August, 1766: John Adams Visits "Witch City"
Salem, Massachusetts is most famous for its history involving the Witchcraft Trials of 1692. Ever since, that history has been a source of tourism for the city. People from all over the world have made the pilgrimage to Salem to see the historic sights and learn the truth about the Salem Witch Trials. (Or maybe to take in some of the Halloween-themed attractions.) Even John and Abigail Adams were not immune to the allure of Salem’s history.
In August of 1766, John and Abigail Adams made one of their frequent trips to the North Shore in order to visit Abigail’s sister and her husband, Mary and Richard Cranch, at their home in Salem. After a day-trip with Abigail and her sister to Marblehead, Adams recorded another visit in his diary:
“Returned and dined at Cranch’s; after dinner walked to Witchcraft hill, a hill about half a mile from Cranch’s, where the famous persons formerly executed for witches were buried. Somebody within a few years has planted a number of locust trees over the graves, as a memorial of that memorable victory over the ‘prince of the power of the air.’ This hill is in a large common belonging to the proprietors of Salem, etc. From it you have a fair view of the town, of the river, the north and south fields, of Marblehead, of Judge Lynde’s pleasure-house, etc. of Salem Village, etc.”
The “Witchcraft hill” that he mentions is today known as Proctor’s Ledge. Adams’ noting of the locust trees on this hill provided the Gallows Hill Project, of Salem State University, a clue in the search for the true site of executions during the Witchcraft Trials. Along with a number of other pieces of evidence, the Project team officially announced their findings in January of 2016, and today a memorial to the victims of the Trials stands at the base of Proctor’s Ledge.
It should be noted that Adams’ retelling of the history of the hill is incorrect on one count. The victims of the Trials are not buried on Proctor’s Ledge. In many cases, the families of the victims came and took the bodies to be buried on private land. The Gallows Hill Project confirmed in 2016 that there are no burials in the area.
Wishing our friends and followers a safe and happy Halloween!
- Alexandra Elliott, Curator QHS
(NOTE: Due to the Covid-19 public health emergency, the City of Salem is asking that any potential visitors to the city postpone their trips until next year. Please check with event organizers, tour operators, and the City of Salem's safety guidelines if you do plan to visit.)