Here we are at the long-awaited final episode in our Salem Witch Trials series. What is there to say aside from that on this episode we examine the worst miscarriages of justice in the whole hysteria: the 20 innocent people executed on blatantly vague...
Here we are at the long-awaited final episode in our Salem Witch Trials series. What is there to say aside from that on this episode we examine the worst miscarriages of justice in the whole hysteria: the 20 innocent people executed on blatantly vague charges of witchcraft in Salem, Massachusetts during the latter half of 1692. We see the deaths of John Proctor, the hero of the play The Crucible; the brutal pressing death of stubborn Giles Corey, the tragic murder of Salem's former minister Reverend George Burroughs, and more.
We also explore theories around how this was allowed to happen, and what Salem and Massachusetts have done since to exonerate and honor the victims of this tragic time over 300 years ago.
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We left off last time at the end of the initial interrogations, after seeing a lot of arrests made and the trials set to begin. So, here we are, with the first trial. They didn’t go in order of arrests, for whatever reason - so that means the first trial in the Court of Oyer and Terminer is that of Bridget Bishop.
As before, one of our main sources today is the book A Storm of Witchcraft by Emerson Baker, as well as HistoryofMassachusetts.org, which contains comprehensive coverage of each of the individual trials.
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.
But one person who I’m sure wished they could’ve escaped the Salem area, was Bridget Bishop. If you remember from last episode, Bishop was about 60 and had been tried for witchcraft before sometime around 1679, on suspicion of bewitching her second husband to death. Though she was acquitted, the stain of the accusation still clung to her name. On June 2nd, 1692, she was the first to be brought to trial during the Salem witchcraft hysteria. This was not Bishop’s first time on trial - along with her first witch trial, she had also gone to court for fighting with her aforementioned second husband, where they were both ordered to pay a fine or be whipped; she again went to court for swearing at that same husband, and had also been brought to trial in 1687 for stealing brass from the local mill owner. Though Bishop protested that she hadn’t stolen the brass, she had sent her daughter to town with it - but to ask people who had put it on her property, she said, not to find a buyer for it. Sounds a little fishy, but ok. There are no surviving records of the outcome of this trial.
Though we’ve mentioned her as a tavern owner previously, there seems to be an asterisk on this part of her history. It seems in some earlier histories she was conflated with her stepdaughter in law, Sarah Bishop, who was also accused of witchcraft, and who lived just outside of Salem Village and owned a tavern. It’s not exactly known what Bishop was really up to in this time, but her husband was a woodcutter, so they probably didn’t run taverns together. I did want to bring this up because to this day it’s still part of the popular history surrounding Bridget Bishop, even on some modern-day ghost tours that mention her.
She lived in what is now downtown Salem, and was then Salem Town, and she also owned an apple orchard, which is a correct bit of info about her that ghost tours will also mention for reasons I might go into later. There were many who testified at her trial, where of course Bishop plead not guilty. One of these was John Louder, who told the judges that eight years before he had been staying with Bishop’s neighbor, John Gedney, who would often argue with her about how she let her chickens wander into HIS apple orchard. Louder said that Bishop’s specter would attack him at night in bed and when he brought this up to Bishop - and that must’ve been a hell of a conversation - she threatened him and sent black pigs and a talking monkey after him to torment him, presumably her witchy familiars. Louder again saw this weird monkey creature, which he described as having “a cock’s feet and a face more like a mans than a monkey”, flying around in Bishop’s orchard.
Samuel Gray, a 42 year old Salem resident, testified that 14 years earlier Bishop had bewitched his child to death - her specter had apparently appeared over his child’s crib, the baby screamed as if in pain, which made the spirit disappear. After this, the baby, who had been fine, wasted away and died a few months later, and around this time he saw Bishop again in town. He recognized her, having never seen her before the specter appeared in his house, as the woman who must have killed his baby. Apparently this child wasn’t the only one Bishop witched to death, because one of the afflicted girls, Susannah Sheldon, said that she had seen the spirits of twin boys who had told her that the woman had killed them with witchcraft. Bishop’s specter also allegedly told Sheldon straight up that she’d killed four women previously, which seems like dumb information to share.
A couple of married couples testified about weird business transactions they’d allegedly had with Bishop, like buying a so-called “bewitched pig” from her and having found poppets, or witchy dolls, hidden in the walls of her cellar while contracted to do some construction work on her home. The afflicted girls went to work on their theatrics, immediately collapsing whenever Bridget would look upon them, only to be revived by her touch. Ann Putnam stated Bishop called the Devil her God, and other girls accused Bishop of harming them. Worse of all, much like Giles Corey and his wife, Bishop’s husband too alleged that Bridget praised the Devil.
