We've finally come to our long promised two-parter on one of Carrie's pet interests, the Salem Witch Trials!
In 1692 Salem, Massachusetts, tensions were already high. The Puritan colonists were struggling through the "Little Ice Age" devastating their...
We've finally come to our long promised two-parter on one of Carrie's pet interests, the Salem Witch Trials!
In 1692 Salem, Massachusetts, tensions were already high. The Puritan colonists were struggling through the "Little Ice Age" devastating their crops, paranoid about being attacked by neighboring Native American tribes, and quarreling with their minister and each other about who the most godly of the bunch really was. The atmosphere was rife for backstabbing and tragedy, and that tragedy was about to hit in a horrific way.
It began with whispers, and would end with screams. Was the root of the Salem Witch Trials the hysteria of a group of young girls? Was everyone completely zonked out from ergot poisoning? Or had Satan himself really infiltrated this infighting colonial town? Join us, as we explore the whole unbelievable story of the Salem Witch Trials in the next two episodes.
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Here it is, folks. We’ve been promising this series since the beginning of the podcast, and now I finally get to tell all of you about one of my most passionate pet subjects: the Salem Witch Trials.
I’ve been particularly interested in the trials for a long time, from first hearing about them in elementary school to a history project in middle school to first reading The Crucible in high school theater class and portraying one of my newly found favorite villainous characters, Abigail Williams. Once I hit post-college and began to kind of become my authentic self, the interest returned, and I even ended up going on one of my first “girls weekend” trips to Salem. In the last several years I’ve basically downloaded to my brain as much info as I could about the Trials from books, documentaries, podcasts, and from a subsequent dozen or more trips back to Salem, Massachusetts.
My real love of the subject came from visiting the place where it all happened, which is a good segue to introducing our sponsor for these 2 episodes: Things To Do in Salem dot com!
You’ll hear more about Things To Do in Salem during our ad break, but we wanted to give them a special shout-out here because it’s really the perfect time of year to visit if you’re on the East Coast and craving a 24/7 Halloween atmosphere. There’s really nothing like visiting Salem during Halloween season, and that’s where Things To Do in Salem comes in to help you plan your trip from dawn to dusk and beyond. I actually have had the pleasure of getting to know the site’s owner, Alyse, and she’s just fabulous and SO knowledgeable about the area. I stumbled upon the site while planning some of my first weekend trips there and only later was lucky enough to actually meet Alyse and become friends! Here at Ain’t it Scary we really only like spotlighting products and sponsors that we really love, and even now I still find myself referring to the site to find new places to visit in and around Salem - even after years of visits.
Hopefully after these episodes you’ll find yourself, like me, wanting to visit Salem and experience the area yourself. If you do, and I highly recommend you do, definitely use Things To Do in Salem dot com to plan your trip.
Now, the Salem Witch Trials. Let’s go back to colonial times - but post-Jamestown Cannibal times - to set the stage for the deadliest mass hysteria in American history. By the way, just to preface, the Salem Witch Trials weren’t the first witch trials in America - those began in Hartford, Connecticut in 1647 and continued until 1663. This was known as the Connecticut Witch Trials, and YES OF COURSE we’ll do future episodes on them. However, Salem’s trials were the deadliest, almost doubling the amount of executions Connecticut had during their 16 years of trials in just a year and change.
For the next two episodes I’m going to heavily reference the book A Storm of Witchcraft by Emerson W. Baker, who I just love. Yes, I have favorite scholars, and Baker is one of them! I first heard him on the Aaron Mahnke show Unobscured discussing the Trials and had to pick up his book after hearing his interview because I think it provides some of the best context for the Trials that I’ve ever heard, context that I don’t think gets referenced enough when dissecting the Trials themselves. This book analyzes how a host of elements combined to erupt into the witch trials, and that it wasn’t just one thing but rather a perfect storm - hence, the title - that mixed together to make the atmosphere right for the hysteria.
Let’s talk about some of those elements.
First, we have the Puritans. The Puritan began in England in the latter half of the sixteenth century, a direct response to King Henry VIII creating the Church of England so he could get divorced from his wife and marry Anne Boleyn. Remember that? Yeah, that decision led to a lot of unexpected repercussions, and one of those ended up being the Salem Witch Trials. As you’ve probably heard, the first town in Massachusetts was Plymouth, as in Plymouth Rock, originally settled in 1620 by the Mayflower Pilgrims. The Pilgrims were the first group of separatist Puritans to leave England determined to complete the work of the Protestant Reformation, and they were TOUGH, man. It wasn’t all buckled hats and buckled shoes and turkeys with the Native Americans. The Puritans themselves were...what’s the word...very intense. They believed all people were born as sinners into a life of depravity, and that only God’s mercy would determine who would make it to Heaven, which is known as predestination. This is unlike other Christian offshoots, which believe that good works could get you to Heaven. They STARTED at, nope, nothing you can do, your whole life has been laid out since before the world was even created. The Pilgrims were just the toughest of these groups because they wanted to fully cut themselves off from the Church of England, while most Puritans ended up adapting and saying that, though the church could be saved, the best way for them to help do so was to leave England and reform the church in America. But with Massachusetts' origins so intertwined with religion, it really set the stage for complications later...and not much later.
Early on, Governor John Winthrop proclaimed that Massachusetts “shall be as a city upon a hill. The eyes of all people are upon us.” They clearly felt like they had a lot to live up to. Massachusetts found early profit in the fur trade and cod fishing off of the bay, and Boston became New England’s economic center early on in the settling of Colonial America. Salem was incorporated in 1629 and began life as a fishing town, an offshoot of Boston that benefited from its seaside location. The name of Salem came from the Hebrew term “Shalom”, which means peace, and would be the first irony of the area’s history.
