submitted by David M. Powers, March 2020
In preparing posts about the earliest case of witchcraft in Springfield for my Facebook pages later this month, I found this drawing about that topic in “The History of Springfield in Massachusetts for the Young” by Charles Henry Barrows. Printed in 1921, the book offers various black and white sketches to illustrate the development of the city.
But here’s the thing. This volume provides yet another example of the inadequate selection of art available to illustrate colonial history.
What is this sketch about? I can see Deacon Chapin referenced in the figure based on “The Puritan” statue towards the back, on the left. I see a man carrying a musket through town – unloaded, I hope, in keeping with strict gun laws at the time. I see the ditch which ran along the east side of Main Street, with the “muxie marsh” beyond it.
But the houses all face east rather than towards the south, as they were originally sited. Where did those modern dormer windows come from? And the gambrel “Dutch Colonial” roof? And who has swooned on the doorstep – and why? Whatever happened here, it’s not reflective of the facts of the witchcraft story of 1650 – 1651. A child notices the woman, as does another woman nearby who clasps her hands in alarm – but the two men walking in our direction seem oblivious, as if the woman’s collapse on the doorstep was an everyday occurrence.
I admit to an exacting expectation, namely, the highest degree of accuracy possible. But if, as I believe, a picture is worth a thousand words, readers of this and so many other illustrated narratives about colonial history are fated to live with quite misleading images of that era.
I welcome your observations!
David M. Powers