tended to be more, I don't wanna say "woo," but they're, "ooh." For instance, these books that he'd found also had John Danforth's name in them. He didn't know that Stoughton had willed these books to John Danforth. And he made a conclusion that Stoughton was a mentor to John Danforth, who was a generation younger. And although true, he didn't, he missed the part where John Danforth is married to his niece. So that explains something. But later on, he said, "in a truly bizarre instance or something, John Danforth is buried in the same tomb as Stoughton." And I'm thinking that's not bizarre. It was the family tomb. So sometimes when you take two [00:19:00] pieces of evidence and try and find what connects them, you can make leaps that sometimes just show you don't know all the details. So in this case, the relationship he had with John Danforth has so many other layers. It isn't just a mentor and a young man. 
But for me, my leap is what happened to all those papers, and does it have anything to do with that catastrophic fire at Harvard? Now by 1810, another descendant from the Cooper line gave Harvard the portrait that we have of Stoughton, so I know that the family felt that stuff about him belonged at Harvard. It was a different line, and you're down several generations, but that sense that his stuff belongs at Harvard. He paid to have a building made. It was Stoughton Hall. And when that fell apart, they built another Stoughton Hall. So Harvard feels very strongly about what a benefactor he was. And [00:20:00] Harvard is justifiably proud of having him. 
So can I make that connection that his stuff all burned up in the fire? I wish I had some evidence to prove that, but something catastrophic had to have happened. He was well-read. He was known as being a scholar. Very intelligent. Where'd it all, where'd it all go?
And maybe that's just my silver bullet, and I'm trying to find other things that could explain it. But right now that's my working theory. I just wish I had more concrete evidence of it.
 I have a great deal of fun doing the research. Recently, I was in Oxford, cuz he spent a decade of his life in England, when he was in his twenties. And I got to do some of my research, literally, in a medieval tower, a stone, medieval tower, because the records from the time he was there are still held in this medieval tower. I think that was the most exciting research [00:21:00] location that I've ever been in. I was so psyched to be in this space, but I was more psyched to look at these records that were held there. So I wasn't really looking around a whole lot. I'm going, "oh my God, look at this."
And just, it wasn't in itself really interesting. It's just so granular. How much was his charge for that particular week in that particular term of that particular year? How much was he charged for his extra food, things like that? Because you got. It came with the commons, but if you wanted more food than that, you would be charged for it if there were any other fees.
So there's these gigantic 17th century spreadsheets, essentially, that I'm picking through, and there's so many details. As I said, I do this research with tweezers, but there I was, in a medieval tower with stone walls three feet thick. You had to go up this stone, circular staircase to get up to this place. The [00:22:00] archivist was very kind, and he said they had talked about taking these records out of this place, because it's a stone, medieval tower. But the argument had been that they had survived intact for all these centuries, so why move them? I'm going, "okay, it's okay by me to go up in, in this muniment tower at New College."
My focus was more on what was actually there, but I came away from it going, "wait a minute, where was I just now?" I was in a room that, that he had spent time in. It was really one of those evocative moments to just find a place, like when I saw Samuel Parris's handwriting, writing down the account of the interrogation of Rebecca Nurse, he was part of her being executed, but going to Oxford and being in this really incredible room that he had spent time in. It was really moving, [00:23:00] but I was concentrating on what I was finding, and yeah, I have a story to tell about him at Oxford. 
Josh Hutchinson: And you don't get those opportunities to go in medieval buildings in America. 
Margo Burns: England has some really cool stuff. One of my challenges being at Oxford was it's all old, but how old is it? And in looking around New College, there's a big yard they go into, and on two sides, there's three stories of rooms where people would stay. But in his era there was only two stories, so trying to pick apart the things that weren't there when he was there versus the stuff that was there. Which is why, being in the muniment tower, it's going, "he was definitely here. He walked on these stairs, this little spiral staircase made of stone." That was there. It's interesting work. It's interesting work to do.
Josh Hutchinson: It sounds like you've been at it for a little [00:24:00] while.
Margo Burns: Part of it is I just retired in August, and I've been working on Records of the Salem Witch-Hunt. I did that while I was fully employed. I had my summers off, but still I would come home and work on the book. Wasn't popular in my household. "Oh, you're working on the book, okay." 