Also on June 2nd Bishop along with Elizabeth Proctor, Rebecca Nurse, Alice Parker, Susannah Martin, and Sarah Good underwent physical examination by nine local women and a doctor named Barton, who were looking for so-called “witches marks”. These marks were some of the most egregious evidence used during the witch trials, and that’s saying something, considering all the bullshit we’ve heard thus far. If you’re familiar with the movie The Omen, Damien’s “666” mark on his scalp seems to be a take on the mythology behind these. According to the medical paper “Role of skin lesions in the Salem Witch Trials”, which yes is a real study!, a witch’s mark or devil’s mark could be “a variety of skin lesions described as flat or raised, red, blue, or brown lesions, sometimes with unusual outlines. Witch's marks were most probably supernumerary nipples. It was believed that familiars (agents of the devil, usually in animal form) would receive sustenance by being suckled,” and these areas marked the place where that would occur. Do you have a birthmark, a mole, or a scar? Well, if you do, you could be tried for being a witch in 1692, it’s that simple. And, y’know, most people don’t have bodies’ worth of skin devoid of any discoloration at all. Bishop and Proctor were cleared after long examination of having any witch marks, though it was noted that “Bishop, Nurse and Proctor, by diligent search have discovered a preternatural excrescence of flesh between the pudendum [genitals] and anus much like to teats & not usual in women & much unlike to the other three that hath been searched by us & that they were in all the three women near the same place.” As you can see, these examinations were humiliating, and all that for them to eventually conclude that this extra flesh was just dry skin.
So, no evidence of witches marks. Good news, right? Well, yes, but not enough good news, unfortunately. Bishop’s trial ended the same day it began, easy to do when the defendant isn’t allowed any counsel. Cotton Mather, Puritan minister, son of Increase Mather, and general douchebag that we’ve mentioned before, had the most oxymoronic summation of the trial ever when he wrote, “There was little occasion to prove the witchcraft, it being evident and notorious to all beholders.” Because that makes sense. And what was the evidence he was referring to? The spectral evidence offered by both Bishop’s enemies and the afflicted girls - spectral evidence which, by the way, he had argued against the use of in previous trials. Don’t worry though, this guy wasn’t logical - he had been involved in the witchcraft trial and execution of Boston native Ann Glover in 1688. So he seemed to be ok with spectral evidence in this case.
The court, now made up of Chief Justice William Stoughton, Jonathan Corwin, John Hathorne, Bartholomew Gedney, John Richards, Nathaniel Saltonstall, Peter Sergeant, Samuel Sewell, and Wait Still Winthrop, convicted Bridget Bishop of witchcraft and issued her death warrant on June 8th. By the way, an actual jury did figure into the sentencing equation, but considering the list of names I’m finding are all of landowning men, it was far from a jury of Bishop’s peers anway.
Bishop was the first sentenced to die in the trials, and this sent a shockwave through the town - a kind of feeling like, “Wow, we’re really doing this, huh?” But the full magnitude of the situation wouldn’t quite hit until June 10th, the day Bridge Bishop was taken to the gallows to be hanged.
There isn’t much in the way of eyewitness documentation of the hangings, perhaps because some of those present later regretted their compliance with the executions. As far as we know, on June 10th, Sheriff George Corwin took her from jail to Gallows Hill, where she was executed. She displayed no remorse for witchcraft, instead continuing to profess her innocence. It didn’t matter, though. She was hanged and, of course, died.
The victims of the trials weren’t allowed to have burials in consecrated land, being presumed witches, so she was likely thrown in a shallow grave on or near Gallows Hill unless family members of hers were able to secret the body away in the dead of night - unlikely, since her husband had flipped on her, and her stepson and stepdaughter in law were in prison. Well, were until they escaped and hid and their property was seized, but eventually, that would get figured out.
After the execution, court took a short recess and new accusations did slow down for a time. Like I said, it did seem like there was a bit of reckoning once shit got real. Nathanial Saltonstall, one of the judges, even resigned during this time, and though he didn’t state publicly why, it was presumed that he was “displeased with the handling of the Bishop case” and “very much dissatisfied with the proceedings.” He would be the only one on the court who would have that crisis of conscience at this point.
Governor William Phips began to have doubts about the court’s methods and went to Boston to consult their ministers as to what should be done with the rest of the accused witches languishing in jail. Unfortunately, these men weren’t concerned but invigorated by the first execution, and “earnestly recommended that the proceedings should be ‘vigorously carried on’,” and so they were, albeit a month after Bishop’s death. Within this month Roger Toothaker would die in prison, another victim that never made it to the gallows. At the end of June, the next major trial would occur - and this time, multiple people were tried the same day.
Rebecca Nurse, Susannah Martin, Sarah Wildes, Sarah Good, and Elizabeth Howe faced the Court of Oyer and Terminer on June 29th and 30th, 1692. Along with the petition signed by many friends of the Nurses that I mentioned last episode, the Nurse family also went to work soliciting testimony questioning the veracity of Rebecca’s accusers. They were determined to get Rebecca out of this mess, and they almost had the resources to do so. However, aside from the spectral evidence provided by the afflicted girls, the court also had surgeon John Barton and his female assistants’ testimony that they had found a “witches teat” on Rebecca - it seems her examination hadn’t gone as flawlessly as Bridget Bishop or Elizabeth Proctor’s. Again, Rebecca was old, so this was probably just a bit of flabby skin or a weird mole. Perhaps due to the insistence of her prominent family, surprisingly the court did initially return with a verdict of “not guilty”...but it wouldn’t stick. The girls absolutely flipped out, pushing the judges to feel Rebecca should be retried then and there due to the afflictions occurring that very moment. Chief Justice Stoughton apparently coaxed the jury to reconsider, pointing out that Nurse had remarked that another accused witch, Deliverance Hobbs, was “of her company”. Stoughton felt that this had been a slip meaning that both of the women had signed a pact with the Devil. Unfortunately, it wasn’t, with Rebecca later telling her children that she was referring to Hobbs as a fellow “accused” witch, not a member of some Devil’s coven with her. The jury foreman asked her to explain, but she remained silent, which was taken to be a wordless admission of guilt. Again, unfortunately for Rebecca, she was just pretty deaf and hadn’t heard the question. She was found guilty, and the Nurse family filed a complaint, stating that she was deaf and according to the jury foreman her silence was the principal evidence for her guilt. This was compelling enough that it prompted Governor Phips to issue a reprieve, which he soon rescinded due to “complaints from the afflicted and pressure from an unnamed Salem gentleman.” Days later, the Salem Town church that Rebecca so loved voted, in her presence, to formally excommunicate her. She was sentenced to die, as Bishop did, on Gallows Hill.
