Entry plague to Pine Grove Cemetery (Topsfield). Marks site old Meeting house where Rev. Capen held regular worship services.


Rev. Joseph Capen was born 20 December 1658 in Dorchester, Suffolk County, Massachusetts, United States to John Capen (1612-1692) and Mary Bass (1631-1704) and died 30 June 1725 Topsfield, Essex County, Massachusetts, United States of unspecified causes. He married Priscilla Appleton (1657-1743) 1684 in Topsfield, Essex County, Massachusetts.

He was the son of Captain John Capen, whose family can be traced back to the county of Dorset, England. He was also the son of Mary Bass, whose family came from Essex county in England.

Joseph Capen (1658–1725) was a Massachusetts clergyman. Capen was the son of John Capen of Dorchester, Massachusetts, by his second wife, Mary, the daughter of Samuel Bass of Braintree. Joseph Capen was a member of the class of 1677 at Harvard and was a minister in Topsfield, Massachusetts, from 1682 to his death in 1725.[1]

Capen moved to Topsfield, Massachusetts, in 1682 to become the minister of the Topsfield town church. He was ordained as the successor of Jeremiah Hobart in 1684.[1] His predecessors set his prospects low: two of the past three ministers were unable to collect their salaries, and one of them went on trial for intemperance.[2] He had 7 children by his wife, Priscilla (1657–1743). After his death, Capen was succeeded by the minister John Emerson.[1]

Several eulogies written by Capen have also been preserved.[1]

Parson Capen House

Parson Capen House in Topsfield, Massachusetts.

The Parson Capen House is a historic house in Topsfield, Massachusetts, that was built in 1683. It has drawn attention as an example of early colonial architecture and due to its well-preserved condition compared to other houses built at that time. In addition to his annual salary, the town granted Capen 12 acres of "land & medow [sic] & swamp" where he built his parsonage house, known today as the Parson Capen House.

Built next to the Topsfield Common as the parsonage for the local Congregational Church. By Reverend Joseph Capen (1658-1725) whose wife, Priscilla Appleton (1657-1743), had seen the previous parsonage and was disappointed by its condition. The family lived there for over forty years. At the time that it was built, it was considered to be the best house in the town. The house was declared a National Historic Landmark in 1960. It is one of the best preserved homes from its period in New England. The Topsfield Historical Society currently operates it as a historic house museum.

Joseph Capen was a young Harvard graduate when he came to Topsfield to lead the town’s congregation in 1682. Shortly thereafter, he built what is known today as the Parson Capen House. The date “July 8 1683” is written on a beam in the parlor, and the architecture – a fine example of the Elizabethan or English Cottage style – is indicative of the time period.[3]

Salem witch trials

1876 illustration of the courtroom; the central figure is usually identified as being Mary Walcott

The Salem witch trials were a series of hearings and prosecutions of people accused of witchcraft in colonial Massachusetts between February 1692 and May 1693. More than 200 people were accused, nineteen of whom were found guilty and executed by hanging (fourteen women and five men). One other man, Giles Corey, was pressed to death for refusing to plead, and at least five people died in jail. It was the deadliest witch hunt in the history of the United States.

During the Salem Witch Trials of 1692, a member of Capen's congregation, Mary Towne Eastey (1634-1692), was hanged for witchcraft. On July 8, 1703, Capen was among many other ministers[4] who signed an address to the general court that asked to formally clear the names of the accused.[5]

Joseph Capen served as minister of the Topsfield congregation for more than forty years, including the tragic years of the Salem witch hysteria. Three of Parson Capen’s parishioners were tried, convicted, and executed as witches. A stone memorial in Topsfield lists the victims as Mary Esty, Elizabeth How, and Sarah Wildes. All three were hung in 1692.

The story of Mary Esty (Estey, Easty) and her sister, Sarah Cloys (Cloyce, Cloyes, Clayes), is particularly significant for Parson Capen. Mary, Sarah, and their sister, Rebecca Nurse, were all accused of practicing witchcraft. Rebecca was found guilty and executed on 19 July 1692.

