The following is a first-time facsimile replication of the initial 33 pages of the Church of Christ at Salem Village Record Book. The text within these 33 pages was written by Rev. Samuel Parris during his pastorate from 1689 to 1696. The records include several important references concerning the witchcraft events of 1692.
The original volume measured 12 inches by 7 1/4 inches (30 cm x 18 cm). It included about 260 laid rag paper blank leaves used by the minister to record in his own handwriting the ecclesiastical business of the church. Its spine and covers were clad with vellum. Now only the front cover survives. The handwritten title, now just barely visible on the front cover reads, Church Book Belonging to Salem Village 1689. Two small holes on the outside cover opposite the spine indicate that the original volume could be tied closed by means of two ribbons.
This is the first volume of church records of what became the First Church of Danvers, Congregational, the complete volume dating from 1689 to 1845. The volume covers the pastorate of five ministers from Rev. Parris to Rev. Milton P. Braman, as well as occasional notations by interim ministers and church deacons.
The Salem Village Parish was established in 1672 as a distinct parish of the Salem town church. Prior to the coming of Parris, three unordained ministers served the village: James Bailey (1672-1679), George Burroughs (1680-1683), and Deodat Lawson (1684-1688). They preached at the newly constructed 1672 Village Meetinghouse, but were not able to baptize nor officiate at communion, these religious functions needing to be performed at the mother church in Salem town by the ordained minister.
In 1688 the villagers hired Samuel Parris (1653-1720), and the parish was allowed to be established as the fully independent “Church of Christ at Salem Village.” Parris was ordained at the Village Meetinghouse on November 19, 1689, with neighboring clergy participating.
For our purposes, we are replicating the earliest 33 pages of this volume as handwritten by Rev. Parris during his tenure at Salem Village. It begins with the recording of “The covenant agreed upon, and consented unto [by] the Church of Christ at Salem Village at the first embodying on ye 19, Novr 1689,” and ending with Rev. Parris recording the dismission of the William and Aaron Way families on October 11, 1696, to another congregation.
The first five leaves of this manuscript book (not reproduced here) include a first page with the notation “Church Records 1771,” and its reverse page. Next are two pages of double columns each recording “Persons at such times Baptized” (1689-1700), followed by two pages in double columns of “A Catalogue of ye members of this church” (1689-1699).
Among the types of records kept by Rev. Parris in these earliest pages of the record book are: names of the original 27 covenant members, notes on church meetings, admissions to and dismissions from the church, acknowledgments of errors made by members before the congregation, choosing of deacons, Parris’s complaints concerning the lack of his ministerial upkeep by his congregation, the first recording of witchcraft events on March 27, 1692 (p. 10-11), and the excommunication of church covenant member and convicted witch Martha Cory on September 11, 1692 (p. 12).
Much of the material recorded after 1692 deals with the long controversy between Parris and his supporters and those who desired Parris to leave the village ministry. These recordings, meticulously copied by Parris in what evolved into smaller and smaller but still clear handwriting include records of church meetings, petitions, letters, advice from outside councils, and what is often referred to as Parris’s “Meditations for Peace” recorded in November 1694 (p. 24-25).
Preservation of the Volume
The Church Book Belonging to Salem Village was kept by each successive minister in his study. It had been written at and stored in the 1681 Salem Village Parsonage (now an archaeological site to the rear of 69 Centre Street) by Reverends Parris, Joseph Green, Peter Clark, and Benjamin Wadsworth. In about 1784 Wadsworth built a new Georgian style home on the main road (now 73 Centre Street), and had incorporated into the second floor a small but efficient paneled study. The record book was undoubtedly kept in one of its built-in wall storage units. For many years during the 19th century the book was stored in the newly acquired church parsonage at 199 Hobart Street. Some of this 1760s structure by tradition was part of the original 17th century Ingersoll Ordinary associated with the witchcraft events.
The historical significance of this record book was well known. Various local antiquarians consulted it, and no doubt it was also the object of curiosity by many others. Its condition by the late 19th century was poor, with some of the paper and text being lost at the outside margins.