But now that I'm retired, one of the first things I did was decide to take a trip, and one of my locations was to go to Oxford. So I think because I have more time now, and I can have a more constant stream of research from one day to the next, I'm working on Stoughton every day now, which I never could have done while I was working. I'm hoping it goes faster now.
Sarah Jack: But take your time and do it right the way you do it. There's no, there's, yes, time matters, but it's the work that matters. 
Margo Burns: And that's the thing about Stoughton. Nobody has done this before. Somebody told me, "oh, you could just write what you know now, and people would buy it." And I go, "yeah, [00:25:00] but there's more." And I haven't been able to plumb all the places that I want to go, found all the things I know I wanna find. I wanna do it right. I definitely do wanna do it right, because nobody has done this before. 
And the research is that painstaking. If there's somebody who's writing a dissertation, this is not the topic they're gonna do. If somebody's trying to get out a book regularly on a topic, this is not the topic they would pick, because it's not easy to do and just come up with something, because there isn't a body of work to draw from. So I'm down in the dark alley trying to find all these little things and then make sense of it.
So part of it is, I don't know that I can even start writing it now, because I don't have a sense of everything that I want to know and trying to find all these pieces. But he's a very interesting person. I will say one other thing. It's really weird to be trying to write a biography of a [00:26:00] dead white guy, another dead white guy. Here he is, is not only just a dead white guy. He was one of those Puritans in Massachusetts. Who really wants to read about that? There are lots of people who do wanna read about it, but I also find myself saying, "dead white guy, who's gonna read this? Are my friends gonna read this?"
I have found a whole lot of things about race, class, and gender that play into his story. His investment in the Christianization of the indigenous people alone is worth a great deal of discussion. The fact that he never married and yet had a family full of blood relatives, most of whom were women. He was surrounded by women in his family, and how does that work? How does that work? And then he had slaves, he had African slaves, he owned slaves. Then at one point, performed a marriage between one of his slaves and one of the slaves [00:27:00] in the Danforth family. They're probably all living in one place, but he performed a marriage between two slaves.
Yeah. So there, there are these different things that keep popping up. And then of course, class, he has money and wealth, and anything he wanted to do, he could do because he had class and money and things like that. And how did he deal with people who are not like him? So I'm trying to address some of those things, race, class, and gender, in ways that I hope will be revealing and not just put this down as, you know, dead white guy. 
Josh Hutchinson: You said in one of your talks that we've watched that you're having to look at him through other people's lives. You're looking at other people's diaries and correspondence to find out who was the Stoughton character.
Margo Burns: Right? All these parallel narratives, and what are the little points when they touched? Who did he know, and [00:28:00] who do we know for certain he knew that we don't have any other evidence for? So for instance, at Oxford, I look to the list of all the fellows and I know people he had to have known. So I have to look at those parallel lives, the parallel stories, and find those little points when they connect and hope that helps me, because I can find out more in some cases of sending these other parallel lives and just these little sparks along the way. 
Josh Hutchinson: I like your analogy about the guy looking for the wallet, because people have been focused on like the Mathers, who are out in the light with their hundreds of books and diaries and letters, but you're looking for that guy who's way back in the alley where barely any light gets.
Margo Burns: And yet, very important to the whole story, there are a lot of different ways that people do history. Sometimes people try and pick somebody who's the every [00:29:00] man or somebody, Martha Ballard, Midwife's Tale. And looking at history through an ordinary human being, to pick one person and see what happened in their lives. That's a particular kind of history to do and it's fascinating, absolutely fascinating.
And I pick a big guy, and that's a fairly standard. You get the biography of some big guy, but I'm really hoping that I can bring some of the qualities of that kind of research into somebody who is not well known. How do you figure out what that person was like, cuz you don't have a whole lot of records about them?
So I'm hoping I can bring that to this story of somebody who is a major figure, even though we don't have a whole lot of information about 'em. I'm having fun. I really have a lot of fun doing this, and I know that the day I sent out the manuscript of records, I had to put it on, burn it to a CD and print out two copies of it to send to Cambridge University Press.