Pleading for their lives, Mary and Sarah presented a petition to the court that reads in part:

Those who have had the Longest and best knowledge of us, being persons of good report, may be suffered to Testifie upon oath what they know concerning each of us, viz Mr. Capen the pastour and those of the Towne & Church of Topsfield, who are ready to say somthing which we hope may be looked upon, as very considerable in this matter… [6]

Family & Marriage

All children were most likely born in Topsfield, Massachusetts at the Parson Capen House.


Offspring of Rev. Joseph Capen and Priscilla Appleton (1657-1743)
Name Birth Death Joined with
Priscilla Capen (1685-1747) 1 September 1685 Parson Capen House, Topsfield, Essex County, Massachusetts 12 October 1747 Topsfield, Essex County, Massachusetts Caleb Thomas (1680-1723)
Nathan Peabody (1682-1733)
Job Tiller (1681-)
John Capen (1687-1732) 15 June 1687 Parson Capen House, Topsfield, Essex County, Massachusetts 26 April 1732 Mary Epes (1689-)
Mary Capen (1688-1728) 17 February 1688 Parson Capen House, Topsfield, Essex County, Massachusetts 16 March 1728 Bradford, Essex County, Massachusetts Thomas Baker (1687-1725)
Elizabeth Capen (1691-1781) 16 April 1691 Parson Capen House, Topsfield, Essex County, Massachusetts 27 March 1781 Topsfield, Essex County, Massachusetts Simon Bradstreet (1682-1738)
Joseph Capen (1693-1704) 6 August 1693 Parson Capen House, Topsfield, Essex County, Massachusetts 11 January 1704 Parson Capen House, Topsfield, Essex County, Massachusetts
Nathaniel Capen (1695-1749) 13 July 1695 Parson Capen House, Topsfield, Essex County, Massachusetts 16 February 1749
Sarah Capen (1699-1764) 6 April 1699 Parson Capen House, Topsfield, Essex County, Massachusetts 1764 John Bradford (1693-1735)
Edward Jennings (c1700-)


Offspring of John Capen (1612-1692) and Redegon Clap (1616-1645)
Name Birth Death Joined with
Joanna Capen (1638-1645)
John Capen (1639-1707)

Offspring of John Capen (1612-1692) and Mary Bass (1631-1704)
Name Birth Death Joined with
Samuel Capen (1648-1733)
Bernard Capen (1650-1724)
Mary Capen (1652-1679)
James Capen (1654-1717)
Preserved Capen (1656-1708)
Joseph Capen (1658-1725) 20 December 1658 Dorchester, Suffolk County, Massachusetts, United States 30 June 1725 Topsfield, Essex County, Massachusetts, United States Priscilla Appleton (1657-1743)
Hannah Capen (1662-1729)
Elizabeth Capen (1666-1680)


Vital Records

Topsfield Gravestone


Rev. Joseph Capen remains one of Topsfield's most famous historical figures. His grave, along with his wife's, lie on the exact spot where the pulpit stood at the Topsfield Meeting House, where Joseph Capen preached often.

See Also


  1. ^ a b c d "Joseph Capen". Biographical Sketches of Graduates of Harvard University, in Cambridge Massachusetts. Vol. II. Cambridge: Charles William Server, University Bookstore. 1881. pp. 519–522. 
  2. ^ Boulton, Alexander. "The Parson's Hearth". Retrieved 2011-02-15. 
  3. ^ Vista Brevis of American Ancestors -Parson Capen House
  4. ^ These men were: Thomas Barnard, Andover; Joseph Green, Salem; William Hubbard, Salem; John Wise, Ipswich; John Rogers, Ipswich; Jabez Fitch, Ipswich; Benjamin Rolfe, Haverhill; Samuel Cheever, Marblehead; Joseph Gerish, Wenham; Joseph Capen, Topsfield; Zacariah Symonds, Bradford and Thomas Symonds, Boxford. See Smith.
  5. ^ Smith, Sarah Saunders. "The Founders of the Massachusetts Bay Colony". Retrieved 2011-02-15. 
  6. ^ Paul Boyer and Stephen Nissenbaum, eds., The Salem Witchcraft Papers, Volume 1: Verbatim Transcripts of The Legal Documents of The Salem Witchcraft Outbreak of 1692, partially revised, corrected, and augmented by Benjamin C. Ray and Tara S. Wood, 2011. Web. 2016. (Petition of Mary Easty and Sarah Cloyce)

Footnotes (including sources)