One of the early centers of religious resistance was Salem, at the north end of Massachusetts Bay. Though infamous for the witch trials that began in 1692, it had a long history of dissenters, with the Baptist pioneer Roger Williams the most prominent.
It was founded in 1626, four years before Boston, not by Puritans but rather fishermen, led by Roger Conant from Devonshire, when the English settlers of Gloucester on Cape Ann relocated to the mouth of the Naumkeag River, the former site of an ancient Native village and trading center. After witnessing the mounting fear and despair at the Plymouth colony as its leadership devolved and a quarter of its population departed, Conant was especially troubled by what he saw as the rising violence and fanaticism of its Pilgrim authorities, even after he had moved away to Cape Ann.
Conant headed the new settlement for two years before he was replaced by John Endecott on the orders of the Massachusetts Bay colony and the village renamed Salem, reflecting the Puritan ideal of a New Jerusalem. It grew into an active seaport, becoming by 1790 the sixth largest city in the new nation.
Salem was also ten miles closer than Boston to Dover and soon had had a small but significant Quaker presence.
Its early persecutions were among the most intense anywhere, yet a remnant held on. The Meeting grew and spread, eventually relocating to Lynn and reaching up the Merrimack Valley of New Hampshire.
While Salem is infamous for its persecution of witches – events that ended the Puritan strand of New England Calvinist orthodoxy – I’m convinced that a bigger picture would be a culture clash between the Devon folkways and those of the East Anglia Puritans, something I investigate in Dover to the north.
In that fullness, Salem would be a really hot story all its own.
Check out my new book, Quaking Dover, available in a Nook edition at Barnes & Noble.
Welcome to Dover’s upcoming 400th anniversary.