The First Church of Danvers, Congregational, under the direction of Rev. Charles B. Rice and member Augustus Mudge, decided to see if the book could be better preserved. About this time the Emery Record Preserving Company of Taunton, Massachusetts was using what was known as the “Emery Process,” invented by F.W.R. Emery, and patented to preserve many early records of societies, universities, and government agencies. The process was described as: “old and crumbling pages are hermetically sealed up between transparent sheets of silk tissue.” The church decided upon this method to preserve the book. The book was disbound with the pages silked and then rebound into a red leather case. The inside cover page included a handwritten report on the project which read:
This ancient Record has been an object of great interest and it has been in danger of suffering serious injury through its long keeping and use. Under direction of a committee of the church it has now been rebound in the best manner known, by the new “Emery process.” The cost of this work was eighty dollars: and the expense has been provided for by the Ladies’ Benevolent Society of the First Church.
We all wish to testify to the strength & the worth of the men and women of the former times who have been members of this Church to the care and faithfulness of those Pastors of the Church who for a long period were its recording officers, and to the inestimable values of the Church itself with its fellowship and ordinances through all the years of its existence.
We trust that this Record in the present form may be preserved through centuries to come for the use of the members of the church, and of all other interested in its history and its welfare.
In behalf of the Church
Charles B. Rice )
Augustus Mudge )
Danvers, July 1897
As a means of preserving a facsimile copy of this unique manuscript volume, in 1962 a 35mm black & white microfilm master copy of the volume was filmed by General Microfilm Company. Copies were retained by the First Church, the Congregational Library & Archives in Boston, and the Essex Institute in Salem. Unfortunately the microfilm images were not crisp, but tended to be a bit “muddy.”
The original volume, along with other old church volumes, were eventually stored in a two-drawer fire-resistant file cabinet in the 1890 shingle style First Church at 41 Centre Street, near a side entrance. During the summer months of 1967 and 1968 I was hired as a summer researcher by the Danvers Historical Commission. My task was to catalogue the historical manuscripts of Danvers located at Town Hall, the Library, Historical Society and the First Church. Rev. Edward H. Glennie was very friendly and cooperative, and I spent many hours going through the large and rich historical collection of the church.
I became very aware of the conditions of the documents at these locations, their less-than-ideal storage conditions, and their general unaccessibility to the public and researchers. I eventually wrote a report calling for the establishment of an Archival Center that by means of permanent deposits, gifts and purchases, would collect all these records and papers in one location, give them an environmentally proper home, and make them available to the public. With the cooperation of the Library, the Town Clerk, Historical Society, and many others in Danvers, we were able to establish such an archive in Danvers. The First Church was willing to participate in the project, and in 1973 the records, including the original Church Record Book, were transferred to the Archives, and in February 1974 they were formally turned over as a permanent deposit collection.
Also turned over to the Archives was the microfilm copy of the record book. I temporarily sent the film off to be electrostatically copied into two hard copies for general use in the Archives. It also had become painfully evident that the individual leaves bound into the new volume in 1897 were deteriorating and in some cases portions of the pages fragmenting. In 1974 I contacted the New England Document Conservation Center in North Andover, Massachusetts requesting an estimate for the books restoration.
Pioneer American conservator George M. Cunha, who had founded and was then the director of this world-renowned center, responded: “The First Church Record Book (1689-1845) submitted for examination has been damaged by heavy wear and tear and earlier ‘restoration’ by the Emery Process. It can be restored by disassembling the book, removing silk laminations from each page, deacidifying, mending guarding and reinforcing as necessary and rebinding in the original 17th century style using the original vellum cover now ‘bound in’ the book.” Meticulous work commenced in April 1975, and our Archive budget covered this important work. The book is stored in our 6-hour fire- rated walk-in vault and used sparingly.