By 1662, Puritan ministers and other leaders determined that church attendance and such was in decline, so they developed something called the “Halfway Covenant”. Now, this gets in the weeds of religious doctrine and seems so specific as to almost be dumb, but it’s important to the context of this story. The Halfway Covenant was basically a partial form of church membership for adults who had been baptized by churchgoing parents as children, but had not yet experienced “saving faith”. If these churchgoers agreed to live by the church’s creed, these members would be allowed to have their children baptized in the church and would be able to take communion. Many congregations refused to adopt this practice, seeing it as too wishy-washy and not hard-line enough about church law. There was also a big difference: to be accepted in the regular church, you had to do confession in front of everyone in attendance. Basically, the nightmare of any child going through CCD. The Halfway Covenanters, however, would simply practice confession in private with just their minister. You know, the not horrifically embarrassing way. The fight over the Halfway Covenant eventually would become a church vs. church battle in local politics, and none represented the battle more so than the churches of Salem Town and Salem Village and their differing stances on the Halfway Covenant. The Village opposed it, while the wealthier Town adopted it.
Many people kind of lump Salem Town and Village together, along with the nearby populations, all under the umbrella of “Salem”. However, there were very distinct divides, not to mention the wide area of real estate - Salem Village was kind of a hamlet of Salem Town, but economically was completely different. The area that was Salem Village is actually a whole different town today, known as Danvers, while the area of Salem Town has remained as present-day Salem. Some towns, like Marblehead and Beverly, were originally founded as the Village expanded and pockets of residents decided they wanted to break completely with Salem Town. This was important, because as independent towns they would now be able to collect local taxes and build their own churches, while those in the Village were directly tied to the Town’s authority. Residents of the Village in the 1600s were mostly poor farmers, while the residents of the Town were centered more in the prosperous port area of what has come to be known as Salem general, and thus were, mostly, wealthy merchants. This is the kind of class disparity you can see in most cities and towns today. Take Bridgeport, for example, where we live. Bridgeport is the butt of many jokes about how rough its inner-city is, I mean it was even referenced in Family Guy, but where you and I, Sean, are now - closer to the North end and the surrounding town and colleges - doesn’t feel like the stereotype at all. The town where I grew up didn’t have as stark a comparison, but I did attend the more “middle class” high school in the average suburban part of town, while the other high school was known as the rich high school, closer to the beaches, with many more of the students living in mansions than not. If you’re talking about an area bigger than, say, a Martha’s Vineyard, chances are there are going to be more differences in class in that area than are usually accounted for by those unfamiliar with the population.
Even in Salem Village alone, there was division. You see, there was a kind of middle-Venn-diagram area closer to Salem Town, near what was at the time called Ipswich Road, where those that basically made up the Salem middle class lived: your carpenters, blacksmiths, innkeepers, and the like. They were more likely to support the changes the Town was trying to make religiously and economically because they benefited more from those changes in a tangible way. The farmers of the Village, who lived further from this hub, tended to stay stricter about their Puritan values and believed that those in the Town threatened those values, while also beginning to resent the Town for its authority over them and responsibilities like serving in the Salem Town militia. In 1666 Salem Village petitioned for its independence, but for some reason, Salem Town was like, yeah no. They probably didn’t want to lose the taxpayers. It kind of reminds me of in our Watcher episode, where the association in Wethersfield New Jersey refused to let that family divide their home’s lot into 2 separate lots, even though they had allowed it in other instances. The petitioners took their frustrations to Boston, and though they weren’t granted independence, they were released from certain duties like serving with the Town militia.
The most visible supporters of Village independence was the second-richest family in the area, the Putnams, who between 3 family sons owned 800 acres of Salem land. The Putnams didn’t like the Halfway Covenant, despite their wealth, and felt the church should stay more stringent rather than acquiesce to changing opinions. They were also sick of paying taxes to Salem Town despite not reaping many of the benefits of living in Salem Town. The Porters, however - the 1st wealthiest family in the area - were on the side of Salem Town and the Halfway Covenant, and they had more than 1000 more acres than the Putnams. The Putnams and Porters and their economic concerns would become important players in the hysteria to come.
The hostilities between Salem Village and Salem Town began to come to a head when Salem Village was allowed to build its own meetinghouse and elect its own anti-Halfway Covenant minister in the 1670s, though they still not granted independence. Now, Salem Village just could NOT keep a minister in its church. By the time Reverend Samuel Parris was brought in as minister in 1689, the Village had already gone through 3 ministers, including George Burroughs. Burroughs was seen as trying to unite the Salem Town and Village leadership, as he was related to the Town minister, but immediately created problems. He lived in a Putnam home, which pissed off the Porters so much that they refused to contribute to his salary. After a couple years of this ridiculous back and forth, Burroughs peaced out for Maine. But he’ll come back again later, unfortunately for him.
We’ll formally introduce Reverend Samuel Parris and the very beginnings of the Salem Witch Trials hysteria...after the break.
After the 3rd minister left, Reverend Samuel Parris was elected as Salem Village’s new minister. Parris was a failed plantation owner who had fled his family’s property in Barbados after a series of setbacks. He brought a slave from Barbados, Tituba, who will become a player in the Trials later. Parris attempted to become a wealthy merchant in Boston after this, but it seems he simply wasn’t very good at it. However, he did run into relatives of the Putnam family, who told him that Salem Village was looking for a minister. Though he hadn’t yet been ordained, he saw an opportunity for a job he could actually do, and moved to the Village. He was hired! I tell you, a white man with confidence can do practically anything. He was ordained by the community, and things were great, right? Well…
Parris was a tough Puritan who denounced the worldly ways and wealth of Salem Town, calling these the influence of the Devil. This rhetoric further divided the classes within Salem Village, and then forced those classes to choose between the ideals of the Village or the economic promise of the Town. He refused to let any Halfway Covenanters into his church, which included refusing baptism and communion to them. So the Porters, who again were closer to the Townsfolk, decided once again that THEY would refuse to pay the minister’s salary or provide firewood, which they controlled. And Massachusetts in winter is unbearable without firewood and, thus, heat.
Oh, and about winter? The Salem Witch Trials occurred during the absolute worst weather of the charmingly termed “Little Ice Age” spanning the 16th to 19th centuries. You may remember some other mentions of this horrific time to live on America’s East Coast without modern conveniences, because I’ve previously mentioned it during our Lost Colony of Roanoke and Jamestown Cannibalism episodes. And gee, those stories went so well, I’m sure it won’t cause problems that would help lead to the Salem Witch Trials.
