Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Indictment against Salem ‘witch’ to be auctioned in New York on Thursday

Margaret Scott was hanged in September 1692 after she was found guilty of witchcraft. On Thursday, the indictment against her will be auctioned off by a New York gallery. The document is expected to sell for more than $25,000.

“These things are extremely rare,” said Richard Trask, the archivist for Danvers, which was known as Salem Village in 1692. “In my whole professional life, which goes back to the late 1960s, I’ve only seen two documents like this that weren’t in institutions come to light.”

Scott was accused of “certaine detestable arts called witchcraft and sorceries,” and was later hanged as part of the last group of executions during the fabled 1692 Salem Witch Trials, which resulted in the hanging of 19 people accused of consorting with the devil.

Trask said the document won’t shed any new light on the trial, because he discovered a transcript of the document about 20 years ago in a history of the nearby town of Rowley from the 1840s.

“It doesn’t tell us anything new that we didn’t already know,” he said. “But as an artifact of the period and for the rarity of it, it is important as an artifact of the event.”

The indictment is being auctioned by Swann Auction Galleries in New York City, which has estimated the sale price could be between $25,000 and $35,000. Trask, however, said he thinks the final sale price could be much higher.

“I think it’s an underestimate, what they’re saying,” he said. “The last one to go up for auction and be sold went for an excess of $75,000.”

Rebecca Weiss, a spokeswoman for Swann, said the document was acquired by a collector around 1900 and remained in his family for nearly 100 years.

“In addition to how fascinating it is as a historic relic, it is also exceedingly rare,” she said. “It is something that doesn’t come up but for once a generation because they’re so rare to be not in an institution.”

The auction, Weiss said, is open to the public, though the item will not be sold for less than $13,000.

“You don’t need to be from a historical society to come in and view this material. Anyone curious is welcome to come to the preview the items in person,” she said. “It really makes it seem very real and concrete opposed to the stories and books we’ve all heard and read over the years.”
Colin A. Young can be reached at 

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