Sarah Wildes and Elizabeth Howe were two Topsfield, Massachusetts women with the specter of witchcraft having long hung over them. Both were handily convicted in court and sentenced to death the same day. Susannah Martin too had been accused of witchcraft back in 1669, and Salem Village inhabitants such as Joseph and Jarvis Ring accused her of trying to recruit them into witchcraft. According to another man, John Allen, she had also bewitched his oxen and drove them into a river where they drowned. Of course, to me that just sounds like a bad oxen owner, but what do I know? During her part of the trial she plead not guilty, but multiple of the girls furthered the accusations against her, with Abigail Williams saying “she hath hurt me often” and Ann Putnam Jr. throwing a glove at her in a fit. Nonetheless, Martin was able to quote the Bible to perfection, which you may recall as something it was believed a real witch wouldn’t be able to do...of course, there was always an excuse for this. Cotton Mather himself stated that the Devil’s servants were capable of “putting on a show of perfect innocence and Godliness”, in which case, what had that been a “rule” of witch hunting at all?
No particular lesion had been found on Susannah Martin during her examination for a witches mark, but it was noted that "in the morning her nipples were found to be full as if the milk would come", but by late afternoon "her breasts were slack, as if milk had already been given to someone or something." This supposedly meant that she had been visited by her familiar and given it sustenance. The whole affair had taken on a feeling of perversity, and you have to wonder whether these examiners were getting their Puritan kicks out of poking and prodding at these women’s private parts. Martin too was found guilty and sentenced to hang.
That left Sarah Good, and if you think this homeless, disliked woman would be spared the noose, think again. Sarah was one of the first 3 women to be accused of witchcraft during the hysteria, and the only one to make it to trial. Good had been pregnant when she was jailed and gave birth in prison to a son, but unsurprisingly in those conditions, the baby died before she made it to trial.Though Sarah did try to throw Sarah Osburn, who had already died in prison, and Tituba under the bus by saying they were the “real witches”, it did her no good. Several of the girls accused Good of appearing to them in her specter form, along with her deceased child, torturing them and causing them fits. Sarah Bibber, 36 years old, testified that she’d seen Good’s specter torture both Mercy Lewis and John Indian and tried to suffocate her and her child. The list went on. Perhaps, as the opposite of Rebecca Nurse on Salem’s respectability scale, Good was the easiest for the jury to convict.
All of the women tried on these 2 days were hanged at Gallows Hill on July 19th, 1692. Though most of them faced death quietly, with Nurse in particular being described as “a woman of self-dignity” with a resolute bearing on the gallows, Good continued to proclaim her innocence. Salem Town Reverend Nicholas Noyes attempted to get her to confess to witchcraft, so she would not die a liar. Good responded, “You are a liar. I am no more a witch than you are a wizard, and if you take away my life God will give you blood to drink,” referring to a passage in the Book of Revelation. Strangely, and fittingly, Noyes would die years later of an internal hemorrhage, which left him to choke to death on his own blood. Perhaps Sarah Good had knowledge of curses after all.
The rest of the execution went on without incident, and all of the women were murdered. Yes, murdered - there was no justice here, so that’s really the only word that fits. As I mentioned, they were all buried in shallow graves near the execution spot, but Rebecca Nurse’s family in particular returned after dark to retrieve her body, at least according to oral tradition. If anyone had the means to carry out the nighttime heist, it would be them. The story goes that they buried Rebecca on the property of the family homestead, and though her exact resting place has never been confirmed, there was a tall granite memorial erected in 1885 at the Rebecca Nurse Homestead cemetery. The inscription reads: “Rebecca Nurse, Yarmouth, England 1621. Salem, Mass., 1692.
O Christian Martyr who for Truth could die
When all about thee owned the hideous lie!
The world redeemed from Superstition's sway
Is breathing freer for thy sake today.”
The next batch of trials was on August 5th, 1692, when George Jacobs Sr., Martha Carrier, John Willard, John and Elizabeth Proctor, and Reverend George Burroughs were tried. Unfortunately, spoiler alert here, all of these people would be convicted, and only one would escape the gallows. Jacobs had originally been accused by his servant, Sarah Churchill, along with his granddaughter Margaret, who had also been arrested. Churchill testified against him again, along with his neighbor John DeRich, who happened to also be a nephew of Elizabeth Proctor. One would’ve hoped he would’ve been sympathetic to the situation, but no. A dozen people total testified against him, including Abigail Williams and Thomas and John Putnam. And the women accused weren’t the only ones forced to submit to a humiliating physical examination - George Herrick testified that he found a suspicious mark, which he described as a “teat” about a quarter of an inch long, on Jacobs’ right shoulder and when it was pricked with a pin it did not bleed. Again, Jacobs was elderly, so this was probably just a bit of weird skin because, yknow, old. Another particularly ageist accusation leveled at Jacobs was that he appeared in spectral form and beat the girls with his walking canes, which he used for his terrible arthritis.