...Yes, of course it did. The 1680s and 1690s are now known as the Maunder Minimum, a time of extremely cold winters and dry summers. That means not only uncomfortable weather but devastating crop failures for years on end. And this wasn’t the only issue contributing to the “storm” brewing, as Emerson Baker refers to it, leading up to the Salem Witch Trials. At this time there had also been years of unrest to the north of Salem in areas like Maine between the settlers and the Native Americans, initially known as King Philip’s War. The natives, understandably, felt their land was being stolen, and the English immigrants, well, wanted it. Peace treaties came and went, including the supposed end of King Philip’s War, but the fighting continued off and on for years. The Wabanacki Indians destroyed most English settlements in Maine, and though Salem was not exactly closeby, paranoia that the same fate would befall them was high. And, because the rigid Puritans saw the Native Americans as a godless people, that fate would be like...well, like Satan taking over your hometown.
Of course, the FEAR that would happen ended up becoming so all-consuming that, in a way, the Salem townsfolk MADE it happen...just in a different way than they’d expected.
So here we are. That’s the most basic of context, and now it’s about to begin - the Salem Witch Trials themselves. Baker writes in his book, “Local conflict as well as colony wide problems led to the witchcraft crisis of 1692. Massachusetts Bay’s military failures, religious tensions, and political and legal uncertainties were magnified in Salem Village, a place of endless strife and ministerial troubles. Yet in the end what happened at Salem in 1692 hinges largely on two groups - the alleged witches and their accusers.” Those accusers first appeared in Reverend Parris’ own home. Now, there have been theories beyond mass hysteria that have been put forward about the WHY of it all - like ergot poisoning, which you may have heard of. Right now I’m not going to go into those theories, but rather, how everything began to manifest. Parris’ sermons started to become even more fire and brimstoney than he originally was, probably helped along by his anger and frustration at much of the Salem Village community, who under the influence of the Porters and Salem Town were refusing him salary and firewood. He was preaching against Satan taking hold of the Village, and with witchcraft charges being dealt out in nearby towns, it must have seemed like the feared approaching Native American forces - getting closer and closer to hitting the town itself. It makes complete sense that the first tiny root of the hysteria took hold within his home, where tensions were certainly high. This began in mid January 1692, when Betty Parris, the Reverend’s 9 year old daughter, and her cousin Abigail Williams, aged 11, began to be seized by fits described as being “beyond the power of epileptic fits or natural disease to effect” by Beverly town minister John Hale. According to Deodat Lawson, Salem Village’s minister before Samuel Parris who was called in to observe the situation, these fits included the girls making strange noises, contorting into strange positions, crawling around the room, screaming and throwing things, etc. Pretty much, unacceptable behavior for the typical Puritan girl. The girls complained of being pricked with pins, but Doctor William Griggs could find no physical issues with the girls when he examined them. The girls also began to have outbursts in the Salem Village meetinghouse during sermons, CERTAINLY bad behavior for the minister’s relatives.
But these girls weren’t the only ones carrying on in this way. The behavior began to spread, first to their young friend Ann Putnam Jr, and then to other girls in the village. At this point, Griggs, Parris, and others began to suspect that perhaps like the other nearby “outbreaks” in recent months, these fits could be due to witchcraft. In mid-February Reverend Parris and his wife left to attend a weekly lecture in a neighboring village and in their absence, their neighbor Mary Sibley instructed Parris’ two slaves, the aforementioned Tituba and her husband, John Indian, to make a witch cake to divine the identity of those tormenting the girls. A witch cake sounds like a delicious Halloween pastry but it’s actually gross as hell - it’s a loaf of rye bread whose dough was mixed with the urine of the afflicted girls before baking, then fed to the family dog. It’s very vague as to how this would determine the attackers or what exactly it would do - maybe transfer the fits to the dog - but it did spur the girls on to accusing Tituba herself as the one going after them. And, by the way, making a witch cake was an act of magic in itself...and super frowned upon. Indeed, Parris was PISSED when he found out about it, chastising Mary Sibley in front of the congregation until she begged for forgiveness, which she begrudgingly received. Though common perception is that Tituba engaged the girls prior to this in her acts of folk magic, there doesn’t seem to be concrete evidence. Some places state that she would show them little divining spells here or there that she retained from the religion of her homeland, while others say there simply isn’t proof of this. Either way it seems, unlike portrayed in the play The Crucible, the girls weren’t dancing around witchy bonfires and sacrificing chickens with Tituba before the fits began. Or after, too.
The fits grew worse in the days after the witch cake incident both in the Parris household and in surrounding homes, where other girls were also becoming similarly hysterical. Parris convened a group of nearby ministers and other prominent townspeople to discuss the issue, and they all came to the conclusion that witchcraft was afoot. Then came the first non-Tituba accusation - Ann Putnam Jr stated that Sarah Good was the one attacking her using her specter, basically an invisible spirit that could be sent away from the body to do evil. Like an out of body experience where you harass a bunch of children, I guess. Sarah Good was a homeless woman who frequently begged at the doors of the Salem Village residents along with her 4 year old daughter, Dorcas Good. She was also loud and belligerent to everyone around her, even those who attempted to help. Elizabeth Hubbard, another of the girls, also accused Sarah Osburn, a bedridden widow who had caused a scandal in the village by buying the contract of her indentured servant, Alexander Osburn, and marrying him. Though many nowadays would find this romance kinda beautiful, it made many look down upon her, and more prone to believing her specter had risen from her weak body to torment the girls at night.
Legal proceedings against Tituba, Sarah Good, and Sarah Osburn began in Salem Town on February 29th, with legal complaints being sworn in under the watchful eyes of magistrates Jonathan Corwin and John Hathorne, both bonafide pieces of shit that we’ll see a lot in this story from here on out. These guys are known today as judges but they didn’t have an ounce of actual legal training between them, just an interest in the law and respect on their names. Arrest warrants were issued for the 3 women, and they were brought to Ingersoll’s Ordinary, a tavern, the next morning for questioning. The crowd was so large that the whole crew had to move down the road to the meetinghouse, which could contain more people. Here the 4 girls confronted the accused, and the trials themselves really began.