And as that day when it's just like [00:30:00] it's gone. And I was like, "I really liked working on it." That's just it. I really like this work, doing the research and getting to the other end is okay, fly, be free. And that day is far away from me on Stoughton, and I don't wanna rush it, because this is so much fun. This research is a lot of fun and I know nobody else is gonna do it. 
Josh Hutchinson: Enjoy it. 
Margo Burns: Oh yeah, I will also say one other thing about what I do on my work with Stoughton is that in addition to his life, he has a legacy. I've already mentioned that Harvard has Stoughton Hall, and that's the second Stoughton Hall, that they're very proud of their portrait that they have of him that was donated by the Cooper family.
There's a lot of stuff that has trickled down from his life, and one of the most fascinating ones was recent, and you don't really think about somebody who's died in 1701 having an impact on today. In his will, he [00:31:00] donated money to Dorchester, where he lived, and to the next town over, Milton, which had been part of Dorchester, but had divided in his lifetime. And one of the things he gave was a plot of land to Milton for the support of the poor in the town. And quite often what that would be is if you gave a plot of land, the town or whatever would rent it out to a farmer or something, and the proceeds from those rents would then get used to help support the poor in the town or whatever the thing was, that if he gave something to Harvard and Harvard rented out a pasture, the rents from that would support Harvard.
In this case, it was supposed to be supporting the poor in Milton. And this will from 1701, I guess it was two years ago, at the beginning of the Covid outbreak, a lot of people were having a hard time putting together their budgets and paying their bills. And in Milton, there were more people who appealed to this particular part of Milton [00:32:00] that helped support the poor, and at one point they said, "I wonder if we can get something from that fund." And sure enough, they applied to the select board to see if they could get some of the money from the endowment from that 1701 bequest to help support the people who were struggling financially because of Covid. And sure enough, they issued $85,000 toward that fund to help support people in need in Milton. 
Josh Hutchinson: So something good came from Stoughton.
Margo Burns: A lot of things good came from Stoughton, a lot of interesting things, but the whole legacy from him just doesn't correlate with, oh, he was the witchcraft judge. But there's a lot that's come through the years that has been his legacy, and I've got lots of interesting stories about that. It's gonna have to be a whole chapter at the end about these things, because they, in themselves, are interesting. A bequest from his will in 1701 benefited people who were struggling [00:33:00] financially from covid. 
Josh Hutchinson: Makes him a really rounded character. Really fascinating person to look at.
Margo Burns: He was a benefactor, and in a way that we can see it today, today, and just, "oh yeah, at Harvard, they built this building and whatever." Now this is real lives, real human beings today. So that part of the book goes beyond his death, but his legacy continues and in a very good way.
Josh Hutchinson: You mentioned what happened with Governor Hutchinson's house, and he was researching his history of Massachusetts. Do we have an idea what Salem-related documents we're missing? 
Margo Burns: There are a lot of little things that he's quoting from, and most of them were interrogations. They call 'em examinations. They're interrogations. So they're little, teeny pieces, and some of them were reproduced by an antiquarian named Poole and published in, there were an awful lot of those [00:34:00] really interesting antiquarian groups that published things. So you can find little pieces, and you say well, that came out of a bigger document, and we don't have it. We know it existed, because he quoted from, and I'm, I think it had most, a lot of stuff with the Carrier boys, little, teeny pieces of that, and we really would like to know more of this, but in the Stamp Act Riot, people went through his house and trashed it. There were an awful lot. 
He didn't just have Salem stuff. He had other major documents from the founding of Massachusetts, and he brought 'em all home. There's some talk that one of the draft papers, there's actually a footprint on a draft that he had been working on of his history. But things disappear. 
There are a lot of things that have just disappeared. For instance, the interrogation of Abigail Hobbs, we don't have that document. We have the text, because in the early part of the 20th century there were a lot of people, libraries and stuff like that, had ways to copy them. They had photostats. People would have an [00:35:00] interesting document. They'd bring it in and say, "hey, do you wanna make a copy of this?" And it would come out with a negative and a positive. So the interrogation of Abigail Hobbs would have the positive photostat of that at the Mass Historical Society.
