Within the Metrowest area in the suburbs west of Boston, there are many of parks, forests, trails, wildlife nature preserves, and much more. The Ashland Town Forest is one of them and within this small and scenic area is a location that has a direct connection to one of the darkest chapters of early colonial American history.
Located fairly deep within the woods and close to the Framingham town line, there is a large towering collection of rocks and boulders which is marked on the local trail map as “caves.” Although it may not look like much, a series of small caves once existed at this location which was used as a hiding spot for refugees fleeing from the witch trials in Salem.
Perhaps the most notable individual was Sarah Clayes and her husband Peter. Sarah was accused and imprisoned for witchcraft, while her two sisters were executed. She and Peter were able to escape and took refuge in caves near Cowassock Brook on Danforth Plantation owned by the former colonial governor, Thomas Danforth. Danforth was ousted as governor when he opposed the trials and was very sympathetic to the plights of the victims. He allowed the Clayes to settle on his land, where they built a house that still stands today. Over time, more refugees began to settle on Danforth’s land and the area came to be known as “Salem End.” After Danforth died in 1699, the community of refugee settlers came together and created the town of Framingham in honor of Danforth’s hometown of Framlingham back in England.
Although the original caves have long since collapsed and not much remains today, it is still a unique location with a very interesting back story. If you’re fascinated by the history of the Salem Witch Trials, it’s definitely worth a visit and try imagining what the caves and the land might have looked like over 300 years ago.
Know Before You Go
The caves are located very close to marker 43 on the blue line trail within the forest. There are several parking spots to enter from along with maps to help you navigate. Once you reach marker 43, keep going straight and the caves are directly located behind a private residence.