I’m going to discuss the first “hearing” before we break for part 2 next week, because even I think it would be a little too cruel to leave you all on that kind of cliffhanger. The women were interrogated over the span of a week, and must have been worn down by the exhaustion and stress of the circumstances. Sarah Good was questioned first, and was relentlessly grilled by Hathorne doing his best “bad cop” impression. Some questions Hathorne asked Good included “What evil spirit have you familiarity with?”, “Have you made no contact with the devil?”, and “Why do you hurt these children?” Guess someone’s mind is already made up, a great trait for one of the judges! Good denied it all but the girls kept accusing her, their presence and hysterics pushing the questioning along past any uncertainty in the audience. They claimed Good’s specter was attacking them right in the courtroom - remember, this specter was invisible to anyone else aside from the afflicted, so it was a mighty convenient claim - and the girls would freak out every time Good tried to defend herself. Eventually, Good broke down and accused Sarah Osburn of being the real instigator, likely trying to throw the spotlight on someone else after days of mental and emotional torture. Near the end of her testimony her husband, William Good, was called for questioning and told the judges that he was afraid that she was either a witch or would become one quickly, and that “She is an enemy to all good”, which was a little pun, I guess. What an asshole, throwing his own wife under the bus - and he wouldn’t be the last. The court decided that Sarah Good would be held for trial.
Osburn’s questioning went a little weirdly. Remember, this is an ill woman who is also tainted with the scandal of falling in love with her servant. Hathorne questioned Osburn similarly to how he did Good, with a lot of accusations and probing questions. Eventually Osburn stated that she was “more likely to be bewitched than to be a witch.” This gave the court pause, and they asked her to explain what this meant. Osburn then went into a rambling description of a dream or night terror she once had, where “she was frighted one time in her sleep and either saw or dreamed that she saw a thing like an indian all black which did pinch her in her neck and pulled her by the back part of her head to the dore of the house”. She then went on that she’d then heard a voice that told her she should not attend the Sabbath services anymore, and though she fought back, it was true that she hadn’t been seen at the meetinghouse since, for a span of a year and change. This was, of course, because she was bedridden, but the whole story made it all much more weird and confusing. Though the evidence against Osburn was less compelling, the girls acted about the same in reaction to her testimony, so she was also held for trial.
Next came Tituba’s interrogation. She initially denied the claims against her of witchcraft and tormenting the girls, but Hathorne kept pressing harder and harder until she eventually cracked under the pressure, and confessed to being a witch. She went deeper into the story at the judges’ encouragement, testifying that “I saw a thing like a man, and he told me to serve him” - aka, she met Satan. She agreed that Good and Osburn were the ones responsible as well as 3 mysterious people from Boston who she couldn’t name. She stated imps were sent by Satan to aid his cruel acts and force her to attack the girls until she finally relented and did so, though she did apologize to the audience by saying “I am very sorry for it”. When Tituba finally confessed, the girls quieted, their fits rendered peaceful for a moment. It seemed to add credence to the confession - their approval confirming that she indeed had performed witchcraft, but regretted it. We have to remember that, though Tituba’s testimony would help increase the hysteria that was already building, we can’t hold her responsible for it. She was a slave, used to being beaten and tortured for every little transgression, and by all accounts Samuel Parris was far from a kind slavemaster. She was also likely from South America, where spirituality was very much seen as real, and her religion and this Puritan religion full of demons and imps and witches was not so different that she couldn’t relate to these concepts. She was trying to save her life and spare herself from abuse, and though her stories helped drive the beginning of the trials, I don’t think we can blame her for them.
Tituba was emerging as the star witness, and she testified deliriously for another few days, telling the judges that she signed Satan’s book with her own blood, thereby selling her soul to him, and had seen Good and Osburn’s signatures in the book as well. Her testimony was compelling, the details corresponded with the girls’ accusations, and it contained all the hallmarks of what was believed to comprise witchcraft at the time - writing in Satan’s book, riding on broomsticks (which she said she did with the 2 Sarahs), witches specters, and impish familiars. Eventually Tituba dropped the biggest bombshell of all: she stated there had been 9 marks in the book total, which means another 6 Satan worshippers were hiding in the town, waiting to carry out their terrible deeds. Now, the Salem Witch Hunt would truly begin…
And that is where we’ll pick back up next week with part 2 of The Salem Witch Trials!
We left off last week at the end of first interrogation in the Salem Witch Trials - the weeklong hearing regarding Sarah Good, Sarah Osburn, and Tituba. All 3 women were sent to jail to await their official trials, and Tituba - the slave of Samuel Parris, the minister of Salem Village - had confessed that she had not only signed the Devil’s book and taken part in acts of witchcraft, but she had seen Sarah Good and Sarah Osburn take part as well, and according to other signatures she’d seen in the Devil’s book, there were other witches in town too, hiding among everyone else.
Before we get into this week’s episode, I just want to remind y’all that this series is brought to you by Things to Do in Salem dot com, your one-stop shop for planning any visit to the Witch City. And, hopefully after this series, you’ll be dying to visit.
Oh, also, I know we originally said this would be 2 parts, but we really want to give due diligence to all of the various hearings and actual trials involved, as well as coverage to all of the victims. A lot of the time, we tend to see a list of names in the case of the Salem Witch Trials, but not a lot of detail or further context. We want to change that, especially since this is such an important topic to me...and well, considering how, uh, unique I am, it’s really a “there but for the grace of god go I” situation.
So, Sarah Good was sent to Ipswich Jail, where constable Joseph Herrick worked, who happened to be a relative of Sarah’s and I guess they figured he would be better to watch her...though, of course, one could also imagine that Good was a flight risk, and Herrick would have more interest than not in helping her. Logic was weird in these times, in that it was often nonexistent. Tituba and Sarah Osburn were sent to the Salem Jail, on whose site in modern-day Salem a very haunted apartment and office building now sits. If you go visit, and presumably you’ll see this area anyway on just about any ghost tour you may take in Salem, it’s across from St. Peter’s Episcopal Church. At this point, a couple of men left for Boston to request assistance in the trials, and we’ve barely made it a few days into March of 1692. March would, however, bring more accusations on top of the original 3.
Other townspeople met at the home of William Griggs, the doctor who was supposedly a rational thinker but also had first put forth the possibility that witchcraft was afoot after witnessing Betty Parris and Abigail Williams’ fits. Griggs’ niece, Elizabeth Hubbard, lived in the home as a servant and was one of the original accusers. She was also present for this meeting, and perhaps because she now had a fresh audience, Elizabeth began to have a fit, saying an invisible specter was tormenting and hurting her. She pointed to a space where no one was and stated that the specter was Sarah Good, standing naked on the table. “Oh nasty slut!” she yelled, and Samuel Sibley, the husband of Mary Sibley - who had entreated Tituba to make the witch cake - swung his walking stick at the empty spot. “You have hit her right across the back!”, Elizabeth exclaimed.
