Posted by: CeCe | May 6, 2013

A real-life Scarlett O’Hara

For those who don’t know (which would probably be anyone outside of Facebook, since I think all my Facebook friends know), I’m really into researching genealogy.  In fact, I’m so into researching genealogy that not only have I researched my own family tree, but I’ve also researched the family trees of several friends.  I love learning about my own origins, and the origins of others, and seeing just how far back I can trace their families.  In learning about my own genealogy, I found the name of my 3rd great-grandmother, Abigail Putnam, and I immediately recognized her last name.  At the time, I thought, oh there’s no way I’m related to them!  But as I found Abigail Putnam’s parents, and then kept tracing the line back, I found that yes, I am descended from the Putnam family of the town formerly known as Salem Village in Massachusetts.

If you didn’t recognize the name “Putnam”, you should recognize Salem, which has become synonymous with “witch trials” since the cases that took place there in the late 17th century.  Ann Putnam, Jr., who was the niece of my 8th great-grandfather, Edward Putnam, was one of the main accusers in these trials.  When we learned about the Salem Witch Trials in school, we didn’t learn about anything that happened to any of the main players afterward.  However, since I’m related to the Putnam family, I decided to research it on my own.

Ann, Jr. was the daughter of Thomas and Ann (Carr) Putnam.  In 1699, 7 years after the trials began, Thomas and Ann, Sr. both died within two weeks of each other.  At the time, Ann, Jr. was just 19.  So who was there to take care of her seven younger siblings, ranging in age from 16 down to 7 months?  Well, Ann.  So Ann dedicated the rest of her life to taking care of her younger siblings.  She never married or had children of her own, and died at the age of 37.

Ann is also the only accuser in the Salem Witch Trials who apologized for her part in it, saying that she meant no ill will towards anyone, that she felt horrible about the innocent people who had died as a result of her deception, and that she had been deluded.

When I read about how she and her siblings were orphaned at such young ages, I felt a surge of sympathy for her, and for them.  How terrible it must have been for her to carry such a heavy weight; not only did she bear the guilt of the grief she caused during the Trials, she bore the responsibility of caring for seven grieving children.  How she did it, I don’t know, but she must have done a pretty good job of raising them, because four of them lived to ripe old ages, and at least one of them got married, and had children of their own.

Her story actually reminds me a lot of Scarlett O’Hara from Gone with the Wind.  Everyone who is familiar with the book and/or movie knows that Scarlett went from being a spoiled rotten child concerned only with her “beaux” and what she was going to wear to a barbecue, to a woman who was willing to work herself to the bone to feed her family (though still capable of being shrewd, selfish, under-handed and cruel), and who even protected her household by shooting and killing a Yankee soldier who had every intention of robbing and/or raping her.  Both Ann and Scarlett illustrate what women are capable of when we’ve got our backs against the wall.  Sure, we may make mistakes, but we’ll do what needs to be done anyway, with little regard for ourselves.

Now don’t get me wrong, I know that men can do that too.  My dad was one of them; he just kept fighting when lesser people would have simply surrendered to their ill health and let the pain get the best of them.  But too often, in books and in movies, women are portrayed as being incapable of doing anything without a man’s help, or as needing rescuing, or as backgrounds, or eye-candy.

This is why I think it’s important to remember women like Ann.  She made mistakes as a child, but she paid for them many times over, by sacrificing everything to provide for her orphaned siblings.  What an amazingly strong woman she must have been!  She’s been dead for nearly 300 years, but her story reached through time, and it touched my heart.  I hope it touches yours too.

Rest in peace, Ann.  You are not forgotten.

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Responses

  1. Great story!

    • Thank you!

  2. Hopefully, at some point Ann Jr will know that you have given her forgiveness. She sounds like an amazing woman. Do you think it’s a case where she was told only part of the truth and then from that standpoint, made the accusations?

    • A lot of people have theorized that Ann was coerced into making accusations; the Putnam family was very powerful and rich, and nearly everyone who was accused had been an enemy of the family. It sounds like a viable theory to me!

  3. Cece, I so love reading your writing. I love how you can bring to life real stories from years ago. No matter the mistakes that Ann made, when it came time to bare the responsibility for her siblings she was able to put aside any part of her life and essentially turn into a full time mom. How she did it at 19 with seven children is beyond me. I think what it comes down to is that when a woman is faced deciding to give all she has or give up, most women will give all they have, which is a lot more than many of us realize we are capable of. It is not until we are put in the moment and have no other choices that we realize what we can do, as hard as it may seem. As always thank you for your writing.

    • Thank you so much Becca! ❤

  4. CeCe you should really speak with my wife. She is an “amateur genealogist”, and she has gone back pretty far herself.

    Great post as always hun! I always enjoy your insight and philosophy/philosophical discussions. 🙂


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