Ann Putnam, Jr: Villain or Victim?

Ann Putnam, Jr, was one of the afflicted girls during the Salem Witch Trials and the daughter of the witch trials ringleader Thomas Putnam.

Born on October 18, 1679 in Salem, Ann Putnam, Jr, was the oldest of 10 children born to Ann Carr Putnam and Thomas Putnam, a sergeant in the local militia who had served in King Phillip’s War. The Putnams were a wealthy family who had lived in Salem for four generations.

Ann Putnam, Jr, & the Salem Witch Trials:

Ann Putnam, Jr’s, role in the Salem Witch Trials began in the winter of 1691/92, when some of the afflicted girls reportedly dabbled in fortune-telling techniques, specifically a technique known as the “venus-glass” during which the girls dropped egg whites into a glass of water and interpreted whatever shapes or symbols appeared in an attempt to learn more about their future husbands.

According to the book A Modest Enquiry Into the Nature of Witchcraft by local minister, Reverend John Hale, on one of these occasions the girls became terrified when they saw the shape of a coffin in the glass:

“I knew one of the afflicted persons, who (as I was credibly informed) did try with an egg and a glass to find her future husbands calling; till there came up a coffin, that is, a spectre in likeness of a coffin. And she was afterward followed with diabolical molestation to her death; and so died a single person. A just warning to others, to take heed of handling the Devils weapons, lest they get a wound nearby. Another I was called to pray with, being under some fits and vexations of Satan. And upon examination I found she had tried the same charm: and after her confession of it and manifestation of repentance for it, and our prayers to God for her, she was speedily released from those bonds of Satan.”

Shortly after the alleged incident, in January of 1692, Betty Parris and Abigail Williams began having fits and seizures and displayed strange behavior such as barking like dogs and complaining that invisible spirits were pinching them. Ann, Jr., and the other afflicted girls soon started experiencing the same symptoms.

"Ann Putnam House, Danvers" illustration published in the New England Magazine Volume 5, circa 1892
“Ann Putnam House, Danvers” illustration published in the New England Magazine Volume 5, circa 1892

At the end of February, a local doctor, who is believed to be Dr. Griggs, was called in to examine the girls. Unable to find anything physically wrong with the girls, he suggested they were bewitched.

Just a few days later, the girls named three women they believed were bewitching them: Tituba, Sarah Good and Sarah Osbourne.

When the women were arrested and examined on March 1, Tituba made a shocking confession that she was a witch and claimed there were other witches in Salem working with the Devil.

This confession confirmed the colonist’s greatest fears that the Devil had invaded the colony and sparked a mass hysteria and a massive witch hunt that quickly took over the town.

According to the book The Salem Witch Trials Guide, once the witch hunt began, Ann became one of the most aggressive accusers among the afflicted girls:

“Following the removal of Betty Parris from Salem Village [she was sent to Salem town by her father Samuel Parris to avoid any further involvement in the trials], Ann and Abigail became the most active and aggressive of the so-called afflicted children. Ann Jr. ‘cried out against’ sixty-two people during the course of the trials. Ann’s father, Thomas Putnam, was one of the primary instigators of complaints against alleged witches in Salem Village. For this reason he has been identified by several key historians (including Paul Boyer and Stephen Nisenbaum) as a chief agitator and manipulator of the testimonies of both his daughter and his wife, Ann Putnam, Sr. Evidence indicates that many of those who were afflicted or gave testimony against the accused were connected to the Putnam family either by ties of kinship or faction.”

Many historians suggest the Putnam family were using the witchcraft hysteria as an excuse to seek their revenge against residents of Salem that they disapproved of, according to the book The Salem Witch Trials: A Reference Guide:

