In this 2nd part of what's become a 3-part series, we dive deeper into the tragic events of the 1692 Salem Witch Trials and how the hysteria began to rapidly spread across Salem and beyond - now in the guise of dozens of arrests and hearings with...
In this 2nd part of what's become a 3-part series, we dive deeper into the tragic events of the 1692 Salem Witch Trials and how the hysteria began to rapidly spread across Salem and beyond - now in the guise of dozens of arrests and hearings with suspected witches fingered by a gaggle of mostly teenage girls.
Carrie introduces us to the key players in the Salem Witch Trials and the context in which they existed...from afflicted girl Mercy Lewis' deep-rooted trauma from being orphaned by Maine's Native American wars, to elderly jerk Giles Corey accusing his own wife of witchcraft only to see suspicion cast on himself, to Salem's former minister Reverend George Burroughs being dragged back to town all the way from Maine for questioning...and many more. We try and take these real people from just names on a centuries-old list of victims to a more potent - and horrific - reality.
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We left off last week at the end of the 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. So, no thanks to her husband…
[“Straight to Jail” audio clip]
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 from 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.
We’ll get into more of accusations and interrogations...after the break.
So, the day after Rebecca 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.
[“Straight to Jail” audio clip]
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. Earlier I mentioned the visions of a red communion seen by Abigail Williams and others - during one of these, seen by Ann Putnam Jr, she was heard to exclaim “What, are ministers witches too?” Everyone witnessing this fit was like, umm, say WHAT now? Is that even possible? Soon after, this specter identified himself: George Burroughs, the former Salem minister who had left to live in Maine. You may recall from our first episode that Burroughs encountered many of the same problems Samuel Parris did in coming to Salem Village to preach, including townspeople refusing to pay his salary. Even worse, in 1681 his wife died suddenly, and John Putnam lent him money to pay for her funeral - but he was unable to repay the debt, because, yknow, no salary, so because of this along with everything else, he resigned and left Salem in 1683. There were stories in Salem about how he had mistreated his wives and perhaps contributed to their deaths, and some of the girls and women accusing him may have been associated with those deceased wives. One of the girls actually knew him very well - Mercy Lewis. George had met Mercy in Falmouth, Maine, after a series of Native American attacks in 1676 pushed a group of refugees south to Essex County. Burroughs left the area too, and with him be brought Mercy Lewis, who was 3 at the time and whose whole family had been decimated. It seems like Burroughs took the orphan under his wing and into his care, eventually arriving together in Salem Village when he became minister. He left her in 1683 when he returned to Maine, and she remained, working as a servant for Thomas and Ann Putnam Sr. It seems Lewis didn’t retain the gratitude for Burroughs rescuing her after her family’s murders, because at this time she claimed to have been attacked by Burroughs’ specter, who tortured her and offered to give her power in exchange for...you guessed it!...signing the Devil’s book.
Arrests had already been made outside of the Salem area - see the Hobbses in Topsfield, etc - but arresting George Burroughs in Maine would be the furthest the community would go during the trials. A group of men rode to Wells, Maine, where George Burroughs was located, and arrested him for questioning. For his examination on May 9th 1692, judges Hathorne and Corwin were joined by Samuel Sewell, a devout Puritan who had gotten involved in local politics in Boston and become an assistant magistrate, and William Stoughton, an actual magistrate who became the Chief Justice of the Court of Oyer and Terminer for the Salem Witch Trials. If you don’t know what Oyer and Terminer is, it’s Latin-ish for “to hear and to determine”, and was a name given to courts of criminal jurisdiction in colonial America.
Before and during his interrogation, the judges found that Burroughs hadn’t taken communion in such a long time that he couldn’t recall when it was, which was unheard of for a Reverend. The girls were in attendance, and their theatrics were at its peak, accusing him of killing his wives and their ghosts of appearing right there during the examination, and previously as specters to the girls. He was also accused of possibly killing one or more of his children. So, you know what that means…
[“Straight to Jail” audio clip]
Over the next month, many more villagers were examined. Some of these were more prominent cases than others, but I’ll begin by listing their names: Sarah Churchill, George Jacobs Sr and his granddaughter Margaret, Roger Toothaker, Martha Carrier, John Alden, Wilmott Redd, Elizabeth Howe, and the previously mentioned Phillip English.
Sarah Osborne, who had been in jail since the very beginning of the mess back in March, was the first death of the Salem Witch Trials - indirectly - when she died in a Boston prison on May 10th. As you may remember, she had already been extremely ill, and the jails were horrific places full of illness, lice, bad hygiene and terrible living conditions. And also? Your family basically had to pay rent for you to stay there, and for your food and upkeep. Yes, you were expected to pay for your own jail stay, as if you had elected to stay in a nice Airbnb for a weekend. It was absolutely atrocious.
