May 5th was her birthday. She would have been 96 this year; unfortunately she died just short of 64. I have reached the age of 64 and am glad to be in good health, able to work in the garden and appreciate the beauty of this wonderful season in New England.
This month's column mentions my mother in the opening line, but is really about my own discovery of some earlier family connections. It was published in the Danvers Herald May 1st, titled "John Prince mystery solved." 2015 update: the link to the 2008 published version no longer works, so I've replaced it with a copy of the text from my computer:
"We would have named you John Prince if you had been a boy," my mother said as we stood in front of a headstone in a small graveyard near Spring Street. Me, with a different name? Me, as a boy? Questions swirled in my young head, but I didn't speak. I was too busy thinking about my mother's comment and wondering why anyone would select a name off a gravestone. Perhaps she liked the sound of a name like John Prince Nichols. The moment passed and she never again mentioned this name possibility.
I wish I had thought to ask, Who was John Prince? Are we related to the Princes? Those questions didn't occur to me until many years later, long after my mother had died. I was then living in California and preparing to make a trip back to New England. My sister and I planned to visit Danvers together. She was living in New Mexico. We had often thought it would be fun to make a joint visit east, but we were busy and years had passed. Finally, we decided to give ourselves a deadline; we chose to attend the May 1992 unveiling of the Salem Village Witchcraft Victims' Memorial. We were glad that Danvers was publicly acknowledging this controversial history and we were interested in witnessing the 300th anniversary ceremony.
As we prepared for the trip, I became curious about whether we were really related to one of the accused witches. We'd heard some talk (or whispers) in the family about a possible connection, but lacked details. I hadn't paid much attention to family genealogy. We used to joke about the idea, and then shrug it off with some comment about being glad to be on the innocent side (accused of witchcraft), rather than being related to an accuser. In 1992 I pulled out a file of family genealogical papers my mother had left me and began to look through the names. The strongest clue I found was a Sarah Warren marked "d. in jail 1692." I went to the library and looked through books about Salem witchcraft history. Book after book, index after index – no Sarah Warren. I almost gave up, but tried one more book. Aha! The index listed Sarah Warren as the maiden name of Sarah Osborn. Oh, my! I recognized that name, as many of the books had had whole chapters devoted to Sarah Osborn(e) or Osburn. I began reading…
I learned that Sarah married a man named Robert Prince and had two sons, James and Joseph. After her husband died young, she needed help with the large Prince property, and hired a servant named Alexander Osburn. He lived in the main house "without benefit of marriage" – a scandal in Puritan society. Sarah was not well-regarded and did not attend church. Later she married Osburn. By some accounts she was mentally ill, or old and unhealthy, by the time she was accused of being a witch. She was taken to jail in Boston, and died there on May 10, 1692 before she was tried. Sarah was thus the first to die in the Salem witchcraft crisis. Her sons later sued in court to regain control of the Prince property, which had shifted to Osburn because of their mother's remarriage. I am descended from Joseph Prince.
Where was this Prince property? I assume it was along Spring Street and included the graveyard of Prince headstones. Sarah's house used to be there, but was moved to 272 Maple Street by 1914, according to a photo my sister and I saw at the Danvers Historical Society. We found an identical photo among our family papers, with clear writing on the back by my great aunt indicating that Sarah had been taken as a witch from this house in 1692. So my "discovery" of this family connection to Sarah wasn't new – just new to me. During my 1992 visit, I tried to find the Prince gravestones, but did not know exactly where to look. Now that I am retired, perhaps I should try again. I'm still curious to learn about John Prince.