Martha Carrier was accused by a fellow suspected witch, Ann Foster, of having become a witch years before and bringing Ann to witch meeting at Salem Village on a flying stick, aka some sort of Satan’s Uber. Foster also said Carrier had bewitched a child to death a few years ago, and there were a total of 305 witches in the country and that they’d set up shop in the Salem area to create the Devil’s Kingdom. This, like Tituba at the beginning of the examinations, kicked off the hysteria spreading to nearby Andover, and jump-started a series of accusations further out in Essex County. Carrier seemed to have become a convenient scapegoat for accused witches during their preliminary hearings, because Ann Foster’s granddaughter Mary Lacey Jr also said she was a witch, elaborating that she would kill children by stabbing them in the heart with pins and needles and “Goody Carrier told me the Devil said to her she should be a queen in hell,” which otherwise would be a bitchin’ title to have but in these circumstances, not so much. Others who accused Martha Carrier would be her niece, Martha Emerson, and sons, Richard and Andrew, who had all been jailed for witchcraft and likely subjected to tortures to make them confess, according to a letter sent to Boston clergy by John Proctor from prison. A neighbor stated during the trial that she had used threatening words against him 7 years prior during a disagreement, and that shortly after that 2 of his pigs had been killed. Also, his cow stopped giving milk that summer. Another proclaimed that Carrier had bewitched his cows to death. There were plenty who went against Martha Carrier, and she was found guilty and sentenced to death. Within the week, her 10 year old son Thomas Jr. and 8 year old daughter Sarah had been arrested for witchcraft and coerced into confessions including that their mother had forced them to sign the Devil’s book.
During the first allegations in the Salem Witch Trials, John Willard had been a constable whose duties included arresting the accused and bringing them to court. He was initially zealous about the job, proclaiming “Hang them. They are all witches,” but soon lost his taste for it, and refused to be a part of any more arrests starting in May of 1692. Likely as a direct result of this - like their instant retaliation to Mary Warren accusing them of lying - Ann Putnam Jr and the other girls turned their accusations onto him, saying he’d murdered 13 people in the service of Satan and that he’d tried to get them to “touch the Devil’s Book”, which is kinda funny because it’s not even about signing it, just touching it. Most damningly, some of his in-laws came out against him, with one telling the court that Willard had bear his wife and others blaming his specter for abuse and murder. Willard’s in-laws already despised him because he had bought up land in what they viewed as “their” Salem Village and sold plots of it to outsiders, so perhaps this was the perfect revenge. No devil’s mark was found on Willard or John Proctor, for that matter, with with over a dozen people testifying against him, the court didn’t need a suspicious teat to find Willard guilty. And so they did.
Next were the Proctors. Mary Warren, now firmly back on the side of the accusing girls, followed the lead set by John Willard’s trial and also came out saying her employer John Proctor had beaten her and forced her to touch and sign the Devil’s Book. It wasn’t just spectral evidence used against Proctor, though - he was already a divisive figure in the town who appears to have believed himself to be right much of the time, and his own words were thrown back at him again and again, as with his threatening to or actually admitting to beating several people involved in the Witch Trials, like his aforementioned servant. As we mentioned previously, Proctor wrote a letter to Boston clergymen begging them to appoint different judges or move the trials to Boston, and though this prompted them to rule against allowing spectral evidence in the trials, it didn’t help save Proctor’s life. John’s wife Elizabeth was accused generally in tandem with her husband, as in Mary Warren’s deposition, where she said the both of them would send their spirits out to torture her at night. Both Proctors were found guilty and sentenced to death, but since Elizabeth was provably pregnant by this time, her execution was postponed until after she gave birth.
Lastly there was Reverend George Burroughs, who had been brought up as the big bad of this whole situation by the afflicted girls. A whopping 30 people testified against him at his trial, including many of the afflicted girls and 3 of the elders in the Putnam family. Many of these witnesses claimed that Burroughs consistently demonstrated a superhuman strength, including incidents where he had claimed to have carried heavy barrels of cider by himself, though he apparently never wanted to recreate these events. This kinda screams “I can bench 300” to me. There were also more accusations hurled about Burroughs having been abusive in different ways to his since-deceased wives, which in all likelihood was true, but not exactly a sign of witchcraft, especially in those days where wives were more like property. Susannah Sheldon testified that Burroughs’ specter had come to her and confessed that he’d killed 3 children in Maine along with his first two wives - by smothering the first and choking the second - AND had killed 2 of his children. Apparently Burroughs’ spirit had been feeling very chatty, and with several people, too. Ann Putnam Jr. also testified that the spirits of Reverend Deodat Lawson’s wife - remember, Lawson was the minister after Burroughs - and her child came to her and had told her that Burroughs had murdered them. Big accusations, but based purely on spectral evidence and not at all on physical proof.
