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Re: Witch Hunts, etc.
>Your husband's ancestor was a TRUE hero, a word much bandied about
>nowadays but not much understood. Aaron Way was a farmer who could've
>joined the flock, pointed the finger, and watched the witch die.
>Nobody would have blamed him. Things were tough back then, and Aaron
>and his relatives still found the backbone to stand up and argue for
>reason--even tho' Aaron's own infant daught er was the supposed victim.
>That's the sort of courage that brings a lump to my throat, and reminds
>me what a true hero is. Aaron and his family, as did most early settlers
>who dug their hands in the dirt or cast their nets upon the sea, lived
>on the knife-edge of survival. The fact that he and his family were
[ Excess quotations omitted. ]
While I mostly agree with your sentiment, let me interject a few more details.
The immigrant Henry Way and his wife Margaret Berby had several children
born in England, all of whom immigrated together. The children included
Aaron Way Sr. and Hannah Way. Hannah married into the Wilkins family, and
had one grandson "bewitched to death" and another accused as a witch.
We'll come back to the latter in a bit.
Aaron Way Sr. and his wife Joanna Sumner (it is through the Sumner
family that the Ways are related to Winston Churchill and George Bush)
had 9 children, but he was born about 1613 and the last of them was born
around 1675. Susan remarked that Aaron Way's infant daughter was
supposedly bewitched by a Wilkins, but it's unlikely that it was Aaron
Way Sr.'s daughter.
However, among Aaron Sr.'s children were Aaron Way Jr. and William Way Sr.
And Aaron Way Jr. did have a daughter born in 1692.
One of the Aaron Ways testified against John Proctor, saying he was cruel
to animals. This was rather mild testimony, and not to the point of
witchcraft. Nonetheless, Proctor was hanged.
Three of the Way family's neighbors were accused:
Samuel Nurse, John Tarbell, and Thomas Wilkins, Jr.,
or actually their wives in some cases.
``Their line of action was extremely narrow. It was necessary to avoid
all personalities, and every appearance of passion or excitement; to
make no charge against Mr. Parris that could touch the church, as such,
or reflect upon the courts, magistrates, or any others that had taken
part in the prosecutions. It was necessary to avoid putting anything into
writing, with their names attached, which could in any way be tortured
into a libel. Parris lets fall expressions which show that he was on the
watch for something of the kind to seize upon, to transfer the movement
from the church to the courts. Entirely unaccustomed to public speaking,
these three farmers had to meet assemblages composed of their opponents,
and much wrought up against them; to make statements, and respond to
interrogatories and propositions, the full and ultimate bearing of
which was not always apparent; any unguarded expression might be fatal
to their cause. Their safety depended upon using the right word at the
right time and in the right manner, and in withholding the statement of
their grievances, in adequate force of language until they were under
the shelter of a council.''
Much jockeying for position ensued. The accused called in a Peter Cloyse
to help them. Rev. Parris saw them only at one time, refused to let them
stand as witnesses for each other, etc.
``A sense of the injustice of his conduct, or some other consideration,
led William Way, another of the brethren, to go with them as a witness.
Nurse, Tarbell, Wilkins, Cloyse, and Way went to his house together.
He said that the four first were but one person in the case;
but admitted that Way was a distinct person, a brother of accredited
standing, and a witness. He escaped, however, under the subterfuge
that the gospel rule required `two or *three* witnesses.'
In this way, the matter stood for some time...''
(All historical quotations from Salem Witchcraft; with an account of
Salem village a history of opinions on witchcraft and kindred subjects,
by Charles W. Upham, F. Ungar Pub. Co., New York, 1959.)
Quite possibly one "other consideration" was that Thomas Wilkins was
William Way's first cousin once removed; Thomas's grandmother was
William's aunt Hannah.
Also, indeed William and both Aarons Way were farmers, but they were also
among the larger landowners in the area. They were not poor by local
standards, and these were not early pioneer times; 1692 was more than 60
years after the Way family had emigrated. They were also well-connected;
for example Aaron Way Jr.'s wife was Mary Maverick, granddaughter of
one of the first pastors of the community.
Samuel Nurse's wife Rebecca was hanged, as was her sister Mary Easty.
Their sister Sarah, Peter Cloyce's wife, was not; Peter and Sarah
Cloyce later left Salem for Marlborough.
Tarbell and Wilkins were not executed. They and Samuel Nurse rejoined
the local congregation in 1698.
>A hero is someone who goes above and beyond the call of duty. Someone
>who is willing to follow the call of conscience, no matter what the
So who was the hero among the Salem neighbors?
Knowing some of the facts and interrelationships,
it's not so clear-cut as it might have seemed.
Aaron Way, who apparently tried to go easy on John Proctor?
John Proctor was hanged anyway.
William Way, who eventually gave support for his neighbors and relatives?
Rebecca Nurse and Mary Easty were hanged anyway, but maybe he helped
stop Sarah Cloyce and Thomas Wilkins from being hanged, and maybe he
managed to help delay the whole Parris proceedings until calmer heads
Aaron Way again, for *not* testifying against Thomas Wilkins for supposedly
bewitching Aaron's infant daughter to death?
Nurse, Tarbell, Wilkins, and Cloyse, for standing firm before this
Maybe everyone who didn't further Rev. Parris's delusions.
Or William Stoughton's political career. This judge refused to accept
the jury's first verdict of not guilty for Rebecca Nurse and sent them
back until they returned a guilty verdict, upon which he had her hanged.
Stoughton became the next governor of Massachusetts.
Maybe the Ways, Sumners, Osgoods, and others who packed up and left
after the Trials.
Maybe the convicting jurors for apologizing and begging pardon.
Maybe Rebecca Nurse's relatives for rejoining the church.
>Most of the people who died on 9/11 were not heros, much as the news
>media would like to portray them as such. They just happened to be
>in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Rebecca Nurse just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.
``Oh Lord, help me! It is false. I am clear. For my life now lies in
Mary Easty just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.
``...if it be possible no more innocent blood be shed... ...I am clear
of this sin.''
Sometimes heroism is simply doing what you can where you are,
whether you succeed or survive or not.
Heroes or victims? You decide.
John S. Quarterman <firstname.lastname@example.org>
PS: Both Aaron Way Jr. and William Way Sr. were my ancestors.
PPS: Twelve of the jurors apologized.
PPPS: Increase Mather later wrote in his book Cases of Conscience that it
"were better that ten suspected witches should escape than one innocent
person should be condemned."
PPPPS: The accused and executed witches were finally exonerated 300 years
later, on 5 November 2001, a little more than one month ago.
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