Salem witch trials end with Esther Elwell, from Gloucester, Sarah Jessica Parker’s ancestor

Sarah Jessica Parker season 1 episode 1 NBC Who Do You Think You Are tv show_ ancestor ESTHER ELWELL one of 3 women from Gloucester was accused of witchcraft.jpg

In the tv show, Who Do You Think You Are? (March 5 2010), produced by Lisa Kudrow, season 1, episode 1, Sarah Jessica Parker learns that her tenth great grandmother, Esther (Dutch) Elwell, was found guilty of witchcraft in 1692. Her arrest was the last formal accusation recorded during the Salem witch trials. The grisly court was dissolved days prior to her sentencing because spectral evidence was banned. Esther lived to be 82 years old. Parker visited Danvers to meet with historians and inspect the original records, and then on to Salem to pay respects.

Did Sarah Jessica Parker come to Gloucester?

Well, not according to the final edit. The show could have filmed here.

Witches of Gloucester

Beckoned to Gloucester, Salem teenager and accuser, Betty Hubbard, officially confirmed the false suspicions in 1692. And just like that three women from Gloucester– Esther Elwell, Abigail Rowe and Rebecca Dike– were arrested for killing Gloucester resident, Mary Fitch, by witchcraft. Historians determined that nine women from Gloucester were caught up in the witchhunts, jailed, and released (by the spring of 1693). Accused were more often than not related and at odds with accusers, well off, and/or “trouble”.  Collaborating institutions and collections have gathered and digitized 17th century documents. You can peruse them here: http://salem.lib.virginia.edu/17docs.html

Later history of witches in Gloucester revolve around Dogtown. In the 1896 book,  In the Heart of Cape Ann, Charles Mann described Gloucester’s Dogtown as “practically the only ruined city in America.” By then Dogtown legends persisted about “witches” like Tammy Younger (died 1829), her aunt Luce George, Peg Wesson, and Judy Rhines.  Percy Mackaye’s 1921 poem Dogtown Common acknowledged Mann’s book, “curious reader may learn many strange, half fogotten facts concerning the old Puritan life of that region…”  Here’s the eerie opener setting a fitting scene for Halloween.

Inland among the lonely cedar dells
of old Cape Ann, near Gloucester by the sea,
Still live the dead–in homes that used to be.
     All day in dreamy spells
They tattle low with toungues of tinkling cattle
     bells,
Or spirit tappings of some hollow tree,
And there, all night–all night, out of the
     dark–
They bark–and bark.

eerie opening Dogtown Common 110 page poem by Percy Mackaye 1921.jpg

 

Apparently, when Sarah Jessica Parker starred in Hocus Pocus (1993), she did not know this family history. Some of the movie was filmed on location in Salem and Marblehead.

7PM tonight | Dogtown National Heritage project kicks off at Gloucester city hall

Reminder-  Dogtown could be eligible for the National Register. A team of archaeologists began surveying and reviewing Dogtown the week of November 13. Come to a special public presentation TONIGHT – November 29th in Kyrouz Auditorium, Gloucester City Hall, 9 Dale Avenue, at 7pm.

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 Artistic practice inspired by Dogtown takes on many forms across generations and centuries. I’ve shown examples of 20th century artists and writers connected to Dogtown. Here’s a 21st century one to note: Deborah Guertze, Babson Boulders # (Courage), original small and lovely hand colored etching, ed.50. This particular impression is currently for sale at Rockport Art Association.

Oct 28 GMG post announcing tonight’s public meeting: Before Dogtown was Dogtown: archaeological survey project to be presented at City Hall November 29! Maybe hello blueberries bye bye lyme disease

“Presenters at City Hall on Nov 29th will include Betsy Friedberg from the Massachusetts Historical Commission, who will explain how the National Register program works and what it does and does not do, and Kristen Heitert from the PAL, who will present an initial plan for defining the boundaries of Dogtown as a National Register District. People attending the meeting will be asked to respond to that plan and to express their views about what makes Dogtown special. What should be the boundaries of the proposed National Register District, and what cultural features should be included in it? What would be the benefits of National Register status, and are there any drawbacks?”