SALEM — A rare manuscript from the Salem Witch Trials goes on sale tomorrow at a New York auction house.
The original court indictment of Margaret Scott, an elderly Rowley woman and one of the last people hanged during the 1692 witch hysteria, is part of a large private collection of historical documents being sold at Swann Auction Galleries in New York City.
The pre-auction estimate is $25,000 to $35,000.
"I think the estimate is way low," said Richard Trask, the Danvers town archivist and a leading expert on the witch trials.
"I've only seen witchcraft documents sold twice during my professional life," said Trask, who has been working in the field since 1969. "They are very valuable, and this is an indictment — it's an important document. ... This kind of document comes along so infrequently."
Rick Stattler, director of printed and manuscript Americana at Swann, said this is a rare sale even for them. No similar items have been seen at auction since 1983, he said.
"It's not that unusual to see a document from this early, but it's almost impossible to get one on the auction market from the witch trials," he said. "They just don't turn up."
Margaret (Stephenson) Scott was a poor widow in her 70s who was accused by Mary Daniel, a teenager from Rowley. She went on trial in Salem, was found guilty and hanged on Sept. 22, 1692, part of the last group to die during the trials.
Between June and September of that year, 19 men and women were hanged, and one man was pressed to death. Other accused witches died in prison.
According to the one-page indictment, Scott was accused of practicing "certaine detestable arts called witchcraft and sorceries."
As a result of Scott's sorcery, Daniel was "tortured, aflicted, consumed, pined, wasted, and tormented ..." the indictment reads.
The manuscript is from the Eric C. Caren Collection. Caren is a noted New York collector of historical documents.
The document was acquired by a private collector around 1900, according to Swann, and remained in his family for the next 100 years. Caren acquired it several years ago, Stattler said.
Trask, town archivist for the former Salem Village, scene of the witchcraft hysteria, said most of the known court records from the witch trials belong to the Essex County court system and are held at the Peabody Essex Museum.
The town archive in Danvers, located at the Peabody Institute Library, has the largest collection of printed material on the witch trials, but no court records, Trask said.
However, Trask said that "even if I had the money, there is no way I could justify spending that kind of public money, even though I would love to have it."
Trask said he fears the Scott indictment will remain in private hands.
"Anybody who has money could buy it," he said. "The problem with these documents is they're really public records. They should be in a public institution."
The Salem Witch Museum, the city's most popular witch-related attraction, does not plan to bid.
"I wish we had the (right) facility," Director Tina Jordan said. "You need to have the right kind of climate control, and you need to have security."
The PEM said it can't discuss acquisition plans in advance of auctions.