Mary Easty was surprisingly released from prison a few days later, for reasons I’m unsure of, but her release encountered protests from her accusers, with Mercy Lewis claiming that Easty’s specter had returned to torment her. So she was arrested AGAIN, and apparently her return to prison calmed Lewis’ fits, because of course.
George Jacobs Sr. was one of the oldest people to be accused in the Witch Trials, being 81 years old and using two wooden canes to help him walk. His servant Sarah Churchill, who was 20, was the first accuser, and she was also a refugee from Maine. Perhaps her paranoia from the Native wars pushed her into her accusation, and she revealed in May that Jacobs, his son, and his granddaughter had all practiced witchcraft and pushed her into making a pact with the devil. Rumors spread that Jacobs Sr was using his walking sticks to try and beat the devil out of her, much like John Proctor with Mary Warren, and some of the girls said they had seen him beating Sarah in the guise of his invisible specter. At his interrogation, Jacobs spat out the one-liner, “You tax me for a wizard. You may as well tax me for a buzzard! I have done no harm!” And later retorted, “Well, burn me or hang me, I will stand in the truth of Christ, I know nothing of it.” Later that day Sarah Churchill apparently confessed to the niece of the tavern owner, Sarah Ingersoll, that she had lied about signing the devil’s book - but Sarah Ingersoll’s testimony to this fact was later simply ignored. The next day, at further examination, Margaret Jacobs confessed to witchcraft, convinced that that was the way to save herself - and she wasn’t exactly wrong - and also implicated her grandfather, George Burroughs, John Willard, and Alice Parker. Several of these were brought to the Boston jail thereafter to await trial. Margaret did recant her confession in Mid-may, and in a kind-hearted gesture, Jacobs in response to this inserted a line in his will leaving his granddaughter an additional 10 pound of silver. It seemed he forgave her, but this kindness would not help him in his later trial.
Roger Toothaker was a physician who had lived in the Massachusetts Bay Colony since he was an infant, and apparently for several years before the Trials bragged to locals that he was great at detecting and punishing witches, and that he had taught his daughter Martha his trade and she had killed a witch. Apparently this upstanding anti-witcher didn’t win anyone over with even this claim, because he was accused in May by Elizabeth Hubbard, Ann Putnam Jr, and Mary Wolcott. Martha Toothaker was also arrested along with her father Roger, but released due to lack of evidence. Toothaker died in Boston Jail in early June before he was able to stand trial, from natural causes and illness or malnutrition from being in jail.
The same group, plus Susannah Sheldon, accused Martha Carrier, who lived in nearby Andover of witchcraft as well. They claimed she led a 300-strong army of witches and would use her powers to afflict and/or murder people with terrible diseases. They even called her the “Queen of Hell”, and I’m really wondering what Martha did to get sooo far on these girls’ bad sides. And they weren’t the only ones - one neighbor complained that Martha’s witchery had caused him to lose a fistfight to her son Richard. Others attributed deaths of their livestock to Martha, saying she must have placed hexes on the animals. So…
[“Straight to Jail” audio clip]
Captain John Alden Jr was a seafarer, soldier and politician, the son of original Mayflower Pilgrims. He led a somewhat scandalous life, and was accused of being a war profiteer, selling weapons to the enemy - like the Native Americans the Salem villagers were so terrified of - for personal profit. One of his accusers was Mercy Lewis, the girl who had lost her family to Native attacks in Maine, and one has to wonder if her accusation of him was some sort of revenge against a man she saw as allied with her enemies. Alden, along with Phillip and Mary English around the same time, ended up escaping the Boston jail where he was held in the night on horseback thanks to the help of some friends, who assisted the escape. These 3 escapees fled to the New York area to wait out the trials, which made them some of the luckiest victims of all.
Wilmot Redd, a woman, was arrested in late May after accusations made by Mary Walcott and Mercy Lewis. They broke into fits during the examination, which bewildered the Marblehead native, but since this was usually seen as enough “proof” by this kangaroo court, she was jailed to await trial. Same went for Elizabeth Howe from Topsfield, who was accused mainly by the Perley family of Ipswich Massachusetts, whose 10 year old daughter they claimed was being afflicted by Howe. The Perley parents claimed that several doctors had told them the child was being possessed “under an evil hand”, and eventually wasted away until she died. Girls in the afflicted club in Salem Village also got in on the action against Howe, and despite Howe protesting that “God knows I am innocent of any thing in this nature,” she was taken away.
So here we end the hearings, and find ourselves heading fast on a collision course with the deadliest hysteria in American history. Conveniently, that May, Sir William Phipps, the newly elected governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, arrived back in Boston from England with Increase Mather, an influential Puritan clergymen and president of Harvard College, with a new charter that ended the 1684 prohibition of self-governance within the colony. What did this mean? Well, in so many words, instead of depending on England to be able to carry out their judicial trials, now they were able to Oyer and Terminer it up and do it themselves. And boy, did they.
We’ll begin with the first trial, that of Bridget Bishop on June 2nd, 1692...on our third and final part of this Salem Witch Trials series!