“In 1991, Enders A. Robinson published The Devil Discovered: Salem Witchcraft, 1692, which introduces to the Salem episode a conspiracy theory on a far grander scale than previously suggested by an scholar. According to Robinson, Thomas Putnam and Samuel Parris formed a circle of local men who decided to take advantage of the testimony of the afflicted children and eliminate the opposing faction in the Salem Village Church. Among the leaders of this conspiracy who were responsible for instigating the witchcraft accusations he listed Reverend Samuel Parris, Sergeant Thomas Putnam, Dr. William Griggs, Deacon Edward Putnam, Captain Jonathan Walcott, Constable Jonathan Putnam, and Lieutenant Nathaniel Ingersoll. These ringleaders were assisted by an outer circle of co-conspirators including Thomas Putnam’s two uncles, John Putnam, Sr., and Nathaniel Putnam, his cousin Edward Putnam, Joseph Houlton, Thomas Preston, and Joseph Hutchinson. These men were less involved yet helpful when accusations and testimony were needed. Robinson alleged that what tied these conspirators together were bonds of kinship and friendship. Their goal was merely to reassert power over the families and forces that had gradually assumed control of Salem Village, seeking vengeance against those suspected of wrongdoing or what they deemed to be undesirable elements. In this task, they were ably assisted by their female children, servants, and relatives, including Mary Walcott, Sarah Churchill, Ann Putnam, Jr., Ann Putnam, Sr., Mary Warren, Susannah Sheldon, and Elizabeth Booth – in short, the majority of the ‘afflicted girls.’”

Thomas and Edward Putnam filed most of the complaints against the accused themselves, on behalf of the afflicted girls who were too young to legally do so.

Also, a recent handwriting analysis, conducted by Professor Peter Grund from the University of Kansas, determined that over 100 of the Salem Witch Trial court documents were written by Thomas Putnam himself. These documents include the depositions of the afflicted girls which, coincidentally, share very similar language and phrases.

For example, many of these depositions state the afflicted girls were “grievously afflicted” or “grievously tormented” and they describe how the girls “believe in my heart” that the accused is a witch. These same depositions also frequently refer to the accused as “dreadful witches” and “dreadful wizards.”

This suggests the afflicted girls recorded testimonies may have been altered and tampered with by Thomas Putnam, who often served as a court clerk during the trials, indicating that he may have had an even bigger influence on the trials then previously thought.

In addition, a book titled The Salem Story: Reading the Witch Trials of 1692 speculates that one of the reasons Ann Putnam, Jr, may have gotten involved with the witch trials in the first place is because the Putnam children were being abused by their parents and Ann was directing her anger over the abuse at others around her:

“We might note that on June 3, 1692, Ann Putnam, testifying against John Willard, who would hang as a convicted witch, asserted that the apparition of her deceased 6-week-old sister Sarah cried out for vengeance against John Willard for having whipped her to death…Sarah’s mother, Ann Putnam, Sr., was herself an accuser in some of the cases, a woman who claimed to see specters. Who could fault one for speculating that she could not come to terms with having killed her own child, that she found some relief in the fantasy world of blaming witches? Ann Jr. may unwittingly have revealed the family secret; she may have responded to the beating death of her sister by lashing out at the community.”

One such victim of Ann, Jr’s, misplaced anger was her neighbor, Rebecca Nurse. Ann was particularly active in the case against Nurse. It is believed that Rebecca Nurse was targeted by the Putnam family due to a decades-long rivalry between her family and the Putnams, which first began with a battle for land with Rebecca’s father in Topsfield and continued with disputes about the boundary between Rebecca and Thomas Putnam’s adjoining property in Salem Village.

In addition, the Nurse family also disapproved of the newly appointed minister of Salem Village, Reverend Samuel Parris, whom was one of the Putnam family’s biggest supporter.

To make matters worse, Rebecca Nurse also reportedly lectured the afflicted girls for dabbling in fortune-telling techniques that previous winter, according to the book An Account of the Life, Character, & c. of Reverend Samuel Parris:

“It had been said that Rebecca Nurse was an object of special hatred to Parris, but this we have failed to discover. We cannot imagine the cause of the alleged complaint of witchcraft. She appears to have been an amiable and exemplary woman, and well educated for the times in which she lived. We suspect, from an examination of the charges brought against her at the courts, that she had several times severely rebuked the accusing girls for their folly and wickedness, when meeting in their circles. In this way, she probably incurred the displeasure of Ann Putnam and her mother – her principle accusers.”

As a result, it is no surprise that the Putnams were the ones to accuse Nurse of witchcraft when the witch hunt began. Ann Putnam, Jr., her mother Ann Putnam, Sr., and Abigail Williams were Nurse’s main accusers and it was their accusations that led to Nurse’s arrest on March 24.