When we were working on our project, the microfilm for the documents that the Massachusetts State Archives were really bad. Ben had found a grant to digitize everything, but the microfilm for those was one that had been in public use. They couldn't find the master one, so it was already pretty bad.
And also the documents had been silked for preservation, and silking, you take the document and you put a layer of very fine silk on either side, into a hole in a piece of paper. And that way you can see both sides of it when you turn the pages, but it makes it a little murkier. And the microfilm was really pretty bad.
And I'd gone in to the Mass State Archives and got permission, and they brought it out and it was all in one volume as a book, this [00:36:00] big volume, and you turn the pages, and I got permission from them to photograph everything. And I had to have it on a V-shaped support because it wasn't an open flat. And I'd have to angle my camera to take each one. And I took all these pictures, front and back of all these documents. And the silking really is a problem, because it really obscures a lot of detail. But remember, this is a bound thing. Inside the front cover of it, this piece of paper falls out, and it's a negative photo stat.
And I'm going, what is this doing in here? Nobody would've known it was there, except I actually got the book, the bound book of this volume 135 from Mass Archives Collection. And I opened it up and suddenly went, "oh, please let this be something we don't have." And it turned out to be the negative photostat of the photostat that they have at the Mass Historical Society.
So, in the years since then, though, they have taken that bound volume apart and put the individual [00:37:00] pages in archival-quality storage. But having seen this book at one point, it was just like, can't believe this is how it is. But they have since done more to help preserve them. But there was this thing inside the cover.
Josh Hutchinson: Are there certain parts of the trials that we have more documents and parts where we have fewer documents? 
Margo Burns: I already mentioned that we have more for the Salem Village stuff than we do from Andover, but we also have several people are executed that we really don't have much information. Margaret Scott, there's very little information about her, and we have two documents in her case that basically have been auctioned off between collectors fairly frequently. It's, "oh, that one just came up for auction again. Okay. It's an indictment." And then there are four documents that were copied and in an 1830, 1840 history of Rowley, where she was from. So there [00:38:00] were some documents in there, maybe four, five, and trying to figure out where those were. And we've got some that were in the collection, the Essex County Court archives, but there were only like a handful of them. And some of them we had to deal with as somebody else had transcribed them.
And we included things like that in Records of the Salem Witch-Hunt. We didn't just take the handwritten things. Sometimes there was one and somebody else had transcribed it, and that's the only evidence we had. That's the case in a lot of the Governor Hutchinson pieces. This is all we have, but we know it came from a primary source. So we knew these other pieces that had come. I think there were a total of nine documents, and we'd known some of them only through this history of Rowley. 
Fast forward after Records had been published. Matti Peikola, he was one of the ones that we'd started doing the stuff on the handwriting, and then Peter Grund joined in, and we had done all this work on the handwriting. It took three of us, and we [00:39:00] decided we wanted to see if we could identify some of the others, and Peter got a grant, and we were gonna look at other documents from that period by people doing legal stuff to see if we could figure out who some of these other documents were written by. So they came for two weeks, and we did our archive-hopping.
It was just delightful. We would make agreements ahead of time, and people would be ready for us. We went to town halls. We went to all the major archives, and they were staying down in Boston, in the Back Bay, so they were really near the Boston Public Library. They were near the New England Historical Genealogical Society. It was easy to take public transportation out to the Mass State Archives. It was great. It was really great. Oh, and also they were right around the corner from the Mass Historical Society. So they put themselves in a really great place. 
So here we are looking at all these things, and at the Boston Public Library in their manuscripts and rare book section, off the top of my head, I don't remember the year, but they had this big card [00:40:00] catalog, literally a physical card catalog. And what we were doing was trying to look for people in the various towns who were where the accused were from. So Peter pulled open one of the drawers, and he is looking for Rowley, and there's a card that says "four documents in the case of Margaret Scott for witchcraft."
And he showed it to me. He said, "what do you think this is?" I said, "oh my God. More documents. That would be great. In the Margaret Scott Case, we don't, we only have a handful. More documents! Ah, too bad we didn't find this earlier." So we put in a call slip, and they brought them out. And turns out these were several other ones that had been in The History of Rowley.
