Known as The Witch House, the Jonathan Corwin House was built around 1642. It is the only structure still standing with direct ties to the Salem witch trials of 1692.
The original owner of the property was Nathaniel Davenport, commander of the fort on Castle Island in the Boston Harbor from 1645-1665. After his post, he began construction and merchant Jonathan Corwin bought the unfinished house from Davenport in 1675 and contracted for its completion.
During the spring of 1692, colonists in the town of Salem, Mass., became hysterical after a group of girls, who claimed to be possessed by the devil, accused several women of witchcraft. Those suspected were brought to this house for pretrial examinations, during which Corwin was the judge.
It began when some young girls started having fits of violent contortions and uncontrollable screaming. A local doctor determined they had been bewitched. Hysteria over this spread, more people were accused, and townspeople went bonkers.
Ultimately, 19 people were found guilty of the accusations and hanged, while seven other accused witches died in jail.
Finally, at the urging of minister Cotton Mather and his father (and president of Harvard College) Increase Mather, Governor William Phips stepped back the persecution of alleged witches. No longer could “spectral evidence,” nor dreams and visions be used as legitimate testimony.
By early 1693, remaining accused and jailed witches were freed. By 1697, the Massachusetts General Court enacted a day of fasting to recognize the tragedy, and later deemed the trails unlawful. The Massachusetts Colony eventually restored the good names of those killed and provided financial restitution to their families in 1711.
But that doesn’t bring back the innocent lives lost, does it?
As for the house itself, Jonathan Corwin’ s grandson , Captain George Corwin, lived in the house until his death in 1746. It served as home to a few families, and also housed an apothecary, which was there from 1866 until about 1940. A second commercial space was created under the same roof, which operated an antique store.
During the 1940s, the house was restored to its presumed 17th century appearance by Historic Salem, Inc., during which time it was also moved back from the street. It is now owned by the City of Salem and operates as a museum. A popular tourist attraction, the house is guaranteed to have people taking photos on a daily basis.