In her testimony against Rebecca Nurse, Ann, Jr, accused Nurse of biting, pricking and pinching her and trying to force her to write in the Devil’s book, according to court records:

“The deposition of Ann Putnam, Jr, who testifieth and saith that on the 13th March, 1691/92, I saw the apparition of Goody Nurse, and she did immediately afflict me, but I did not know what her name was then, though I knew where she used to sit in our meetinghouse. But since that, she hath greviously afflicted by biting, pinching, and pricking me, [and] urging me to write in her book. And, also, on the 24th of March, being the day of her examination, I was greviously tortured by her during the time for her examination, and also several times since. And, also, during the time of her examination, I saw the apparition of Rebekah Nurs [sic] go and hurt the bodies of Mercy Lewis, Mary Walcott, Elizabeth Hubbard, and Abigail Williams. Ann Putnam, Jun, did own the oath which she hath taken: this her evidence to be truth, before us, the Jurors for Inquest, this 4 day of June, 1692.”

Ann, Jr, also testified that she witnessed Nurse attacking her mother at their home on March 18 of that year.

Ann, Jr, and her mother were not the only Putnams to testify against Rebecca Nurse. Most of the witnesses who testified against her, including Abigail Williams, Edward Putnam, Thomas Putnam, John Putnam, Jr, Hannah Putnam, Samuel Parris, Henry Kenney, Mary Walcott, and Elizabeth Hubbard were either Putnam family members or friends of the family.

Nurse denied all of their accusations and was actually found not guilty at the end of her trial in June of 1692. However, upon reading the verdict in the courtroom, the afflicted girls began to suffer fits and Chief Justice William Stoughton asked the jury to reconsider their decision.

The jury briefly deliberated and then came back with a guilty verdict. Nurse was sentenced to death and was hanged at Gallow’s Hill on July 19, 1692.

As the Salem Witch Trials continued, the witch hunt began to spread to neighboring towns. In July, Ann Putnam, Jr., and Mary Walcott were invited to Andover, according to the book The Salem Witch Trials: A Reference Guide:

“Meanwhile, Ann Putnam Jr and Mary Walcott were invited to Andover, a town northwest of Salem Village. Goodwife Ballard was dying, and the doctors could not find the cause. Joseph Ballard and the assistant pastor of his church, the Reverend Thomas Barnard, thought it might be witchcraft. The two girls confirmed the men’s suspicions. They saw a spector at the head of the bed and one sitting on the woman’s stomach. The Reverend Barnard decided to repeat the experiment. He took the girls to another sickbed in another home, and then to yet another, and another. The girls saw specters in every case, but could name no witches because they didn’t know the people in Andover. To solve the problem, the Reverend Barnard invited the women of Andover to submit to the touch test. Sure of their innocence, the women agreed. The results of the touch test were overwhelming. Sixty-seven women were arrested.”

In September, the afflicted girls visited Gloucester, at the invitation of Ebenezer Babson, whose mother was complaining of seeing spectral visions of Indians and French soldiers. The girls accused a handful of local women there of witchcraft during that visit and accused several more during a return visit in October or November. A total of nine women were arrested for witchcraft in Gloucester.

Of the 62 people Ann Putnam, Jr, accused and testified against during the Salem Witch Trials, 17 were executed: Bridget Bishop (June 10), George Burroughs (August 19), Martha Carrier (August 19), Martha Corey (September 22), Mary Easty (September 22), Sarah Good (July 19), Elizabeth Howe (July 19), George Jacobs, Sr (August 19), Susannah Martin (July 19), Rebecca Nurse (July 19), Alice Parker (September 22), John Proctor (August 19), Anne Pudeator (September 22), Wilmot Redd (September 22), Margaret Scott (September 22, 1692), Sarah Wildes (July 19), John Willard (August 19). One victim was tortured to death: Giles Corey (September 19), one victim died in jail: Sarah Osborne, and the rest, including Elizabeth Proctor, Tituba and John Alden Jr, were either never charged, found not guilty, pardoned or escaped from jail.

Ann Putnam, Jr, After the Salem Witch Trials:

Like the other afflicted girls, not much is known about Ann’s life after the Salem Witch Trials ended. What historians do know is that Ann’s parents died suddenly in 1699, leaving Ann to raise her seven remaining siblings by herself, whose ages ranged from seven months to 16 years.

