Andover Townsman, Andover, MA

September 23, 2010

Andover Stories: Dane, man of faith who spoke against witchcraft hysteria

Andover Stories
By Mike Simo Andover Historical Society

In 1648, one of Andover's most prominent citizens arrived to become the town's second minister and to make his mark in a world filled with wonders. Over the next 50 years, Francis Dane would preach, instruct, lead and play a significant part during a period of hysteria in the region. A man of deep faith, his pragmatic approach during a time of civil and religious strife in the English empire allowed the people of Andover to grow spiritually and prosper financially.

Although there are very few papers that remain from Dane's pen, one might surmise that he followed the more lenient teachings of the Half-Way Covenant, which began to appear in the early 1660s. This Puritan ideology allowed for the children of church members to be baptized and receive instruction without becoming full church members — those receiving the Lord's Supper.

This was an extremely important part of a new Puritan ideology, for it allowed the town's children to remain under the watchful eye of the minister. Better to keep them involved with biblical instruction than for the younger generation to wander aimlessly. The good Rev. Dane would have none of that in his beloved Andover.

During his 81 years, Dane married three times. His first wife, Elizabeth Ingalls of Ipswich, bore him two sons and four daughters. After her death in 1676, he married Mary Thomas, but it was a short marriage, lasting only a year before she died in 1689. Not wanting to end his years in loneliness, Dane wed Hannah Chandler in 1690 when he was near the age of 74.

During his lifetime, the reverend would acquire over several hundred acres of land in and around the town, a sturdy home and the meager trappings of a man of his stature. Yet, his most important acquisition might have been the deep respect the town showed him over the years. This respect would hold sway during two incidents of witchcraft hysteria that took place in both the 1660s and 1692.

In 1665, Job Tyler accused John Godfrey, a man known throughout the region "to be an ill-disposed person," of practicing witchcraft. Dane, who most assuredly knew of the earlier executions for witchcraft in both England and New England, testified on Godfrey's behalf. His testimony helped clear Godfrey of the charges. Dane wanted no part of the fanaticism that took place in both Connecticut and Massachusetts from 1647-1662, when 15 people were hanged for nothing more than their perceived misguided behavior. Dane's belief that no witches resided in New England would be tested again almost 30 years later.

When the young girls of Salem began their hysterics, many in Andover came into their sights. For unknown reasons, although one might speculate jealousy of Dane or his teachings, several of his family members were accused and arrested. Two daughters, a daughter-in-law and six grandchildren were among those jailed. Dane had seen enough. Although the General Council had begun to bemoan the antics in Salem, Dane sent a passionate letter to these officials. He vehemently denied any of his family members' knowledge of or practice in the dark arts of witchcraft. His letter persuaded the Council to allow for a bond to be posted and his family released. Wisdom and common sense prevailed.

Satan may have wandered through New England, but to the enlightened, pragmatic Dane, Satan never practiced his evil arts in Andover. Dane died quietly in 1697, holding the love and cherished respect of his family, the town and its people he so admired.

"Andover Stories" is a weekly column about interesting local people and events, told in anticipation of the Andover Historical Society's 100 anniversary in 2011.