A Bit of History

(c) Snapped by Derek
Inside the Library’s Vital Record Room

So, Tuesday morning I woke up, and decided, “I’m going for a drive.”

I ended up driving for 3 days and traveling over 424 miles.

What can I say, I was stir crazy?

Why might you ask? Well, I had an underlying goal: to pick up my roomie at the Logan International Airport, but also another, a much deeper and heartfelt goal. You see, I have meaning to travel to Boston for over a year now, and the original intent was to not go alone, but now that I am a free man, I had nothing holding me back, nor anything to hold me down. So, I went.

Ever since I discovered that one of my ancestors was a victim of the hysteria influenced by the Salem Witch Trials of 1692, I have had heard an ancestral call to pilgrimage, and see what could be learned.

On 26 September 1692, in the Cambridge prison, Rebecca Shelley Addington died at the age of 67. She was wife to Constable William Chamberlaine where they lived and called home the town of Billerica, a mere 7.5 hour walk west of Salem, which is roughly 20 miles.  Now, I have not been able to acquire testimony or even the charges brought up against her, which may indicate that she was held purely as a material “witness” to “spectral evidence” of evil witchcraft.

It is all very ironic that 320 years later, her 12th generational grandchild would be a self identifying pagan. Irony, or just the truth that we all possess magick in our veins.

I was able to rummage through the Billerica vital records and local historical documents at the town’s library and was able to find the location of the old Chamberlaine Homestead, which has since overgrown, but there are oak trees there that whisper soft memories on the wind.

I was also lucky enough to get some information on the actual location of the old Cambridge prison from the Cambridge Historical Society:

I can’t find any record of a trial or the death of Rebecca Shelley Addington in Cambridge. It is possible that she was tried in Billerica, but they were not able to house her and she was sent to Cambridge. If she was in fact imprisoned in Cambridge, she would have been in a jail that stood at “the northerly side of Winthrop Street, between Winthrop Square and Eliot Street.” (Lucius Paige’s History of Cambridge, 1877 p. 216)

Of note, Lucius Paige writes in his history of Cambridge “In October, 1660, the County Court ordered, that the House of Correction, or Bridewell, should be used as a prison for the County, until further provision be made. Such provision was made by the erection of a jail before Aug. 26, 1692, when it was ordered by the Court, ” that the County Treasurer take care that their majesties Goal at Cambridge be repaired, for the comfortable being of what persons may be committed forthwith.”2

This was when the witchcraft excitement was at its extreme height, and the prisons in several counties were  put in requisition to confine the unhappy victims who were accused in Essex.”

This, of course, does  not mean that Rebecca Addington was in this prison, just that it was likely being used to house people accused of witchcraft on the date you have for her death.

The building does not still exist, in fact there are only two 17th century building still standing in Cambridge and they are both homes that are at least a mile from the center of Harvard Square. There are also no images of this prison that I am aware of.

However, if you are interested in exploring this site, you could go and enjoy lunch at one of a number of restaurants on Winthrop Street, some of which have outdoor seating so you could sit, enjoy a meal and reflect on the very modern building that is on the site of this prison. Of note, Tommy Doyle’s Pub is on the site of the first House of Blues in America, the Red House is in a circa 1802 house, and one wall of Charlie’s Beer Garden is the Winthrop Retaining Wall, which is possibly the oldest man-made structure in Cambridge, possibly dating back to the 1630s.

I hope you enjoy your visit to Cambridge,
The Cambridge Historical Society

(c) Snapped by Derek
On the site of the old William Chamberlaine Homestead

Now, it is unknown where both William & Rebecca were buried. It is quite possible that her body was simply tossed in a swamp or a mass grave, but I have a feeling that William went to Cambridge, collected his wife’s body and then moved to Chelmsford, which is reported where he moved shortly there after her death.

It is my theory that he wanted to get as far away from the craziness of the times as possible and relocated to Chelmsford to stay, which is weird considering his children had homes more south and closer to Boston from Billerica.

I am in the process of researching with the Chelmsford Historical Society, to see what I can find. Perhaps he buried her on the grounds of his new home, where she could be laid to rest in peace away from a town that was caught up in a horrible storm of history.


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