Weirdly, 3 of the afflicted girls’ testimonies contained the same exact line: “I believe in my heart that Mr. George Burroughs is a dreadful wizzard and That he had often afflected and tormented me and the afore mentioned parsons by his acts of witchcraft.” According to a recent handwriting analysis by University of Kansas professor Peter Grund, the testimonies were all written by Putnam family patriarch Thomas Putnam, who himself testified against Burroughs with similar language. It makes sense that someone else wrote out the testimonies since the girls may not have been able to write, but it is interesting that he seemed to fudge them quite a bit. As one of the major landowners in Salem Village and a part of the family to which Burroughs owed a financial debt, perhaps he had some stake in eliminating the former Reverend once and for all, and wanted to add some zhush to the girls’ testimonies.
As you can probably imagine, this all went quite badly for Burroughs, especially alongside the facts that he had failed to baptise his youngest children or even attend communion for quite awhile. He was clearly a lapsed Reverend, and perhaps his faith wasn’t as strong as it once was - and this looked damning for him. He was, of course, sentenced to death, the only minister to be so in American history.
The entire group sans the pregnant Elizabeth Proctor were brought to Gallows Hill to be executed on August 19, 1692. The most intense part of the day came when George Burroughs made a speech declaring his innocence and then recited the Lord’s Prayer without error as he stood on the gallows in front of the crowd. As we mentioned last episode with John Proctor’s examination, this was something that a suspected witch was assumed not to be able to do - and yet, Burroughs did it. However, the crowd and judges managed to get around this, too. Robert Calef described the event in the book More Wonders of the Invisible World:
“[It] was very affecting, and drew tears from many, so that it seemed to some that the spectators would hinder the execution.” However, it was stated that the Devil must have been dictating it to him, as we’ve also mentioned before, it’s been reasoned that witches could pretend, too. Burroughs was hanged first despite all of this, which probably stunned much of the crowd. Calef continued, “Cotton Mather, being mounted upon a horse, addressed himself to the people, partly to declare that [Burroughs] was no ordained minister, and partly to possess the people of his guilt, saying that the devil has often been transformed into an angel of the light; and this somewhat appeased the people, and the executions went on.” Thanks to Mather’s encouragement, the rest were executed, and since there was a heat wave during this time, the bodies were buried immediately in a shallow mass grave to prevent rotting. It was said the grave was so shallow that Burroughs’ chin and one of his feet were left uncovered.
The day after this, as I previously mentioned, George Jacobs Sr’s granddaughter Margaret recanted her testimony against her grandfather and George Burroughs, but it was obviously too late to be of any help.
On September 9th the next mass trial took place, this time of Martha Corey, Mary Easty, Alice Parker, Ann Pudeator, Dorcas Hoar, and Mary Bradbury.
One of the witnesses who testified against Martha Corey was Edward Putnam, who stated that, among other things, Ann Putnam had often complained to him of being afflicted by Corey. With the accusation of Corey, the Putnams continue to establish their power in the town, as because she was a full member of the church this would prove that they could successfully attack anyone who doubted their motives and authority, as Martha herself had when she publicly came out against the trials. Judgment? Guilty.
We might remember that Mary Easty was the sister of Rebecca Nurse, who had already been executed for witchcraft. As part of a respected family, some people did come to Easty’s defense during the trial, like John and Mary Arnold and Thomas and Elizabeth Fosse, who testified to her good behavior while incarcerated. Easty herself filed two petitions during her trial, the first in tandem with her other accused sister Sarah Cloyce asking for specific witnesses and the disavowal of spectral evidence in the trials, and the second after Easty’s conviction that’s described on HistoryofMassachusetts.org as “a remarkable and very moving plea to the magistrates, not on behalf of herself, but on behalf of the other accused witches who had yet to go to trial.” The petition was quite long, so I won’t read the entire thing, but it’s worth quoting from it, which I’ll do now: “ I petition to your honours not for my own life for I know I must die and my appointed time is set but the Lord he knows it is that if it be possible no more innocent blood may be shed...the Lord above who is the searcher of all hearts knows that as I shall answer it at the tribunal seat that I know not the least thing of witchcraft therefore I cannot I dare not belie my own soul I beg your honers not to deny this my humble petition from a poor dying innocent person and I question not but the Lord will give a blessing to your endeavors.” Despite this, Easty was found guilty, and sentenced to become the second person from her family to be executed during the trials.
Mary Warren had been the chief accuser of Alice Parker, and testified that after Warren’s father failed to harvest Parker’s crop of hay as he’d promised he would do, Parker came to the Warren house and demanded he do it- and after this argument, Mary’s mother and sister became ill and her mother later died. Warren also stated that Parker had attended a Devil’s mass in Reverend Samuel Parris’ pasture with 30 other witches, and had tried to get her to sign the Devil’s book by threatening to stab her. Parker was also accused for drowning several people at sea, obviously in the guise of her specter, including one Thomas Westgate and crew. She had apparently told a woman named Martha Dutch that her husband, a mariner, would not come back from his voyage alive, and when he didn’t, this was seen as some sort of witchy prophecy. It was certainly enough to get her sentenced to death.