So The History of Rowley had five, and these were four documents, as I remember. And so we already had the texts. So it wasn't anything new. For us, it was exciting, cuz we could look at the handwriting, because we were recognizing handwriting, and we would've put that into [00:41:00] Records of Salem Witch-Hunt. So there they are. There are things hiding in plain sight.
Now, I will say this about the Boston Public Library. They have since closed for a while to completely redo that collection. I think they were horribly embarrassed when that, was it a Dürer and a Rembrandt went missing? It made the front page of the Boston Globe. People lost their jobs over it, that these very valuable things had been missing. And it turns out they had just misshelved them. And I read about that and went, they misshelved the witchcraft papers. Because when we gave the folder back after looking at these fabulous documents and taking pictures and getting all excited having found them, Peter went back a couple of days later to look at them again, cuz they were staying right around the corner, and they couldn't find them. That took a while to get that resolved, and I found a few people to talk to there, and they had found them again. They were in fact misshelved. And then, another year later, two years later, they can't find this Dürer and Rembrandt, and I'm just laughing cause [00:42:00] I'm going, "they misshelved it."
But to their credit, the Boston Public Library has closed that. I don't know if they're open again. I hope so. But they completely redid that archive, and it's a good thing. It's really a good thing, because I can't imagine, if those documents had gone missing and somebody had taken them. And we were also a little wary about that, because that same week, one of those indictments in Margaret Scott's case that would come up periodically at auction, that one sold that week for, I wanna say $30,000. So we were a little concerned that maybe somebody connected the two, but they were just misshelved.
Josh Hutchinson: What do you believe is the next frontier in witch trials research? 
Margo Burns: Oh boy. Next Frontier. We've done a whole lot in getting the primary sources, which is great. And I've also seen a lot of the current work to get the cases resolved and to clear the names of so many people, and I think that's great. [00:43:00] But. What do you do after that? Every generation finds this material, and these circumstances have value or resonance for them. It's been very interesting watching these middle school kids in North Andover working on the Elizabeth Johnson Jr. case. It's fabulous, absolutely fabulous. 
And then we also see the people in Scotland working for rep. I don't know if, they're probably not doing reparations, but to go back and make amends, and then the cases in Connecticut. I think that I'll give a lot of credit to those middle schoolers in North Andover.
But there's an effort to come to terms with history, the real lives of people, and to admit things went wrong, and how do we address that? And I think that's also something that's happening just now in general, that our culture is really looking at the past and saying, "we made mistakes. What do we do?"
So that's what's going on now. It's admitting fault [00:44:00] from the past and trying to make some kind of reparations. We also see it for slavery in this country. What do we do? It was wrong. And can you make reparations? If so, how do you do it? And is it definitive? 
When they started to try and overturn, they weren't overturning the actual convictions in Salem. It was something that they were overturning attainder, reversing the attainder, which is tainting of the blood, stuff like that. So during the lifetimes of a lot of the people who were involved or who were convicted or their families, there was an effort to say, "yeah, we did the wrong thing."
But not everybody came forward. If your family didn't, you'd been executed and nobody in your family came forward, your attainer was never reversed yet to the 1950s. That's when they started going to the courts at that point and say, "we really need to resolve this." But then they said one person's name and others, okay, for sure you got one person's attainder reversed, and then you [00:45:00] have to go forward and say there were others. They're just called others.
And what was the name of the acting governor? Is it Jane Swift? She. Yeah, so people kept pushing. People from Salem were pushing, and on Halloween that year, she issued a pardon or whatever it was, but I was going, "Halloween, great." But they named the others who had been and others. They gave them their names.
And then most recently, this wonderful class in North Andover said, "we don't see that Elizabeth Johnson Jr was included in that." And she was overlooked, and she was overlooked in a few other things. In her lifetime, she did speak up that she was overlooked and forgotten. Now we think we have everybody officially done, at least for Salem.
But there's this sense of looking backwards, and how do you do that? It's really interesting. And I feel sorry for the next class in middle school, cuz they don't have a project that big. They're not gonna have a project that will make it into a documentary and get that much, it'd be helpful.
But what do we do next? And I don't know, cuz right now, [00:46:00] as a culture, we're looking to figure out what we did wrong in the past and how to move forward from there. And that's our lens, that's our our cultural filter of how we're looking at some of these older things to take.