Ann never married and remained in Salem Village the rest of her life. In 1706, when Ann wanted to join the Salem Village Church, she first had to confess any sins or wrongdoings in her past, according to the book A Storm of Witchcraft: The Salem Witch Trials and the American Experience:

“Seven years later Ann wanted to become a member of the Salem Village Church. Unlike other churches that had loosened membership requirements, the congregation still required a public statement describing the applicant’s conversion experience and confession of past sins. Reverend Green worked with Putnam to compose this. A draft was reviewed by Rebecca Nurse’s son Samuel, and he approved it. So on August 25, 1706, twenty-nine year old Ann Putnam stood before the congregation while Green read it aloud.”

Ann’s apology reads as follows:

“I desire to be humbled before God for that sad and humbling providence that befell my father’s family in the year about ’92; that I, then being in my childhood, should, by such a providence of God, be made an instrument for the accusing of several persons of a grievous crime, whereby their lives were taken away from them, whom now I have just grounds and good reason to believe they were innocent persons; and that it was a great delusion of Satan that deceived me in that sad time, whereby I justly fear I have been instrumental, with others, though ignorantly and unwittingly, to bring upon myself and this land the guilt of innocent blood; though what was said or done by me against any person I can truly and uprightly say, before God and man, I did it not out of any anger, malice, or ill-will to any person, for I had no such thing against one of them; but what I did was ignorantly, being deluded by Satan. And particularly, as I was a chief instrument of accusing of Goodwife Nurse and her two sisters, I desire to lie in the dust, and to be humbled for it, in that I was a cause, with others, of so sad a calamity to them and their families; for which cause I desire to lie in the dust, and earnestly beg forgiveness of God, and from all those unto whom I have given just cause of sorrow and offence, whose relations were taken away or accused.
This confession was read before the congregation, together with her relation, Aug. 25, 1706; and she acknowledged it.
J. Green, Pastor.”

Ann was the only one of the afflicted girls to apologize for her role in the Salem Witch Trials. She died 10 years later in 1716, at the age of 37, from unknown causes and was buried with her parents in one of the Putnam family cemeteries in Salem Village.

According to the book Salem Witchcraft by Charles Wentworth Upham, Ann had become chronically ill since the days of the Salem Witch Trials and this illness is what led to her early death:

“It seems she was frequently the subject of sickness, and her bodily powers much weakened. The probability is, that the long-continued strain kept upon her muscular and nervous organization, during the witchcraft scenes, had destroyed her constitution. Such interrupted and vehement exercises, to their utmost tension, of the imaginative, intellectual, and physical powers, in crowded and heated rooms, before the public gaze, and under the feverish and consuming influence of bewildering and all but delirious excitement, could hardly fail to sap the foundations of health in so young a child. The tradition is, that she had a slow and fluctuating decline. The language of her will intimates, that, at intervals, there were apparent checks to her disease, and rallies of strength, – ‘oftentimes sick and weak in body.’ She inherited from her mother a sensitive and fragile constitution; but her father, although brought to the grave, probably by the terrible responsibilities and trials in which he had been involved, at a comparatively early age, belonged to a long-lived race and neighborhood. The opposite elements of her composition struggled in a protracted contest – on the one side, a nature morbidly subject to nervous excitability sinking under the exhaustion of an overworked, overburdened, and shattered system; on the other, tenacity of life. The conflict continued with alternating success for years; but the latter gave way at last. Her story, in all its aspects, is worth of the study of the psychologist. Her confession, profession, and death point the moral.”

In her will, which was presented to probate on June 29, 1716, Ann divided the land she had inherited from her parents to her four brothers and her personal estate to her four sisters.

In 1953, Ann Putnam, Jr, made an appearance in Arthur Miller’s play, The Crucible, although her name was changed to Ruth to avoid confusion with her mother.

In the play, Ruth Putnam is forced to accuse people of witchcraft by her father, Thomas Putnam, so he can obtain the seized land of the convicted witches. Her mother, Ann Putnam, is depicted as being obsessed with the supernatural and sends Ruth to ask Tituba how to cast a spell to communicate with the dead.