Remember how Sarah Good was being taken to Ipswich Jail? She was staying the night at Herrick’s barn at this moment - I’m not sure if the barn was the actual jail or just a stop on the journey. When another guard - not Herrick - went to check on her, he was dumbfounded to find that she had made an escape, leaving behind her shoes and stockings. She was quickly apprehended the next morning, as I doubt it’s very easy to travel Massachusetts trails in March with bare feet, and a gash was discovered on her arm. It was almost like, well, she’d been struck by something. Like a walking stick. Tenuous, sure - remember, Hubbard said she’d been hit across the back - but it seemed like evidence.
The condition of the original afflicted girls somewhat improved around this time, perhaps the hysteria having been satisfied by some punishment. Ann Putnam Jr, though, continued to be tormented by what she said were two specters, and she identified one of these as Dorcas, or Dorothy, Good, the four year old daughter of Sarah Good. Yes, she as 4 years old, and the youngest person jailed for witchcraft during the Trials - and, jeez, I hope the youngest person ever jailed in America. Putnam Jr accused Dorcas of biting, pinching, and choking her, and though there’s really not MUCH a 4 year old can do to you, she was arrested and interrogated. The interrogation, also carried out by “judges” quote unquote John Hathorne and Jonathan Corwin, was a farce by any modern definition. Deodat Lawson, the former minister of Salem Village who returned to bear witness to the events, wrote of the examination that during the hearing “the afflicted complained, they had often been Bitten by this child, and produced the marks of a small set of teeth, accordingly, [she] was also committed to Salem Prison...Some others also said they had not seen her so frequently appear to them, to hurt them.” These accusers included Mercy Lewis, a teenager, who stated that young Dorcas came to her and tried to force her to sign the Devil’s book. Mary Walcott, 17 years old at the time, also said that Dorcas appeared to her to bite, pinch, and choke her, as with Ann Putnam Jr. So, off to jail with this toddler.
Soon after, Betty Parris was sent away to live in Salem Town by her father, and falls out of the transcripts. The 3 witches, Sarahs Good and Osburn and Tituba, were again transferred to a Boston jail to await official trial. Then, Ann Putnam Jr. accused Martha Cory of witchcraft, and now we get into people not associated with the original 3 witches and also people of higher standing in Salem Village. Remember, Jr. had seen two specters, and had identified one as Dorcas Good. Now the other had a name, too.
Martha Corey was a surprising addition to the list, because she was generally seen to be pious and attended church regularly, having been officially admitted to the Salem Village Church the year or two before. But also, here’s the thing - remember that ridiculous Halfway Covenant debate? To sum up, the Halfway Covenant was a way for Puritans to try and increase and retain church attendance by, instead of forcing you to get up in front of the whole town to confess your sins, creating the option of meeting privately with your minister to do so. This would allow you to be able to access privileges like baptism and communion, and this also could be used as a free ticket to attend any church - whether they practiced the Halfway Covenant or not. The Salem Town church, part of the wealthier town area, did practice the Halfway Covenant, while the Salem Village church, a more rural and strictly religious church, steadfastly refused to adopt the practice. Giles Corey was accepted into the Salem Town church, despite being a manslaughterer, ostensibly because he had privately atoned for his sins. However, everyone still hated him, because along with being a manslaughterer he was simply an asshole. But they couldn’t prevent him from attending Salem Village church, and this looked bad for Martha, too. Though Martha was a full member of Salem Village church and not a Halfway Covenanter, she was seen as having forced her jerk husband into the purer church by virtue of her, well, virtue, and reputation.
Martha was also publicly against the witch trials, saying she didn’t believe in witches or warlocks, and she had denounced them as well as the judges. Apparently this ticked off the girls, because Ann Putnam Jr. along with Mercy Lewis leveled the next accusation against her. Martha was married to Giles Corey, who unlike her was very disliked in the village. In 1675, Giles had used a stick to severely beat a hired man of his by the name of Jacob Goodell, which likely led to his death days later. The court fined Corey, since they couldn’t find CONCLUSIVELY that the beating had led to Goodell’s death, but that fact was obvious to everyone else in the village, and they felt Corey had gotten off very lightly with no jail time for what they saw as murder. A little earlier Mary Warren, a servant of the Proctor family, had dipped a toe into the accusations by saying that she’d seen the specter of her employer John Proctor flying around the house. John, in so many words, told her to cut the shit or he’d beat her, and she did, until John left town soon after and her afflictions coincidentally returned. This time, she accused Martha Corey, who she must have known because Martha’s husband Giles and John Proctor had had previous beef. You see, John and Elizabeth Proctor owned a tavern, and they chose to allow local Native Americans to drink at this tavern, which was considered incredibly liberal and absolutely unthinkable. It was like anyone during segregation allowing African Americans to eat at the same lunch counter as white folks - stupidly, it just was not done. These Native Americans were seen as godless people, remember, and most of the townspeople were not interested in palling around with them, especially considering how tribes had wiped out many colonial settlements in Maine already.
Let’s elaborate on that a little bit. This wasn’t a far-away issue to the Salem locals - they felt that the Native American threat was ever nearing, and some of them had even experienced those horrors firsthand in Maine before moving to Salem. Maine was a less religious area, so perhaps those in Salem felt that they’d been punished for that fact, and it would happen to them too if they weren’t devout enough. Though there was a treaty that ended the war between the Natives and colonists, called King Philip’s War, in 1678, fighting resumed a decade later. The economy was devastated, families were devastated, and Maine didn’t begin to recover for decades after. This was part of the Storm of Witchcraft coined by Emerson Baker to describe the perfect storm of events that mixed to birth the Salem Witch Trials.
So, keeping this in mind, Giles Corey was apparently so affronted by the Proctors’ progressive behavior in this case that he took his neighbor John Proctor to court, but of course there wasn’t much for Corey especially to charge him with, and Proctor won the case. Corey was also accused of committing arson against Proctor’s home. Perhaps this was top of mind for Mary Warren when she began her accusations against Martha Corey.
