March 22, 2022

The first women to occupy the Turner-Ingersoll Mansion lived fascinating, sometimes harrowing lives  

by Felicia Cheney

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On Salem Women’s History Day, what better way to commemorate Salem’s female trailblazers than to delve into the histories of the first women to live in the Turner-Ingersoll Mansion? Commonly known as The House of the Seven Gables, the mansion’s female inhabitants have stories yet to be told.

Though most of us have encountered scant information about the Turner women on Derby Street, we know their stories would contribute greatly to our understanding of this nation’s beginnings. Life back in 1668, when John and Elizabeth Turner first occupied their new home, presented daunting challenges. This successful seafaring family lived in relative comfort, with access to resources unavailable to others, but they were not immune to the trials of a burgeoning society. Terrifying and bloody wars between the Native Americans and incoming settlers, the horrors of the witchcraft trials and fluctuating fortunes all left their marks.

Robin Woodman, a trustee at The House of the Seven Gables and a historian, does know about the Turner women. They occupied the mansion between 1668 when it was first built and 1782 when the Ingersolls purchased the property. What an understatement to say that a lot happened in those 114 years.

On Sunday, March 27, at 6 p.m., Woodman will discuss some of the highlights of her research. Besides the Turner women, whose wealth came from maritime trade conducted by their sea captain husbands, Woodman will talk a bit about Gables’ owner and second cousin of Nathaniel Hawthorne, Susanna Ingersoll, as well as founder of The House of the Seven Gables Settlement Association Caroline Emmerton. Woodman’s discussion is virtual and free of charge. Those interested may use this link to sign up:

“I became interested in the women of the house because very few, if any, historians were researching them,” says Woodman. “Researching women’s history, especially in a place like Salem where the men are well researched and famous in their own right, is very difficult.” 

One topic likely to come up during Woodman’s talk is King Philip’s War. It was one of four brutal and bloody wars of the era. Around 1675 John Turner left Elizabeth, his first wife, alone with two young children while he fought in the notoriously vicious war. He returned safely, but that was not the case for a group of local men known as the Flower of Essex. Most of those volunteer soldiers were killed. 

Woodman’s account, not just of the history she has discovered, but of her process of uncovering details in the lives of these trailblazing women, will make for an engaging hour during Salem’s Women’s History Day.

About The House of the Seven Gables Settlement Association 

The mission of The House of the Seven Gables Settlement Association is to be a welcoming, thriving, historic site and community resource that engages people of all backgrounds in our inclusive American story. For more information visit

Stories are at the core of what we do at The House of the Seven Gables. They are not just a part of our past, but also our present and future. In 2021, we look forward to exploring the lore of our historic site and surrounding community with a special series of lectures, programs and events.

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