Ann Putnam, Jr, Historical Sites:

Ann Putnam, Jr, Ann Putnam, Sr, and Thomas Putnam’s unmarked graves
Address: Putnam burial ground, 485 Maple Street, Danvers, Mass

Baker, Emerson W. A Storm of Witchcraft: The Salem Witch Trials and the American Experience. Oxford University Press, 2014.
Upham, Charles W. Salem Witchcraft: With an Account of Salem Village and a History of Opinions on Witchcraft and Kindred Spirits. Vo. II, Wiggin and Lunt, 1867.
Goss, K. David. The Salem Witch Trials: A Reference Guide. Greenwood Press, 2007.
Roach, Marilynne K. Six Women of Salem: The Untold Story of the Accused and their Accusers in the Salem Witch Trials. Da Capo Press, 2013.
Jackson, Shirley. The Witchcraft of Salem Village. Landmark Books, 1987.
Boyer, Paul S. Salem-Village Witchcraft: A Documentary Record of Local Conflict in Colonial New England. Northeastern University Press, 1972.
Hale, John. A Modest Enquiry Into the Nature of Witchcraft. B. Green and J. Allen, 1702.
Wilson, Lori Lee. The Salem Witch Trials. Lerner Publications Company, 1997.
Fowler, Samuel Page. An Account of the Life, Character, & c. of Reverend Samuel Parris. William Ives and George W. Pease, 1857.

About Rebecca Beatrice Brooks

Rebecca Beatrice Brooks is the author and publisher of the History of Massachusetts Blog. Rebecca is a freelance journalist and history lover who got her start in journalism working for small-town newspapers in Massachusetts and New Hampshire after she graduated from the University of New Hampshire with a B.A. in journalism. Visit this site's About page to find out more about Rebecca.

16 thoughts on “Ann Putnam, Jr: Villain or Victim?

  1. Laurie Waller

    As a descendant of Martha Carrier and Elizabeth Howe I would love to know the reasons why my ancestors were put to death but I doubt I ever will. Sometimes I catch myself getting angry at the stupidity of the people, the malice that allowed this to go on. Foolish on my part to expect to understand a people and society so very long ago. We can speculate, analyze and seek answers to a mystery that is multi-faceted and intriguing. I’ve read several books on the subject , read testimony of the trials and contemplated the theories. I believe there is no one definitive reason to explain the horror that was allowed. What I would hope is that especially around Halloween, people will remember these souls as people, not witches , not specters in the night. People like you and me that had feelings, felt fear and had families. Let them remind us of what can happen in a society that is unstable, fearful, judgmental. A society like ours….remember them…see what is happening now.

  2. Rachida Djebel (née Averill)

    Sarah Averill Wildes, my 7th great aunt, was hung 19 July 1692 in consequence of the Putnams and their ill conceived vengeance born of ignorance and greed and fueled by their delusions of power…. Sarah died at age 65 while her son and husband looked on unable to prevent her unjust conviction or death.
    Three hundred and twenty-some years later she is still labeled-as ‘witch Sarah’ in too many narratives by those who should know better… proving yet again that the more things seem to change, the more they stay the same… Governor Phipps should have banned the use of the word ‘witch ‘to describe anyone forevermore as he banned discussion of the term witchcraft and the Trials in the year my aunt and 19 others died because of hysteria unleashed by Coton Mather, et al.

  3. Phil O.

    Where was Ann’s home located? I see the illustration at the top, but can’t find any reference to the location of her home via Google.

      1. Nancy Scott

        According to information that I have taken from a “2013 Salem Witch Trials Calendar – A month by month guide to the tragedy of 1692” (page 14) purchased from the Danvers Historical Society the Putnam house was located at 177 Dayton Street in Danvers, MA. This location is not far from the Putnam Family cemetery as the crow flies.

        1. Phil O.

          Thank you! I’ve been wondering about this for a while! (Looking at Google Maps now; sadly, it’s definitely not the original house at 177 Dayton today…)

  4. Maddie Gore

    Oh My God! This article was a lifesaver! I have a huge statewide project to do and I read the book A Break with Charity. The character was portrayed in a very odd way but I got an amazing summary right here! So thanks SO MUCH!!!

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