During a church sermon given by guest minister Deodat Lawson, the girls, who were in attendance, broke into fits, and Abigail Williams claimed to see the specter of Martha Corey flying around in the air. Martha, who ALSO was there, denied it, but she was arrested the following day. Her examination with Hathorne and Corwin was the usual bullshit, but in Martha Corey they had their first formidable, sound-minded and bodied opponent. Corey denied seeing any Devil’s book, nor entreating the girls to sign it, her confidence seemed to be a turnoff to the judges. When she was asked why she was hurting the girls (notice not IF, but WHY) she responded “I do not. Who doth? Pray give me leave to go to prayer.” Aka, I have better things to do than this. She’s a strident lady, and I like her. Unfortunately, she was married to a real piece of shit. Giles was brought in to testify about his wife, and instead of defending her, like a NON-piece of shit, he said this: “Last Saturday evening, sitting by the fire, my wife asked me to go to bed. I told her I would go to prayer, and when I went to prayer I could not utter my desires with any sense, not open my mouth to speak...My wife hath been wont to sit up after I went to bed, and I have perceived her to kneel down to the hearth as if she were at prayer, but I heard nothing.” Basically, he felt she might’ve been doing some witchy work to prevent him from saying his prayers, and when he thought she was saying her prayers she really...wasn’t? I dunno, man. Unfortunately, no thanks to her husband, she was also brought to jail to await official trial.
The next accusation was made by Abigail Williams against Rebecca Nurse, an even LESS likely culprit in the eyes of the village. Nurse was quite old at the time of her accusation, around 71 - practically ancient by 1692 standards. Rebecca Nurse originally settled in Salem Town with her husband, Francis, and extensive family. In 1678 the Nurses were given the opportunity to lease-to-own a 300 acre farm over on the Salem Village side, and this farm - known as the Rebecca Nurse homestead - is one of the few contemporary structures still standing today from the trial times, located in present-day Danvers, Massachusetts. The Nurses soon became pillars of the Salem Village community, regularly attending church, and Francis was often asked to mediate disputes between the villagers. The Nurses did remain members of the Salem Town church even after their move, and I can’t quite find whether they had partaken in the Halfway Covenant or had become full members of the church via the public confession. Either way, they moved fluidly between the churches and were very respected...aside from the fact that, a few years prior to the trials, the Nurses had taken in a Quaker orphan whose deceased parents had been friends of theirs. This would 9.99 times out of 10 be seen as an absurd act of kindness and charity, but of course in this case, even the most saintly acts could be twisted to be evil. Because this was a Quaker child - the Quakers believed everyone was blessed and pure through God, while the Puritans believed everyone was essentially a sinner and only those who adhered to Puritan views would be saved - it was seen as something dark, especially when added to the fact that the Nurses simply never fully converted from the Salem Town church to the Salem Village church, which I think is generally just a case of who you tithe to and on what directory your name is listed. There was also the fact that Francis Nurse was not a fan of Reverend Samuel Parris, and was joined with those who didn’t want him as minister of Salem Village anymore.
At this time of the accusations, Nurse was very ill and nearly deaf. She was brought in for questioning soon after Martha Corey was. Nurse’s hearing started okay, with her professing her innocence, but during the interrogation someone new to our story chimed in - this is when Ann Putnam Jr’s mom, ol’ Senior, got into the action. As far as I could tell she was the oldest “afflicted girl”, so to speak, of the Trials, being about 30 at the time, and was also a respected member of the Putnam family. She apparently came down with the same issues as her daughter, and during the interrogation professed that Rebecca Nurse had tried to get her to sign the Devil’s book and had attacked her via specter several times. Nurse countered that "I am innocent as the child unborn, but surely, what sin hath God found out in me unrepented of, that He should lay such an affliction on me in my old age." Putnam Sr. was eventually carried out, having gone into some sort of shock or trance. The magistrates were stumped how such a godly woman could be a witch, and unlike their “guilty til proven innocent” mindsets for the first 4, struggled to believe that she had done the things she was accused of. They told Rebecca that if she was innocent, they prayed God would show her innocence, for “it is a sad thing to see church members accused.” Hathorne’s sister herself, Elizabeth Porter, was a close friend of Rebecca’s and one of her most steadfast defenders. However, this didn’t prevent him and Corwin for ruling that she should go to Salem Prison to await trial.
After this Reverend Parris, fighting to make sense of how such a seemingly pious woman could also be a witch, sermonized that, like the apostle Judas, Nurse could be for all outward appearances a follower of God, but inwardly be a traitor. Nurse’s sister, Sarah Cloyce, stormed out of the service at this point, which would cast suspicion on her when she was accused down the road. This sermon failed to convince many members of Salem Village, and 39 of the most prominent members of the community signed a petition on her behalf attesting to their belief in her godliness and innocence. Interestingly, many signers of this petition were members of the prominent Putnam family, to which accuser Ann Putnam Sr. belonged. Another signer appeared to be Joseph Herrick, whose relative Sarah Good had already been accused.
The day after Nurse’s examination, John Procter came across Samuel Sibley, he of the walking stick battle with Elizabeth Hubbard’s specter, and enquired how things were going in town. Sibley was like, uh, NOT GOOD JOHN, and Proctor told Sibley that he was heading to pick up his servant, Mary Warren, from her testimony. Proctor stated, “I’d rather have given up money than get her involved in these examinations...I should just beat the devil out of her.” He also called Mary a “jade”, which was a term for a worn-out horse. I’m not sure if this was a sexual reference or not. Sibley was like...okkkkk...and took note in Proctor’s dismissal of the witchcraft trials and basically saying that it was all BS and he knew Mary’s afflictions were also BS. Proctor brought Mary Warren home, and beat her as promised for speaking out in the trials. A few days later Warren, somehow cured, returned to town with a written prayer request that she affixed to the town’s noticeboard. She was requesting prayers of gratitude for her miraculous healing from the fits, which she attributed to God’s intervention but most likely was because she didn’t want to keep getting beaten by her employer. Reverend Parris read the note to the congregation, but instead of praising God for his healing of Mary, wondered if she had switched sides due to the Devil promising her relief if she did. Mary was like, wait no, that is soooo not what I meant. Some in the congregation questioned her, and felt that her answers indicated that the group of accusing girls had lied. She stated things like they “did but dissemble”, which meant something like to deceive, disguise, or pretend, according to Emerson Baker’s book A Storm of Witchcraft. This would end up pissing off the other girls, understandably, and getting Mary Warren into further trouble.