Ann Pudeator was another woman first accused by Mary Warren, and Warren told the court during trial that Pudeator had afflicted her by biting, punching, and choking her, and had - you guessed it - tried to get her to sign the Devil’s book. Warren also insisted that Pudeator was responsible for a man named John Turner falling out of a cherry tree, which severely injured him, and she had also been responsible for several deaths as well as afflicting the other girls. Pudeator was found guilty, and though she filed a petition with the court days later declaring some of those who testified against her were known liars, having been formerly whipped as punishment for these transgressions, the court did not overturn their ruling, and upheld the sentence of death.
Abigail Williams had claimed that Dorcas Hoar was the first witch she had seen before even Tituba, and Hoar ended up being one of the few to confess in prison. She gave her confession to a man named John Lovett, who had been visiting his grandmother Susannah Rootes that was imprisoned and awaiting her own trial. Jonathan testified to the confession at Hoar’s trial, and she was found guilty - but apparently not sentenced to death, since she confessed. Weird how it works. She stayed in prison through the end of the trials, but died in poverty in 1711.
Mary Bradbury was the last to be tried on September 9th, and the second from that particular trial to escape execution. Her original accusations stemmed from a feud between her family and the Carr family, which included Ann Carr Putnam, one of the most prolific accusers during the witch hunts and mother to another, Ann Putnam Jr. The feud had begun many years before when Mary had passed on an offer of marriage from George Carr and instead chose to marry Thomas Bradbury. The Bradbury’s were respected members of the community despite the interfamily squabble, with Thomas’ mother being a direct relative of Elizabeth the 1st’s Archbishop of Canturbury, and Mary’s father being a powerful man with many deep connections as the representative of Ipswich on the General Court. Emerson Baker wrote in A Storm of Witchcraft that, much like with Rebecca Nurse, “the accusation and conviction of Mary Perkins Bradbury, the wife of one of the leaders of the colony, was a clear sign that the Salem witch trials were unlike any before in Massachusetts…[they] demonstrated that the trials were political as much as legal and religious proceedings.” Despite testimony that Mary was a charitable person given to acts of generosity to the sick and poor, it was hard to counter the negative testimony at her trial, including that of George Carr’s son Richard, who would literally not have existed if Mary had married his father, but nevermind that. Richard attested that Mary had transformed herself into a blue boar that attacked his father’s horse one Sabbath, causing George to fall outside of her home. She was also accused of causing the death of John Carr. Only William Carr emerged from his family to try and help Bradbury, going against his fellow Carrs’ testimonies, but it wasn’t enough. She was found guilty. A petition did come out soon after signed by 118 locals, and perhaps this was enough to save her, because she did escape death. Unfortunately, there are no real contemporary accounts to detail HOW she managed to elude the gallows even after being found guilty and not confessing. Her husband possibly was able to maneuver this due to political connections to the governor’s family, but we’ll never really know.
Before his wife would face her own execution, Giles Corey was to face his trial...but he flat out refused. Yeah, the guy just refused to stand trial. He did initially plead “not guilty” but basically took the equivalent of “pleading the 5th” of the day, called “standing mute”. When asked if he would accept a trial by a jury of his peers, stubborn old Corey simply refused to answer. According to History of Massachusetts, English law at the time ordered any prisoner who stood mute to be tortured in an attempt to force a prisoner to talk, a tactic known as ‘peine forte et dure’ which translates to ‘strong and harsh punishment’. The exact torture procedure consisted of stripping the prisoner naked, laying him on the ground and placing a board with heavy stones on top of him. The weight was slowly increased over the course of several days until the prisoner yielded.” Just absolutely horrific. The use of this particular procedure may have been influenced by a letter Thomas Putnam wrote to Judge Samuel Sewall that reminded him of the murder Corey had committed years before, and had never been properly pushing for.
Historians tend to believe that, because Corey would never have confessed, he knew he would be killed either way, and refused to submit to a trial because without a conviction, his estate could still pass down to his grown children instead of being claimed by local authorities. I think I’ve mentioned this before, but I will again: if you were convicted of witchcraft, all of your assets would be seized by the court. Looking at some of the folks that were executed, that’s a lot of goods, and a lot of land. Almost as if there are possibly other reasons these people were accused rather than pure religious fervor.
Giles Corey was the first and only person to endure peine forte et dure in Colonial America, and the torture occured on September 17th in a field on Howard Street near the jail where Corey was held. For more on this location, by the way, check out our episode Haunted Cemeteries Part 1. Corey was laid on his back with wooden boards placed on his chest, and a series of rocks and small boulders were laid on the boards by Sheriff George Corwin to increase the weight pushing down. This continued for TWO DAYS, during which he was excommunicated by the church with the argument that he was either guilty of witchcraft or suicide due to his choice of enduring the torture rather than entering a plea. On the 19th he was 3 times to enter his plea, but each time he replied “More weight.” Corwin took him up on this, adding heavier rocks to the assortment and at times even standing on Corey’s chest himself. Witness Robert Calef said "In the pressing, Giles Corey's tongue was pressed out of his mouth; the Sheriff, with his cane, forced it in again." Some accounts report that Corey’s last words were his request for more weight, though it may have been “More rocks.” Some others state that he said “Damn you. I curse you and Salem!” Again, see Haunted Cemeteries Part 1 on this latter possibility. Corey’s chest eventually caved in, crushed by the massive weight he was subjected to, but his stubbornness won out in the end: his estate did indeed pass on to his two sons-in-law, in accordance with his will. Corey’s body resides somewhere in an unmarked grave within Howard Street Cemetery.
