Local Actors to Shine Light on Haverhill’s Saltonstall in Play Staged at NECC Nov. 1-4

Haverhill native Michael Cormier brings the story of Nathaniel Saltonstall to life in his play "Saltonstall," staged at Northern Essex Nov. 1-4. (Courtesy photograph)

Haverhill native Michael Cormier brings the story of Nathaniel Saltonstall to life in his play "Saltonstall," staged at Northern Essex Nov. 1-4. (Courtesy photograph)

The story of Haverhill judge Nathaniel Saltonstall, the man tasked with trying witchcraft cases in 1692, is getting a new spin thanks to playwright and actors with city ties.

Haverhill native Michael Cormier tells WHAV he was inspired to pen “Saltonstall,” staged at Northern Essex for five performances Nov. 1-4, after completing 250 hours of research into the famed judge at the Haverhill Public Library and Buttonwoods Museum.

As Cormier’s research progressed, so did the story—to include the extended Saltonstall family. Haverhill’s first reverend John Ward, along with Nathaniel’s wife Elizabeth Saltonstall, are prominently featured, said the writer.

“Here was a man who had everything to lose and absolutely nothing to gain by standing up and speaking up against the witch trials, when all his peers were on board and chasing people down and hanging them,” he said of Saltonstall, also a member of the Haverhill Citizens Hall of Fame. “What would make a man do such a thing fascinated me, as did what made the other people go the other way.”

The play unfolds over several weeks in 1692, after Saltonstall was appointed to preside over the Salem Witch Trials. Cormier tells WHAV his lead character, played by Ipswich actor Doug Brendel, undergoes a “crisis of conscience” during the performance.

“Over the course of becoming appointed as a judge and sitting on the first trial, he has a crisis of conscience and has to make some decisions as to how he’s going to proceed: Either go with the crowd and protect his own interests or go against the crowd and do what he feels is the right thing,” the playwright told WHAV.

Haverhill resident Carol Goans plays Bridget Bishop, the first woman to be tried for witchcraft. Her trial and the aftermath are equally central to the story, said Cormier.

Southerner Goans now makes her home in Haverhill, telling WHAV she couldn’t help but relate to the strong-willed character.

“Bridget was a woman who knew her mind and wasn’t above speaking it,” explained Goans. “Women often get a bad reputation simply for standing their ground, so I think that’s what led people to accuse her of things.

The project, backed by North Shore’s Punctuate4 and directed by Myriam Cyr, also features local cast members from Andover, Methuen and Boxford.

Tickets are still available for the 7:30 p.m. performances on Nov. 1-3 or 3 p.m. matinees on Nov. 3-4 and may be reserved by visiting www.punctuate4.org. They will also be sold at the door to the Spurk Building, 100 Elliot St, Haverhill, on show days.