But first, Mary’s employer Elizabeth Proctor was being accused. Unlike in the play The Crucible, where Abigail Williams is aged up and made a former mistress of John Proctor, and is the one who accuses Elizabeth, in real life she was first accused by Mercy Lewis, then a few days later by Abigail, who said that Elizabeth’s specter was pinching her and tearing at her bowels. She also said she saw both of the Proctors’ specters. In April 31 men from nearby Ipswich filed a petition much like that of Rebecca Nurse attesting to the upstanding character of John and Elizabeth Proctor and denying they’d ever witnessed anything that would suggest the two were practicing witchcraft.
Elizabeth herself was 41, the 3rd wife of John Proctor, and pregnant with her 6th child. The biggest thing against her was that her grandmother, Ann Bassett Burt, had been a Quaker and a midwife. Remember, the Quakers were looked down upon by the Puritans, and some felt there was something witchlike about them. Burt, as a midwife, was also good at caring for those who were ill, and some felt that there must be something witchy about that fact, since she wasn’t a doctor. Again, twisting a positive - helping sick people - into something somehow negative. Ann Burt was tried for witchcraft in 1669, and though she wasn’t executed, once Elizabeth began being accused, some remembered back to 30 years previously, and thought maybe the grandmother had passed on her witchery after all.
Around this time Deodat Lawson published his notes on the hearings so far, and this prompted those in the governor’s office to take what was going on in Salem more seriously, and plan to attend the next interrogation in person. Spurred on by these bigwigs heading to his little town, Hathorne issued arrest warrants for Elizabeth Proctor and Sarah Cloyce, the sister of Rebecca Nurse who had stormed out of the Salem Village sermon denouncing Rebecca. Soon after, both Anns Putnam and Tituba’s husband, John Indian, claimed that John Proctor had attacked all of them as well. Abigail Williams also claimed that a whole group of witches had invaded Samual Parris, her uncle’s, parsonage, and had a “Devil’s Supper” of wine and red bread. Again, like we mentioned last time, it’s the idea of the inverted communion mass, like the black masses of the Satanic Panic. Instead of beige communion bread, this was RED bread, because it was of the DEVIL. Abigail said that this Devil’s Supper wasn’t only comprised of the 9 total people Tituba had seen in the Devil’s Book, but rather, around 40. This was a HUGE step up, and just like Tituba’s testimony that there were 6 more witches in the community had amped up the hysteria, this would help push it into overdrive. Mercy Lewis and Ann Putnam Jr. would also claim to see similar visions.
The Deputy Governor, Thomas Danforth, along with his assistants attended the Cloyce/Proctor interrogation, which was moved to Salem Town due to the esteemed attendees. Also likely due to these attendees, the afflicted girls went into high gear with the hysterics, going into fits, writhing on the floor, screaming, and insisting they were being tortured by Cloyce and Proctor. Cloyce actually fainted at one point. During his testimony John Indian stated that both Sarah Cloyce and Elizabeth Proctor had tried to get him to sign the Devil’s Book, which prompted Elizabeth’s husband John, sitting in the crowd, to stand and proclaim that he would beat the Devil out of the slave. Presumably, much like he had Mary Warren. Abigail and Ann Jr. then cried out and went into fits, saying they were being bewitched by John Proctor and his wife. Proctor protested his innocence, but Abigail continued to claim that Proctor’s spector was attacking other young women including Bathshua Pope and Sara Bibber, who promptly responded with fits as if it was really occurring. Proctor was dragged forward to face the judges and speak for himself, insisting that he was innocent. Proctor was told to recite the Lord’s Prayer, due to the Puritan assumption that no witch would be able to recite it perfectly from memory. Either due to poor speaking or poor hearing, it was recorded that Procter said “hollowed be thy name” instead of “hallowed”, and I guess that was good enough for Hathorne and Corwin. John Proctor officially became the first man to be accused of witchcraft, and along with his wife and Sarah Cloyce, was imprisoned for trial.
Soon after this, Ann Putnam Jr. officially accused Giles Corey, who had been also mentioned at the previous hearing as being in cahoots in witchcraft with his wife.
Next to be accused were 14 year old Abigail Hobbs and Bridget Bishop. As a child, Abigail had lived in nearby Topsfield and was the subject of many rumors, like she was disobedient and rude, laid out in the forest alone at night and she took the Lord’s name in vain. Apparently, some of these rumors were even true, and at the very least, she was spreading them herself, about herself. To me, she was clearly acting out, as a turbulent teenager who had come from a place of recent, intense trauma. Her family had moved from Topsfield to Fallmouth Maine when she was 4. Remember the Native American attacks on the colonial Maine communities? Well, this wasn’t a great time to move to the area. Abigail’s mother and siblings were killed, and her father lost their land. He remarried to a woman named Deliverance, and they moved back to Topsfield after this. They were a part of a large group of refugees leaving Maine after the devastation of the Native American conflicts to settle in, or settle back in, to the Essex County area of Massachusetts, of which Salem was a part. At her examination, Abigail Hobbs readily confessed that she had been “wicked”, going on to say that she had seen the Devil in the form of dogs and many creatures, and had put her hand on the Devil’s book years ago, back in Maine. The Devil had also appeared to her at home in Topsfield to offer her magical powers. That was enough for the magistrates, and she was sent to prison. Abigail’s stepmother, Deliverance, and father William were arrested on suspicion of witchcraft 3 days later. Deliverance, having come from the less religious Maine, had never been baptized, which was seen as suspicious enough. I can’t quite find further reasoning as to why Deliverance and William were arrested as well, aside from the fact that their daughter had joined up with the Devil - guilt by association.