And you also get a lot of people who are just owning them, "this is my ancestor, this is important." You find the Wiccan community owning this abuse of people in the past who happen to have the same word associated with them. Wiccans now are self-defined witches, but they're not like the people who are accused of witchcraft in Salem, and yet they share a word. And I think that the Wiccan community has really come together to try to help mend things. That hasn't been the case in previous generations. What did it mean to other people and then why they looked at it? And I think this is a really good one. That as we try and come up with our past, you really can't move forward unless you know your past.
So I'm curious to see what the next wave will be. We're not, we're still in this wave of really looking at our [00:47:00] past and coming to terms with it and making amends, but what's next? I don't know. But because Salem is so interesting so many people, there will be something else that comes along.
Part of the reason I think that, oh, the stuff on moldy bread and ergot was so enticing was at the time that the first article positing it came out, it was in the middle of when people were coming to grips with the drug culture of the hippie thing. And since LSD is derived from ergot, that just resonated at the time, and it gave an explanation, because people wanna find meaning.
So if you go into the seventies and you see that, it made perfect sense that people would gravitate toward that as some kind of explanation. But right now, we're trying to figure out how do we come to terms what we did wrong? So I don't know what the next, the next one will be. I'm looking forward to it, but we're not through with this wave because we're still coming to terms and making amends. I don't know. 
Have the Connecticut cases been resolved yet? Do you know? [00:48:00] 
Josh Hutchinson: No, we're hoping they'll be resolved within a few months. 
Margo Burns: Yeah, it's now, and do you know if the Scottish ones have been resolved at this point? 
Josh Hutchinson: The pardon hasn't gone through the parliament yet. The first Minister did issue an apology. The Kirk did an apology. But the bill is still with the Parliament.
Margo Burns: And isn't that an amazing thing? And part of the reason that the past things for Salem took their time getting through is that the legislatures have lots of things on their minds. They're trying to get stuff for today done. So when somebody brings them a bill to resolve something that happened centuries ago, that sort of gets to the bottom of the pile. But trying to go back in time, the legislatures and the the people who can actually make that happen, it has to be done on their schedule. And sometimes you can really push that for political reasons and they want to get a little a little bang for your buck. They get a political [00:49:00] push to take care of something, but it has to be on a slow newsday. 
Josh Hutchinson: They've gotta see what's in it for them. 
Margo Burns: Absolutely. I have to say that the work that Tad Baker and Marilynne Roach and Ben Ray and others did for the public installation to identify the actual site of the hangings. The work they did, they really tried to cover every single possibility. They were looking at the primary sources, they were looking at maps, they were looking at everything they possibly could. They had ground penetrating radar. They had all sorts of stuff. They tried to do everything, because they wanted politicians to know that we all agree.
I already knew that was the place, who am I? Yes. Okay. I'm an historian, but I hadn't done, I hadn't dotted all the i's crossed the t's. Those of us who knew. But the whole idea that it was at the top of Gallows Hill or we're going, "no, not really." They did do [00:50:00] diligence, but part of the reason they had to do that is they were gonna get Salem, who owned that piece of land, to actually do something about it and create this. It's a beautiful, it's a beautiful installation.
But if you're gonna get a politician to get on board and do something like that, you know that politician is looking around and goes, "there's not gonna be anybody who says not really." They didn't wanna find that after they've invested all their political power and their, all that stuff, they really wanna make sure that it reflects well on them. And they don't want somebody else to come along and say, "that's just them." That's why that group had to do their due diligence and make sure they'd covered absolutely every possibility. Because a politician was not about to commit to that, if they thought they'd get egg on their face over it.
Josh Hutchinson: And now here I am with an update on the Connecticut Witch trial Exoneration Project.
The Connecticut Witch Trial Exoneration Project is a collaborative effort to give voices to those accused of [00:51:00] witchcraft in colonial Connecticut. 