The last mass trial occurred on the day Corey’s torture began, September 17th. This was the trial of Margaret Scott, Wilmot Redd, Samuel Wardwell, Mary Parker, Abigail Faulkner, Rebecca Eames, Mary Lacy, Ann Foster, and Abigail Hobbs. In the interest of time, I will concentrate on those found guilty - Scott, Redd, Wardwell, and Mary Parker.
Margaret Scott was most likely born in England to the Stevenson family and eventually moved to Massachusetts Bay, marrying a farmer in Rowley named Benjamin Scott. He died in 1671, leaving her with 3 surviving children and a meager estate. This reduced Margaret to begging, much like the reviled Sarah Good. Most of the files relating to Scott’s case are missing, and as a result she has been called one of the most obscure victims of the witch trials. However, to me it’s a little more personal, and I think this is a good example to show that the madness of 1692 is a lot closer than we all think. A good friend of mine, Anna, is a direct descendent of Margaret Scott, along with the Proctors family as well. When I discussed Margaret’s case with her, Anna too noted that her particular story is so sad, as she was elderly and homeless. For a community that prized their Christianity, you’d think they’d have been kinder to her, but that tends to be the case a lot of the time, isn’t it? One really thoughtful quote from Anna is something that definitely made me think - she said “I went to Salem in 2019 and also visited their memorial to leave an offering. It’s amazing to be connected to history, even if it is horrible history. It’s even odder as someone practicing witchcraft. These were not necessarily magical people, if anything they were likely extremely religious and conservative, but they were persecuted for something that I now can do freely, and that’s kind of amazing in it’s own way.” I think that’s something that really gets me about this story too, even without the kind of personal connection Anna has - it makes you really not take religious freedom for granted, and be grateful as even a quirky, strange person like myself, I generally have the privilege to not be sentenced to death for that.
So, it’s not certain exactly all that happened at Scott’s trial, aside from some testimony against her along the same lines of her getting into arguments with people who later blamed this for their misfortunes, but she too was sentenced to death. For Wilmot Redd, aside from the afflicted girls, there were only a few witnesses that showed up, including one Charity Pittman who accused Redd’s servant of having stolen some linen. Allegedly when Redd was told that they’d go to Judge Hathorne to get a warrant for the servant if the linen wasn’t returned, Redd stated she “wished that she might never mingere [urinate], nor cacare [defecate]” again if she didn’t leave and that shortly after that the woman became ill with “distemper of the dry bellyache”, which continued for many months. This seems to be a really potent example of how interpersonal squabbles escalated into the trials into assisted murder, and how many people took advantage of the hysteria to get rid of people they simply didn’t like. Redd was found guilty and sentenced to hang.
Samuel Wardwell was one of 6 men killed during the Salem Witch Trials, and the last man to die. It’s not known who initially accused Wardwell but it appears he did confess quite early on to witchcraft, stating that he’d signed a pact with the devil during a dark time in his life and that he told fortunes and dabbled in folk magic. He also said that he did sign the devil’s book and was baptized by the devil in a river - again, really reminiscent of actual Christian rituals. Wardwell probably thought that confessing would save his life, much like it had others, and his wife and daughter Mercy also confessed in a similar fashion after being accused. While sitting in prison Sheriff George Corwin showed up at the house and confiscated most of the Wardwell estate, including goods, farm animals, and crops. Unfortunately, at his trial Wardwell immediately recanted his confession, appearing to want to clear his conscience. Feels like a bad move if you’ve done it already, and Wardwell had a large group of witnesses who testified against him, mostly to the fact that he would tell fortunes and read palms, which is pretty witchy activity even nowadays. Sometimes the fortunes would come true, like with a young man who was told he would be shot with a gun and fall from his horse, which apparently did happen. At the end of Wardwell’s trial, he was found guilty and sentenced to death.
Last to be sentenced to execution in this trial was Mary Parker, not to be confused with Alice Parker. Few records of her case exist, much like with Margaret Scott, but it seems she had been a respected member of the community and it wasn’t clear why she was targeted by accusations in 1692. Despite having a distant cousin who was accused of witchcraft 30 years before, it probably didn’t have a bearing on her case like the closer relatives of accused witches like Elizabeth Proctor did. Only two people testified against Parker during her trial: Mercy Wardwell, the daughter of the aforementioned Samuel Wardwell, and William Barker Jr. Mercy stated that Parker was a witch like her, likely to get some of the heat off of herself, and Barker Jr was another accused witch who also tried to throw the spotlight onto Parker, saying they had afflicted girls together. Even this meager testimony was enough to damn Parker, and she was sentenced to be executed.
Here are the fates of the others from this specific trial who were not eventually executed: Abigail Faulkner was convicted and sentenced to hang, but escaped the gallows much like Elizabeth Proctor due to pregnancy; Rebecca Eames and Mary Lacey, who confessed and were sentenced to death but managed to survive due to the timing of their eventual execution; Ann Foster, who was thrown under the bus by fellow accused witch and her own daughter Mary Lacy and found guilty but died in prison before her execution, and Abigail Hobbs, who we previously mentioned had confessed and pointed out others like John Proctor and George Burroughs as guilty of witchcraft, and was eventually granted a reprieve.