Bridget Bishop, who was about 60 years old, had been charged and acquitted of witchcraft years before. During her second marriage to Thomas Oliver, Thomas died, and Bridget was accused of bewitching him to death. Thanks to the lack of evidence, which should’ve been the standard for all the trials to come, she was acquitted, but the stain of the accusation still tarnished her name, like it did Elizabeth Proctor from her grandmother’s trial. She married Edward Bishop, who resided in Beverly, a town near Salem, in 1687. Alongside Edward, Bridget helped run two taverns, and had a tendency for being a loudmouth, confrontational, and wearing exotic clothes in bright colors. On the date of her hearing along with Abigail Hobbs, Giles Corey, and Mary Warren, she was accused of bewitching Abigail Williams, Ann Putnam Jr, Mercy Lewis, Mary Walcott, and Elizabeth Hubbard, all young women in the group of afflicted. She was jailed after a brief interrogation along with 2 other members of her family, Edward and Sarah Bishop, who like the Hobbses were also suspected of witchcraft by association.
Giles Corey, as we know, had initially failed at not being a jerk by coming out against his wife at her hearing. He was about to receive a large dose of karma, because he was accused himself shortly after, and then as we saw before, Abigail Hobbs had also named him during her portion of the hearing. The girls were asked “Which of you have seen this man hurt you?”, to which Mary Wolcott, Mercy Lewis, Ann Putnam jr, and Abigail Williams all responded in the affirmative. Elizabeth Hubbard was also asked, but was unable to answer due to a fit, which they probably counted in the “yes” column anyway. Giles was accused of bringing the Devil’s book to them, trying to make them sign, the usual shenanigans. The girls continued to have fits during his interrogation, and he was also accused of associating with his wife’s witchy ways. Off to jail he went!
Mary Warren, for her part, had apparently not received the grateful prayers of the town, because she was put under examination and also imprisoned soon after her little moment at the weekly church service in April. After basically calling them liars, or at the very least pretenders, her former gal pals turned on her, and began to say that she was attacking them, too. Now, by the way, I cannot stress enough how fast this was all moving - for reference, Elizabeth Proctor and Sarah Cloyce were accused between March 28th and April 3rd, their hearing took place on April 11th, Mary Warren indicating the girls were lying happened in early April, and Abigail Hobbs, Bridget Bishop, Giles Corey, and Mary Warren were questioned on April 19th. It was a wild month, and considering how dull and routine Puritan life was, this was the equivalent of having a wild party every single day. Witch trials, man. At least it’s something to do.
Warren started out strong, demanding that she was innocent, but eventually turned back to her old ways and began falling into fits, which usually followed the other girls in the courtroom. It seemed as though she could sense which way the wind was beginning to blow, and the safer place was to be back with the accusers, rather than being one of the accused. Her fits were so violent that she had to be removed from the courtroom for a time, and the magistrates held a private meeting with her, wherein she began to confess to witchcraft, and it was noted that "not one of the sufferers was afflicted during her examination after once she began to confess, though they were tormented before." In prison days later she really began to change her tune, implicating the Proctors indirectly in the Salem witchcraft and accusing them of performing certain deeds, without full-out saying they were a witch and wizard. By the end, much like Tituba had, through her extensive confession and testimony against other witches, she had saved her own life by reverting back to the side of the accusers. She was later released from prison in June, around the time the executions began.
Other folks who were accused and arrested around late April included Mary Easty, the other sister of Rebecca Nurse and Sarah Cloyce, and the Putnam’s slave Mary, who was known as Mary Black - much like Tituba’s husband John Indian. On April 22nd a mass hearing was held for Mary Easty, the Hobbses, the Bishops (sans Bridget), alongside Mary Black, Nehmiah Abbot, Sarah Wildes, and Mary English. The most explosive part of the hearing was the interrogation of Mary Easty, which prompted a bit of Simon Says from the afflicted girls - if Easty clasped her hands together, so did Mercy Lewis, claiming she was unable to release her hands until Easty did so to her own. When Easty inclined her head, the girls accused her of trying to break their necks. Mercy Lewis stated that Eastey’s specter had climbed into her bread and laid her hand upon her breasts, which was an oddly sexual turn that I don’t really see had been previously taken by one of the girls to one of the women, aside from accusing them of nudity and consorting with the devil. Mary Wolcott backed this up, saying Easty had undertaken “a choking of Mercy Lewis and pressing upon her breast with her hands, and I saw her put a chain about her neck and choked her...and she told me that she would kill her this night if she could.” Though Easty defended herself eloquently, telling the magistrates that “Sir, I never complyed but prayed against him all my dayes, I have no complyance with Satan, in this. What would you have me do?...I will say it, if it was my last time, I am clear of this sin,” she was still jailed to await trial. Nehmiah Abbott was released, the only person to be so after refusing to confess. The Hobbses were brought back to prison, Mary English would also be sent to prison along with, later, her husband Philip, Mary Black was sent to prison, and Sarah Wildes as well. Wildes had a reputation as being a nonconformist in Puritan Massachusetts, thought of as being “glamourous” and “forward” as a young woman. She was certainly hot to trot, because in 1649 she had been sentenced to a whipping for fornication with one Thomas Wordwell, and in 1663 she was charged with wearing a silk scarf. The horror!! Of course, this was a long time before, and at the time of the accusations Wildes was 65...but memories were long in colonial Salem.
There were some interesting politics at work in Wildes’ case, which will be important later because she...didn’t have very good luck for the rest of hysteria, I’ll say. Sarah had married an Englishman named John Wildes only 7 months after his wife’s death, which left a bad taste in John’s former in-laws’ mouths. Further, John had even testified against his former wife’s brother in a treason trial. These in-laws were the Goulds, and they were related to the Putnam family, among the chief accusers during the Salem Witch Trials. Sarah had already been accused of being a witch by John’s former sister in law and others, years beforehand, and like we’ve seen before, these charges stick around like a bad rash. During the examination, Ann Putnam Jr - again, a relative of the family who disliked the Wildeses - testified that she had been tortured by Sarah Wildes and she had witness her torturing Mary Wolcot, Mercy Lewis, and Abigail Williams. Deliverance Hobbs had also stated that Sarah had recruited her to attend a black mass, and offered to cease torturing her if she would sign the Devil’s Book. So, as far as I can tell, the only person to be released from this examination day was Nehmiah Abbott.
Within a week of this mass hearing, the next accusation would come, and this one was a shocker.
REVIEW - Slaxx
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