Ann apologizes for role in trials

By October 1693 jails in the Salem area were packed with suspects, and twenty people had been executed as witches, largely at the urging of the young girls. Ann, Jr. and her friends had almost single-handedly devastated entire villages, at times even turning against their own—as in the case of former accuser Mary Walcott (see box on p. 216), who failed to cooperate in the trials (see Chapter 4) and soon found herself suspected of being a witch. Nobody had been safe from the girls' accusations and their frequent fits. In November, however, they discovered that they had lost their power when they were called to nearby Gloucester to determine why a soldier's sister lay ill. Although the girls named three culprits, the accused witches were not imprisoned. On their way home from this disappointing event, the girls were crossing Ipswich Bridge and went into fits while passing an old woman. To their astonishment, nobody paid them any attention and they were for once treated as if they were crazy or invisible. This was to be the last of their accusations and fits, and a solemn silence overtook all of them.

As the trials came to an end and the families of victims sought justice, the accusers slipped into uncomfortable obscurity. Most of the girls left Salem Village with their families or got married and later moved away, but Ann Putnam, Jr. stayed on. Both of her parents died within a week of one another at a relatively young age in 1699, leaving Ann to raise her nine younger siblings by herself. She remained anonymous until 1706, when she was urged to make a public apology for her role in the trials, which would be the only statement from any of the accusers. Parris had been forced to leave his post in 1698 (see Chapter 5) and the new Salem Village pastor, Joseph Green, was determined to make peace within his parish. He took many steps to help reconcile (restore friendship between) enemies and reach an understanding of past transgressions (violations). In 1706 Ann asked Green if she could rejoin the parish, and the pastor required her to make the apology, not only as a way to relieve her own guilt but also to make peace in the community. Green read her lengthy statement to a congregation that included relatives of many executed witches. Among them was the family of Rebecca Nurse. The primary accuser of Nurse, Ann had insisted on the old woman's guilt and was clearly responsible for her execution, which had even shocked mutual enemies in the village. It was clear that Ann's speech was addressed mainly to the Nurse family, but the words rang true to everyone who had lived through the trials and had lost loved ones or helped accuse innocent people. (See the primary source entry for the full text of Ann's apology.)

Ann claimed she had never willingly meant to harm anybody during the trials and she begged forgiveness from those she had inadvertently hurt. She did not confess to any direct malice or guilt, however, instead blaming her actions on a "great delusion of Satan," whom she held responsible for the witch-hunts. According to the account in The Salem Witch Trials by Earle Rice, Jr., she admitted only to the "guilt of innocent blood." Referring indirectly to the role of her own family in the social turmoil at the time of the trials, she said she "desired to lie in the dust and to be humbled for it, in that [she] was the cause, with others, of so sad a calamity to them and their families. " Ann lived for eleven more years, dying single and alone at the age of thirty-seven.

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