Between 1647 and 1697, at least 45 people were accused of witchcraft in the Connecticut and New Haven colonies. 34 people were indicted on formal charges of witchcraft, including 24 women, 6 of their husbands, 3 men charged alone, and 1 unidentified individual. 11 victims are known to have been hanged, 9 women and 2 men. Both men were married to women who were also executed. The accused came from 10 Connecticut towns and 1 Long Island town, which is now part of New York. They came from Fairfield, Farmington, Hartford, New Haven, Saybrook, Stamford, Stratford, Wallingford, Wethersfield, Windsor, and [00:52:00] Easthampton. 
The "witches" of the 17th century were not the witches we envision today. They did not wear pointy hats. They did not ride on broomsticks. They did not employ familiars in the forms of animals. They did not covenant with the Devil. In fact, they were not witches at all, by our standards or by the standards of the time. 
Those accused of witchcraft were wholly innocent of the charges brought against them. They were ordinary men, women, and children, mostly women of middle age, who were swept up in tides of fear brought on by ordinary human misfortune. 
The witchcraft of the early modern period had little in common with the witchcraft of today. It was an entirely malign concept, based on a belief that people could covenant with the devil and gain power to harm others. It was not a peace loving, nature-based form of Paganism. It was entirely malevolent and based [00:53:00] upon the archetype of the anti-woman, the malicious woman whose very soul was set against the virtues of femininity and motherhood commonly expected of women in those times.
 The Connecticut Witch Trial Exoneration Project supports the exoneration of those charged with witchcraft in colonial Connecticut, an apology to all accused, memorials to the victims, and education of residents and visitors about the witch trials. The project is a collaboration of people who want to see injustice corrected. It includes dozens of descendants of witch trial victims and other advocates from both in Connecticut and around the nation. 
We seek exoneration, because the victims of the witch trials were universally innocent of the impossible crimes with which they were charged. No one covenanted with the Devil. No one manipulated supernatural forces to harm others. 
In righting the wrongs of the past, we [00:54:00] recognize our mistakes and enable ourselves to move past them. 
Exoneration makes a statement that these actions and actions like them are not acceptable today. Exoneration of Connecticut's witch trial victims will set an example for others on understanding and correcting historic injustices. Exoneration is a stand against the mistreatment of others. Exoneration is a stand against witch hunting in all its forms, including the deadly witchcraft accusations occurring around the world today. Exoneration will resonate in other parts of the world. 
The United Nations Human Rights Council will soon assemble in Geneva, Switzerland to discuss the crisis of Harmful Practices Related to Witchcraft Accusations and Ritual Attacks.
 In many nations, literal witch hunts continue to plague society with banishments, violence, torture, and death directed at innocent people accused of an [00:55:00] impossible crime. These accusations and extrajudicial punishments are often directed at vulnerable people, notably elderly women, children, the disabled, those with albinism, and indigenous persons. 
Each year, thousands of people are targeted. They live in nations around the world on every populated continent. If they are lucky enough to survive, they face an uncertain future. From roaming village to village to being placed in prison or so-called witch camps for their own safety, their lives are never their own. 
By exonerating those accused of witchcraft in Connecticut, we send a powerful message that witch-hunting will not be tolerated. By exonerating the accused, we join with other states and nations in confronting the past and righting wrongs. By exonerating the accused, we make a clear statement condemning witch-hunting, which will resonate with leaders in nations affected by witchcraft-accusation-related [00:56:00] violence today. 
Let's stand together against witch-hunting. Make that strong statement. Clear the names of those accused of witchcraft in colonial Connecticut and let the world know we oppose witch hunting in the strongest terms. The Connecticut Witch Trial Exoneration Project strongly urges the General Assembly to pass this exoneration resolution without delay. 
Sarah Jack: Thank you for that important news, Josh.
Josh Hutchinson: You're welcome.
And thank you for listening to Thou Shalt Not Suffer: The Witch Trial Podcast.
Sarah Jack: You get to join us again next week.
Josh Hutchinson: So subscribe now, and your download will be ready for you when you wake up next Thursday.
Sarah Jack: For lots of great information and episodes, visit
Josh Hutchinson: Remember to tell your friends, family, acquaintances, and neighbors about Thou Shalt Not Suffer: the Witch Trial Podcast.
Sarah Jack: Support our [00:57:00] efforts and donate to End Witch Hunts. Visit to learn more.
Josh Hutchinson: Have a great today and a beautiful tomorrow. 
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