Salem started as an outpost at the margin of
the English world – the original settlement of Massachusetts
Bay. It was a borderland – a place of negotiation and
accommodation between English and Native American cultures.
Even as the Indians dwindled in number and Salem evolved into
a commercial entrepot, the frontier was never far away. This
initial theme of Salem as a frontier is one that would echo
throughout in the subsequent history of the community. For example,
historians now see the conflict with Native Americans in King
William’s War as creating a hysteria that helped to trigger
the Salem witchcraft outbreak.
A set of
provocative readings will focus our attention on the complexities
and consequences of establishing and trying to sustain an Anglo
settlement in Naumkeag, that place which is now called Salem.
These readings and our discussion highlight key primary sources:,
historic maps and Native American land deeds. Our focus will
be on both what these sources can/do tell us about the past
and how they tell us what they do.
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Baker, Emerson. “Salem as Frontier Outpost,” in
Dane Morrison and Nancy Schultz, eds., Salem: Place, Myth
and Memory. Boston: Northeastern University Press, 2004,
and James Kences. “Maine, Indian Land Speculation, and
the Essex County Witchcraft Outbreak of 1692,” Maine
History, 40, no. 3 (2001): 159-189. (Also available online.)
Francis. New England’s Plantation, or a Short and
True Description of the Commodities and Discommodities of that
Country (London, 1630). Reprinted in Everett Emerson, ed.,
Letters from New England: The Massachusetts Bay Colony,
1629-1638 (Amherst, 1976). 29-38. (Also available online.)
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- What is a frontier? Does Salem qualify as one
in the seventeenth century?
- What evidence exists today that Essex County was ever occupied
by Native Americans?
- Do you think it possible to tie Essex County
Witchcraft to the frontier? Why or why not? What do you think caused the outbreak on 1692?
- Do maps and mapmakers have the power to “dispossess?”
Why did people in early New England make maps?
Has reading this article changed how you look at or think about
maps? If so, how?
- Why is Higginson writing? Who is his audience?
Does this effect what he says? Which do you feel is more accurate and reliable a source? The
maps described by Harley, or Higginson’s description?
Does Higginson’s Salem sound at all like the place we
know today? How has it changed?
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