John Alden Jr. and the Salem Witch Trials

Accused and Escaped

Witch House Salem

Library of Congress/Getty Images

John Alden Jr. (1626 or 1627 - March 25, 1702) was a soldier and sailor accused of witchcraft on a visit to the town of Salem and imprisoned in the 1692 Salem witch trials; he escaped from jail and was later exonerated.

John Alden Jr.'s Parents and Wife

Father: John Alden Sr., a crew member on the Mayflower when it sailed to Plymouth Colony; he decided to stay in the new world. He lived until about 1680.

Mother: Priscilla Mullins Alden, whose family and brother Joseph died during the first winter in Plymouth; her only other relatives, including a brother and sister, had remained in England. She lived until after 1650, and possibly until the 1670s.

John Alden and Priscilla Mullins were married in 1621, probably the second or third couple among the colonists to marry in Plymouth.

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow in 1858 wrote The Courtship of Miles Standish, based on a family tradition about the couple’s relationship. Recent evidence suggests that the story may be based on fact.

Priscilla and John Alden had ten children who lived past infancy. One of the two eldest was John Jr.; he and the other two eldest children were born in Plymouth. The others were born after the family moved to Duxbury, Massachusetts.

John Alden Jr. married Elizabeth Phillips Everill in 1660. They had fourteen children together.

John Alden Jr. Before the Salem Witch Trials

John Alden had been a sea captain and a Boston merchant before he became involved in the events in Salem in 1692. In Boston, he was a charter member of the Old South Meeting House. During King William’s War (1689 – 1697), John Alden held a military command, while he also maintained his business dealings in Boston.

John Alden Jr. and the Salem Witch Trials

In February 1692, at about the time that the first girls were displaying their symptoms of affliction in Salem, John Alden Jr. was in Quebec, ransoming British prisoners held there after their capture in the raid on York, Maine, in January. In that attack, a group of Abenaki, led by Madockawando and a French priest, attacked the town of York. (York is now in Maine and was at the time part of the Province of Massachusetts.) The raid killed about 100 English settlers and another 80 were taken hostage, forced to march to New France. Alden was in Quebec to pay the ransom for the freedom of the British soldiers captured in that raid.

Alden stopped in Salem on his return to Boston. There had already been rumors that he was, through his business, supplying the French and Abenaki side of the war. There had also apparently been rumors of Alden having affairs with Indian women, and even having children by them. On May 19, a rumor came to Boston through some escapees from the Indians that a French leader had been looking for Captain Alden, saying Alden owed him some goods that he had promised to him. This may have been the trigger for the accusations that followed just days later. (Mercy Lewis, one of the accusers, had lost her parents in Indian raids.)

On May 28, a formal accusation of witchcraft—“cruelly torturing and afflicting several of their Children and others”—against John Alden was filed. On May 31, he was brought from Boston and examined in court by Judges Gedney, Corwin and Hathorne.

The court decided to put Alden, and a woman named Sarah Rice, into Boston jail, and instructed the keeper of the prison in Boston to hold him. He was delivered there, but after fifteen weeks, he made an escape from the jail and went to New York to stay with protectors.

In December 1692, a court demanded that he appear in Boston to answer charges. In April 1693, John Hathorne and Jonathan Curwin were notified that Alden had been returned to Boston to answer at the Boston Superior Court. But no one appeared against him, and he was cleared by proclamation.

Alden published his own account of his involvement in the trials (see excerpts above). John Alden died on March 25, 1702, in Massachusetts Bay province.

John Alden Jr. in Salem, 2014 series

John Alden’s appearance during the Salem witch trials has been highly fictionalized in a 2014 series about the events in Salem. He plays a man much younger than the historical John Alden was, and he is romantically linked in the fictional account to Mary Sibley, though this has no basis in the historical record, with intimations that this was his “first love.” (The historical John Alden had been married for 32 years and had fourteen children.)