Those who arrived at Gallows Hill on September 22nd, however, would enjoy no such rescue. Martha Corey, Margaret Scott, Mary Easty, Alice Parker, Ann Pudeator, Willmott Redd, Samuel Wardwell, and Mary Parker all ascended the gallows and faced their deaths while declaring their innocence, but to no avail. Nicholas Noyes, Salem Town reverend and certified piece of shit, remarked “what a sad thing it is to see eight firebrands of hell hanging there”. These would be the last executions of the Salem Witch Trials, though this wasn’t known at the time.
So what finally brought about the end of the hysteria? Well, it wasn’t immediate. One of the beginnings of the end was soon after the final execution, on October 3rd 1692. On this day the father of Cotton Mather, Increase Mather, possibly the most influential minister in the colonies at that time and buddy of Massachusetts governor William Phips, publicly condemned the use of spectral evidence - that’s basically what the whole trials were based on, afflicted people saying invisible spirits attacked them, etcetera. Within the week, Phipps decided that this Increase guy was on to something, and he ordered that no spectral evidence could be admitted going forward in the trials, which completely hamstrung the afflicted girls’ testimonies. Perhaps the final nail in the coffin was Phipps’ own wife, Lady Mary Phipps, being accused of witchcraft in October - after all, when it’s your own family, it’s a lot easier to go whoa whoa whoa hey now! By the end of the month Phipps had prohibited further arrests, releasing many of the accused witches and formally dissolving the court of Oyer and Terminer. A Superior Court was established in late November to attempt to try the remaining witches, with Judge Stoughton ordering the execution of all who were exempted by pregnancy in January, but Phipps held firm and denied this order too, causing Stoughton to leave the bench. That month, almost all of the remaining prisoners were released due to their arrests being based on spectral evidence. Tituba was released and sold to a new master, and the final stragglers were released in May, pardoned by Phipps.
The years that followed were those of shock and PTSD. The first calls to justice for those accused and executed came soon after, with the first public declaration in 1695 by Quaker Thomas Maule, who wrote in his book Truth Held Forth and Maintained that, "it were better that one hundred Witches should live, than that one person be put to death for a witch, which is not a Witch". Despite it being post-trials, Maule was imprisoned for a year for publishing this book. In December 1696 the General Court ruled for a fast day on January 14th, 1697, to atone for the sins committed during the Trials. Cotton Mather published his Wonders of the Invisible World and Robert Calef published his response of collected correspondence, court records, and petitions, which he cheekily titled MORE Wonders of the Invisible World. Petitions were filed with the Massachusetts government in the early 1700s to get convictions formally reversed, which was passed in 1711 - these, though, were for survivors and not those executed. In 1706 Ann Putnam Jr, one of the most prominent accusers, publicly asked for forgiveness when she joined the Salem Village Church, saying she had been deluded by Satan into denouncing innocent people. Her membership - and apology, it seems - was accepted.
In 1957, many of the executed victims’ convictions were finally overturned, though due to phrasing this accidentally left out Bridget Bishop, Susannah Martin, Alice Parker, Wilmot Redd, and Margaret Scott. The official memorial was constructed in salem in 1992, including a ceremony with speakers like Arthur Miller and Elie Wiesel. On Halloween 2001, with a proclamation by the governor, all of the victims were finally proclaimed innocent. The site of Gallows Hill, a mystery until 2017, was finally determined using old maps and documentation as well as ground penetrating radar technology, and the area - known as Proctor’s Ledge - was created a memorial that year.
So, WHY did this happen? There are a lot of theories, but I’ll chat about one in particular because it’s so pervasive nowadays. This is the ergot theory. It was first put forward in 1976 by Dr. Linda Caporeal, who hypothesized that the trials occurred after an outbreak of rye ergot. Ergot is a fungus that forms hallucinogenic drugs within bread in the form of lysergic acid, which obviously can affect the minds of those who eat it, causing effects like paranoia and hallucinations, twitches and spasms, cardiovascular trouble, and stillborn children. Ergot also thrives in a cold winter followed by a wet spring, which some historians claim were the circumstances in 1691, which would have affected the rye harvested for 1692. There is a LOT of debate over the theory. According to Brittanica, “Many social psychologists insist that the actions of the girls can be attributed to social and political unrest and that ergotism doesn’t factor into certain social aspects that could explain what really happened.” Personally, I think it’s too pat of an explanation that doesn’t take enough into account of the other factors at work we’ve discussed over this series, the “Storm of Witchcraft”, including fears of Native American attack, terrible weather, interpersonal politics, and the boredom and hysteria of a core group of girls.
TALK ABOUT THEORY
That’s it for this episode of Ain’t It Scary with Sean and Carrie! Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter and Instagram @aintitscary, and check out our website at aintitscary.com. You can support the show by supporting our sponsors, and becoming a patron at www.patreon.com/aintitscary. And please, subscribe to the show and throw us a 5-star review on Apple Podcasts...we’ll be forever grateful. Thanks again to our sponsor for this episode, ThingsToDoInSalem.com, go and check them out for all of you Salem travel needs!
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