Exciting news arrived in June 2010 when “out of the blue” I was contacted and told that Explore.org., a direct charitable activity of the Annenberg Foundation, wanted to give the Danvers Archival Center a two-year grant in support of our work. Such recognition by this well regarded philanthropic organization of the validity of our efforts was very exciting and satisfying.
Among the projects accomplished was the digitization by the Document Center of 80 leaves from the Church Book Belonging to Salem Village. This handwritten copy has never been available for scholarship, except as the rare original upon which there are restrictions as to its use. The image captures I decided to include were all the records from 1689 with the establishment of the Church of Christ at Salem Village up through the death of the second minister, Reverend Joseph Green, and the coming of his successor, Peter Clark in 1717. Also captured were leaves at the rear of the book which list births, marriages, and deaths in Salem Village up to 1717. These digital copies were stored on a portable hard drive in several formats, and now the Parris portion of the record book is available here on our web site.
Transcriptions and Facsimiles
The first attempt to transcribe the Church Book Belonging to Salem Village in printed format occurred with the publication of the April 1857 issue of The New England Historical & Genealogical Register. From page 131 through 135 the earliest portion of the record book dating from November 1689 through January 17, 1693, was copied under the printed title “Danvers Church Records.” In brackets below this title we read: “Transcribed by the late Wm. Thaddeus Harris, Esq.” My assumption is that this transcriber was Thaddeus William Harris (1795-1856), a noted entomologist and the Librarian of Harvard University.
As was often the case, during the 19th century transcribers picked and chose what they thought were the most relevant passages to record, ignoring material and without an acknowledgment that portions of the record were partially or completely skipped. At the bottom of page 135 were the words “[To be Continued.],” and with the October 1857 issue of The Register the transcription was picked up beginning with January 25, 1693, and continuing from page 316 to 321, with the last entry dated January 19, 1699/1700, recorded at the beginning of the new pastorate of Reverend Joseph Green. Again in this issue material was skipped over, and though at the bottom of page 321 there is a “To be Continued” notice, this was the end of the published transcription project.
One hundred forty-six years later, however, The Register did publish in January 2003, a meticulous transcription made by Marilynne K. Roach of vital records kept from 1688 through 1696 by Rev. Samuel Parris. These lists were kept at the rear of the record book and written upside-down from the church records themselves. These notations included brief vital records of 179 children born in Salem Village, 19 marriages, and 59 “persons departed.” The Register had previously published in 1882 a 3-page transcription by Danvers antiquarian Samuel Page Fowler of the 59 deaths, though Fowler mixed up the dating of the years. The Roach transcription was accurate and included within her 24 page published article very helpful notes.
The first, and the only major 19th century author writing on Salem witchcraft who used the village church records as a source, was Charles Wentworth Upham (1802-1875). Upham was a Unitarian minister of the Salem First Church for 20 years and also served a term as Mayor of Salem and then a term as a U.S. Congressman during the 1850s. Interested in the witchcraft events of 1692, Upham published his first book on the subject in 1831, followed by a two volume tome in 1867. This second work, Salem Witchcraft, is rich in 17th century facts and traditions relating to the Salem area ferreted out by Upham over many years. His book, though stilted to 19th century beliefs, as well as what is a now an old fashioned writing style, is a classic, with many gems of information throughout. Uphan was aware of the Salem Village church record book preserved in the First Church in neighboring Danvers, and made use of this information in his narrative.
In his text Upham included transcriptions of Mary Sibley’s witch cake incident as well as the excommunication of Martha Cory (v. 2, p. 95-97, 324-325). He wrote extensively in a “Supplement” to his book at the end of volume two the story of the post-witchcraft controversy between Parris and disgruntled members of his parish, quoting several passages from the record book (p. 491-498). Also noted were some transcripts relating to the pastorship of Rev. Joseph Green, including the confession of forgiveness of Anne Putnam in 1706 (p. 506-510). Reproduced within the text was the signature of Putnam taken from the conclusion of her confession statement.
Under “Appendix IV” (p. 545-553), Upham transcribed “Extracts from Mr. Parris’s Church Records” from November 1694 to April 1695. Little more was used from the record book in the ensuing books written on Salem witchcraft throughout the next one hundred years.
