Service Learning

Indian Wars and the Maine Roots of the Salem Witch Trials

Indian Wars and the Maine Roots of the Salem Witch Trials

The Island Home of the Penobscots.  (c.1906)

Indian Wars and the Maine Roots of the Salem Witch Trials

Indian Island Ferry. Old Town Maine.  (real photo post card, n.d.)

Indian Wars and the Maine Roots of the Salem Witch Trials

Old Witch House, Salem, Mass., as it was up to 1865.  (c.1905)

Although the well known Salem Witchcraft Trials that took place in 1692 occurred in Massachusetts, the incident is very much related to events that occurred in Maine. To understand the origins of the Salem witchcraft episode, it is important to understand the Maine frontier during King Phillip's (Metacom), and King William's Wars. Mercy Lewis, Susannah Sheldon, Abigail Hobbs and Reverend Geogre Burroughs, individuals who figured in the accusations and trials, had lived in Maine. In 1692, Abigail Hobbs confessed to being a witch while being questioned in a Salem meeting house. She said that the devil recruited her in the woods outside of her home four years earlier which was in Falmouth, Maine. She then said the devil had made her afflict others and she had done so; she attacked Ann Putnam and Mercy Lewis. The next day, Ann Putnam, one of the more famous figures from the incident, then accused the Reverend George Burroughs of being a witch too. Within one month of her accusation, forty more community members had been named and jailed as witches. Within a few more months, at least 140 people had been branded witches. So how is this all related to Maine?

Lewis, Sheldon, Hobbs, and Reverend Burroughs, along with many others, fled the frontier (which was then Casco Bay, Maine) during the violent Indian Wars By. By the mid 1600's, English settlers had set up a number of small but flourishing trading outposts which had grew into small communities in places between Casco Bay and Kittery as well as modern day Durham and Berwick. However, many Native American communities also existed in Maine, and had lived their long before the English settlers had arrived. The Wabanaki had grown reliant on the trade that the English and French settlers had brought into thier communities. Although there were tensions between the differing cultural groups, war would not probably have broken out. However, when King Phillip's War (also known as Metacom) began in Massachusetts in the 1675, the Wabanaki tribes in Maine were eventually pulled into the conflict. Attacks on Anglo settlements and forts would continue until the 1677, and then finally in 1678, the Treaty of Casco officially ended the war.

  • What do you think were some of the reasons that the girls accused Reverend George Burroughs?
  • How were the Indian Wars related to the Salem Witchcraft Trials?
  • What were some of the reasons for the start of the Indian Wars?
Further Reading
  • Emerson W. Baker and James Kences, ìMaine, Indian Land Speculation, and the Essex County Witchcraft Outbreak of 1692,î Maine History 40:3 (Fall 2001): 159-189.
  • Mary Beth Norton, ìGeorge Burroughs and the Girls from Casco: The Maine Roots of Salem Witchcraft,î Maine History 40:4 (Winter 2001-2002): 259-278