A deposition from the Salem witch trials in 1692 brought a record-setting $137,500 at auction this afternoon, after it was offered for sale by Christie’s in New York. It is one of only nine original documents known to survive from the trial of Margaret Scott, who was convicted and hanged on Salem’s Gallows Hill in September 1692, in the final round of executions carried out that year.
“I was taken very ill again all over & felt a great pricking in ye soles of my feet, and after a while I saw apparently the shape of Margret Scott, who, as I was sitting in a chair by ye fire pulled me with ye chair, down backward to ye ground, and tormented and pinched me very much.” So swore Mary Daniel, the teenager whose deposition was submitted on September 15, 1692 to the court in Salem, Massachusetts, during the infamous witch trials of that year.
The rare original manuscript of Daniel’s statement against accused witch Margaret Scott went up for auction at Christie’s in New York on June 15, 2017, and was quickly snapped up in the auction’s opening minutes for $137,500, setting a new record price for any Salem-related document or artifact. Before the sale, Christie’s had estimated the deposition would go for between $50,000 and $80,000.
The 77-year-old Scott was the only person from the town of Rawley, Massachusetts, to face charges of witchcraft during the Salem witch trials, which gripped the Massachusetts colony starting in the spring of 1692. One of 19 men and women executed, her case is much less well known than some of the other accused witches, largely due to the fact that so few documents relating to her trial have survived to the present day.
“The fact that we only have nine documents in her case is really remarkable,” said Margo Burns, a historian specializing in the Salem witch trials.
Speaking before the auction, Burns said she wouldn’t be surprised if the deposition caused more excitement on the auction block than even the original indictment, which sold for $31,200 back in 2012. “The indictments are interesting because that shows exactly what the charges were that she was tried on,” Burns told HISTORY. “The depositions are far more interesting because you start hearing actual voices of the people accusing her.”
According to Mark Rice, writing for the University of Virginia’s Salem Witch Trials Documentary Archive, the combined documents from Margaret Scott’s trial suggest her neighbors had pegged her as a possible witch for nearly 20 years. Like other women accused of witchcraft, she was a poor, elderly widow who had been reduced to begging, and a longtime outsider in the community. Several of Scott’s children had also died very young, which was true of many accused female witches.
Though not much is known of her accuser Mary Daniel, she may have worked as a servant to Rowley’s minister at the time, Reverend Edward Payson. Among the other witnesses who testified against Scott were Frances Wicom, the 17-year-old daughter of a prominent leader in the Rowley community, and Sarah Coleman, who accused Scott of torturing her by “pricking, pinching and choaking of me.” Frances’ father, Captain Daniel Wicom, appeared as Scott’s chief accuser, claiming the widow cast a spell that immobilized his oxen, making it impossible to harvest his field.
On September 22, a week after the court heard Daniel’s deposition, Scott was hanged on Salem’s Gallows Hill, along with seven other accused witches. It would be the last day of executions that year, as public opinion had begun to turn against the trials, which would end for good in 1693.
Burns, who was the associate editor of 2009 book “Records of the Salem Witch-Hunt,” told HISTORY that of the nine original documents to have surfaced from Scott’s trial, two are in the Essex County Court Archive (housed at the Peabody-Essex Museum), and four were discovered at the Boston Public Library in 2012. The original of one court document, transcribed by Thomas Gage in an 1840 history of Rowley, has yet to surface.
According to Burns, the two remaining documents—Daniel’s deposition and the original indictment against Scott—had been circulating among private collectors until they were both purchased by the Eric C. Caren Collection in the 1980s. The deposition was among over 100 items from the Caren Collection in the Christie’s auction; a second Salem-related item, an advertisement for Cotton Mather’s account of the trials published in The Athenian Mercury in December 1692-January 1693, went for $1,375.
Here’s the full text of the Mary Daniel deposition, courtesy Christie’s:
I was taken very ill again all over & felt a great pricking in ye soles of my feet, and after a while I saw apparently the shape of Margret Scott, who, as I was sitting in a chair by ye fire pulled me with ye chair, down backward to ye ground, and tormented and pinched me very much, and I saw her go away at ye door, in which fit I was dumb and so continued till ye next morning, finding a great load and heaviness upon my tongue …
There appeared to me the shape of some woman, who seemed to look and speak most fiercely and angrily, and beat, pinch’d and afflicted me very sorely telling me I should not have said so, or told such things & to yt purpose … In some of ye fits yt I had afterwards, I was senseless and knew not yt I saw who it was yt afflicted me. In one fitt (upon ye beginning it) I thought I saw Goodw Jackson, and widow Scott come walking into the chamber with yr staves, one of ym came & sat upon me so yt I could not stir … In another fitt I saw ye appearance of sd Scott in ye room who afflicted me, and being speechless, I continued so, untill I went to ye sd Scott, who taking me by ye hand, I had ye liberty of speech again as formerly. The last fitt I had was upon ye last Sabbth day, in which I saw ye shapes of four women or five, of whom widow Scott was one, ye rest I knew not, nor knew yt any did hurt me, unless sd widow Scott.