In the late 1960s I had been cataloguing historic Danvers manuscripts as a part time summer job, and had become quite familiar with the richness of the manuscript collections of the Danvers First Church, including the church record book. Two professors from the University of Massachusetts who were researching the witchcraft era, Stephen Nissenbaum and Paul Boyer, had requested of Rev. Glennie to look over the church records. The minister asked if I would take them through the material. I can still remember their excited enthusiasm when I showed them the post witchcraft material recorded by Rev. Parris in the church record book, including meticulously recorded petitions in which Parris included the names of those in favor and opposing his status. As the professors would later write, Upham “. . . neglected (perhaps deliberately) to include the two key petitions which reveal the names of the antagonists and the full scope of the factional battle they were waging.” Realizing the richness of the documentation, they incorporated much of this material in their award winning 1974 book, Salem Possessed: The Social Origins of Witchcraft. In their preface the pair noted, “. . . we have tried to use the interaction of the two – the ‘ordinary’ history and the extraordinary moment – to understand the epoch which produced them both.”
Prior to their publishing Salem Possessed, the professors produced a case book titled, Salem-Village Witchcraft: A Documentary Record of Local Conflict in Colonial New England. This 1972 volume included a compilation of witchcraft legal documents, church and parish records, sermons, land and civil court records and deeds, all related to Salem Village. They transcribed in what is generally known as “semi-diplomatic transcription” the “Records of the Salem-Village Church from November 1689 to October 1696, as Kept by the Reverend Samuel Parris,” with petitions originally found in the record book separated and placed in another section of the book under “Petitions (1692-1695).”
Over the years several passages within the Church Record Book have been reproduced in facsimile format. In 1872 Reverend Charles B. Rice of the First Church wrote an anniversary history titled, Proceedings at the Celebration of the Two Hundredth Anniversary of the First Parish at Salem Village, Now Danvers. Rice included a transcription of the original covenant, and opposite page 38 he included a facsimile plate of this manuscript page, “reproduced with absolute exactness by the new process of ‘heliotyping’.”
In 1975 I compiled an educational packet, known as a “Jackdaw.” These packets originated in England and by the 1970s were being published in this country by Viking Press. Each packet included a number of “Broadsheets” narrating the subject matter, typically historic events, together with ten or more “Exhibits,” including facsimile documents, maps and pictures. My packet was titled Salem Village and the Witch Hysteria, and included 7 broadsheets and 11 exhibits. One exhibit I included was a facsimile of four pages of the Church Record Book dating from November 1691 to December 1692 written in the hand of Rev. Parris, and August 1706 through March 1709 as recorded by Rev. Joseph Green, Parris’s successor. Sections of all four pages related to the witchcraft events.
Along with the facsimile pages, I included a transcription of these pages using diplomatic transcription which replicated the handwritten text as it is seen in the document itself. This type of transcription is as close to the handwritten text as possible, using the original capitalization, punctuation, superscript words, and line by line duplication.
Then in 1992 I compiled a book for the 300th anniversary of the witchcraft outbreak titled, The Devil Hath Been Raised: A Documentary History of the Salem Village Witchcraft Outbreak of March 1692. I gathered all known legal, church, and narrative records relating to the witchcraft outbreak during March 1692, or referring back to those events, re-transcribed them all, and put them into chronological order. With this material was Parris’s recording of the March 27, 1692 events as taken from the Church Record Book, and I included a facsimile illustration of this important page.
We are pleased to present here for the first time thirty-three critical manuscript pages of the Church Book Belonging to Salem Village in facsimile format. The original volume is from the First Church of Danvers, Congregational collection and was transferred and placed on permanent deposit at the Danvers Archival Center in 1973. It is now housed within the Archive vault with restrictive access, due to its fragile nature.
These facsimile illustrations of the text are for study purposes only, and may not be reproduced in any media or format without permission.
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Online beginning September 2015