John Alden Jr.: Figure in the Salem Witch Trials

Accused and Escaped

Salem Witch Trials - an Examination
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Known for: 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.

Occupation: soldier, sailor.

Age at time of Salem witch trials: about 65.

Dates: about 1626 or 1627 – March 25, 1702 (using Old Style dates, his gravestone has his death date as March 14 1701/2).

Also known as: John Alden Sr. (when his father had died, since he had a son named John).

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 – “crully tortureing 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. Aldin’s later account of the day described it this way:

Those Wenches being present, who plaid their jugling tricks, falling down, crying out, and staring in Peoples Faces; the Magistrates demanded of them several times, who it was of all the People in the Room that hurt them? one of these Accusers pointed several times at one Captain Hill , there present, but spake nothing; the same Accuser had a Man standing at her back to hold her up; he stooped down to her Ear, then she cried out, Aldin , Aldin afflicted her; one of the Magistrates asked her if she had ever seen Aldin , she answered no, he asked her how she knew it was Aldin ? She said, the Man told her so.

Then all were ordered to go down into the Street, where a Ring was made; and the same Accuser cried out, “there stands Aldin , a bold fellow with his Hat on before the Judges, he sells Powder and Shot to the Indians and French, and lies with the Indian Squaes, and has Indian Papooses.” Then was Aldin committed to the Marshal's Custody, and his Sword taken from him; for they said he afflicted them with his Sword. After some hours Aldin was sent for to the Meeting-house in the Village before the Magistrates; who required Aldin to stand upon a Chair, to the open view of all the People.  

The Accusers cried out that Aldin did pinch them, then, when he stood upon the Chair, in the sight of all the People, a good way distant from them, one of the Magistrates bid the Marshal to hold open Aldin's hands, that he might not pinch those Creatures. Aldin asked them why they should think that he should come to that Village to afflict those persons that he never knew or saw before? Mr. Gidney bid Aldin confess, and give glory to God; Aldin said he hoped he should give glory to God, and hoped he should never gratifie the Devil; but appealed to all that ever knew him, if they ever suspected him to be such a person, and challenged any one, that could bring in any thing upon their own knowledge, that might give suspicion of his being such an one. Mr. Gidney said he had known Aldin many Years, and had been at Sea with him, and always look'd upon him to be an honest Man, but now he did see cause to alter his judgment: Aldin answered, he was sorry for that, but he hoped God would clear up his Innocency, that he would recall that judgment again, and added that he hoped that he should with Job maintain his Integrity till he died. They bid Aldin look upon the Accusers, which he did, and then they fell down. Aldin asked Mr. Gidney , what Reason there could be given, why Aldin's looking upon him did not strike him down as well; but no reason was given that I heard. But the Accusers were brought to Aldin to touch them, and this touch they said made them well. Aldin began to speak of the Providence of God in suffering these Creatures to accuse Innocent persons. Mr. Noyes asked Aldin why he would offer to speak of the Providence of God. God by his Providence (said Mr. Noyes ) governs the World, and keeps it in peace; and so went on with Discourse , and stopt Aldin's mouth, as to that. Aldin told Mr. Gidney , that he could assure him that there was a lying Spirit in them, for I can assure you that there is not a word of truth in all these say of me. But Aldin was again committed to the Marshal, and his Mittimus written….

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.)