Field Trip: “Saltonstall’s Trial” at the Larcom Theater
*Originally posted November 18th 2019*
Photo courtesy of Mark Lorenz.
Last night I dragged my husband to a well-developed play about one of the most ridiculous and brutal parts of American history: the Salem Witch “Trials.” I put the word trials in quotation marks because as many people already know, the trials were a sham based on spectral evidence, politics, local feuds, and egos. This was cleverly dramatized by the writer Michael Cormier and acclaimed local director Myriam Cyr in their play, “Saltonstall’s Trial” that ran in October.
Once again, I decided a field trip was necessary to keep me positive in my on-going quest to be a productive writer. I am in the midst of trying to start another writing project and having a dreadful time getting started. Can anyone relate?
Low and behold, “Saltonstall’s Trial” has a character named William Stoughton (1631-1701) who was a real judge in the trials of 1692-1693. Stoughton was the nephew of a man I am studying, Thomas Stoughton (1592-1661). Thomas was the second husband of Margaret Barrett Huntington Stoughton (1595-1665). Margaret’s first husband, Simon Huntington died of small pox in May/June 1633 sometime during their 6-week voyage to Massachusetts Bay Colony. (Margaret, by the way, was the ancestress of Jedediah Huntington and the very large Huntington family in America. She is a 17th century woman to think about.)
Judge William Stoughton (judge, nephew of Thomas Stoughton of Windsor, CT)
What did I glean from the Cormier/Cyr production that can help me in my portrayal, on paper, of my own targeted piece of history? For one thing, “Saltonstall’s Trial” gives voice to the women who were accused. It is a drama about them, and Judge Nathaniel Saltonstall’s (1637-1707) attempt to stop the unfair, unlawful proceedings that were railroaded by William Stoughton in his attempt to move things along and make himself look good instead of examining the evidence and interviewing multiple witnesses. It highlights the extreme power men had over women of this time period. In addition, it exposes the stigmas that were placed on women if they diverged from their proper place in the strict, yet waning days of the Puritan-era.
I thought this play was educational, sprinkled with humor, and realistically portrayed by professional actors. If I think in feminist terms, I wish it would have focused on someone like Rebecca Nurse and what she went through but still, I am glad the writer and director gave voice to the victims and an enlightened understanding of the conflicting judges.