Archive for the ‘Salem Witch Trials’ Category:
Today’s installment of learning about the Salem witchcraft trials hanging victims of August 19, 1692 addresses the story of George Jacobs, Sr. through the eyes of comtemporary, local historian, David Goss:
Now the afflicted children were not only accusing women, they began to single out and accuse adult males as well. By May 1692, the girls had targeted some of the more prominent males in the Salem Village community, among them George Jacobs, Sr. Jacobs was a prosperous farmer who had lived in the Salem Farms area between Salem Town and Salem Village for thirty-five years. He was arrested on May 10, 1692. Simultaneously, his son George, Jr., his daughter-in-law Rebecca, and granddaughter Margaret were also accused. Four days after his arrest, he was brought before magistrate John Hathorne for questioning.
Initially Jacobs took the afflicted girls and their accusations too lightly, until he was confronted by his maidservant, Elizabeth Churchill, who testified that he had tempted her to sign the Devil’s Book. Mary Walcott, one of the afflicted children, also maintained that Jacobs had tempted her to sign the Devil’s Book, and threatened her with physical harm if she refused. Despite Jacobs’ alleged threats, both girls claimed to have resisted him.
In the face of these and other accusations, Jacobs maintained his innocence. In response to Justice Hathorne’s insistent badgering, he simply responded that concerning witchcraft: “I know not of it, any more than the child that was born tonight.” During his pretrial examination, Justice Corwin asked Jacobs to recite “The Lord’s Prayer.” It was generally believed that no witch could recite it perfectly. The old man, nervous and unlettered, omitted an entire sentence and made several other recitation errors. Knowing his mistake, and fearing the worst, he remarked bravely, “Well, burn me or hang me, I will stand in the truth of Christ.”
What makes the case of George Jacobs, Sr., especially tragic is that his granddaughter Margaret Jacobs, herself a confessed witch, named her grandfather as a co-conspirator along with Constable John Willard and Reverend George Burroughs. When Jacobs Sr. was finally tried for witchcraft in August 1692, Margaret Jacobs was one of nearly a dozen primary witnesses against him. Only after Jacobs’s death sentence was pronounced in court did Margaret have a change of heart and write to the magistrates to retract her testimony and her own confession as a witch. The result of this reversal was that Margaret was moved from the cell of the confessed witches and back to the cell of those awaiting trials and executions. She explained to her grandfather her feelings of regret for the part she had played in condemning him, and he forgave her.
Continuing our look at historians’ view of the five accused witches who were hanged on August 19, 1692, we turn to In the Devil’s Snare by Mary Beth Norton:
From Some Usual and Unusual Suspects, pages 182-183
Prominent among those accused in late May were two sisters, Mary Allen Toothaker of Billerica and Martha Allen Carrier of Andover. Martha Carrier, later termed by Cotton Mather the “Queen of Hell,” eventually became a key figure in the crisis, but Mary Toothaker, probably targeted primarily because of suspicions of her already-jailed husband Roger, aroused less concern. (Indeed, she may not have been arrested until late July, since the existing records in her case date from that period.)
Daughters of a large and prosperous family that settled in Andover before 1662, neither Mary nor Martha married well. Roger Toothaker, though a doctor, had only a small amount of inherited property, and and Thomas Carrier, Martha’s husband, was a young Welshman who fathered her first child before their marriage. Both couples live at first in Billerica. Although Mary and Roger remained there, the Carriers moved back to Andover, probably during the late summer or early fall of 1690. Unfortunately, they appear to have carried New England’s then-raging smallpox epidemic to the town- or at least the selectmen thought they did – and town officials ordered the family quarantined lest through “wicked carelessness” they spread the disease further. But that step came too late. Ultimately, the town’s vital records attributed ten deaths to the devastating illness; the deceased included four of Martha Carrier’s own relatives. Statements by the afflicted and her neighbors showed that gossip laid three additional deaths to her charge as well, and that people in both Billerica and Andover had suspected her of malefic activity for some time.
As had by then become commonplace, the interrogation of Martha Carrier, in front of “spectators Magistrates & others,” revolved around the statements and actions of the afflicted. Williams, Hubbard, Walcott and Warren complained of spectral torments; Putnam Jr. indicated that she had been struck with a pin; Sheldon saw “the black man”; and Lewis’s “violent fit” was cured by a touch test. Goody Carrier denied seeing any “black man,” though some of the afflicted said he was “wispering” [sic] in her ear. “You see you look upon them & they fall down,” observed Hathorne. “It is false the Devil is a liar,” Carrier retorted, and she boldly scolded the magistrate: “it is a shamefull [sic] thing that you should mind these folks that are out of their wits.”
The afflicted, exhibiting “the most intolerable out-cries & agonies,” alleged that she had “killed 13 at Andover,” claiming they saw “13 Ghosts” in the room. Finally, Samuel Parris recorded, “the Tortures of the afflicted was so great that there was no enduring of it, so that she was ordered away & to be bound hand & foot with all expedition.” As soon as that aim was effected, the afflicted had “strange & sodain ease.” And Parris added on more point that underscored the ongoing shift in power from the justices to the suffering teenagers: “Mary Walcot told the Magistrates that this woman told her she had been a witch this 40 years.” Evidently at the examination itself, Walcott had elicited a confession that Hathorne, Corwin, and Gedney had been powerless to obtain. The role of the afflicted in communicating with the invisible world had assumed such centrality in the legal proceedings that it was even encroaching on the magistrates’ function within the public space of the courtroom.
The end of this week marks a tragic anniversary in the Salem witch trial history. On August 19th, five people were put to death by hanging: George Burroughs, Martha Carrier, George Jacobs, John Proctor and John Willard. Historians have various perspectives on individuals involved in the events. In Salem Possessed, Boyer and Nissenbaum attempt to make sense of the intricate social connections between accused and accusers. Below I’ve transcribed the section describing the context in which John Willard found himself accused of witchcraft.
From Salem Possessed: The Social Origins of Witchcraft
Boyer & Nissenbaum, pages 195-198
It was sometime before 1690 that John Willard married Margaret Knight of Salem Village. Willard’s origins, like those of most of the other witches we have investigated, are frustratingly obscure. Circumstantial evidence links him to Major Simon Willard, one of the most prominent Massachusetts land speculators, town founders, and politicians of the mid-seventeenth century: for a time during his youth John Willard lived in Lancaster, where Major Willard owned a trading post (indeed, it was to Lancaster that he fled when accused of witchcraft in 1692); in the 1680’s, moreover, he resided with his wife in Groton, a town founded by Simon Willard; and he was frequently associated, in his land dealings in both communities, with men known to be Simon Willard’s sons. But published family histories have suppressed all reference to the man, and the best efforts of local historians and genealogists have failed to establish his precise connection with Simon Willard. If he was a relative – perhaps even a son? – of this rich and prominent man, he was an obscure and somehow ill-favored one.
Willard was not only an outsider to Salem Village but a newcomer to the Wilkins family, of which his wife was a third-generation member. This large and self-contained clan, including the seven children of old Bray Wilkins, together with numerous grandchildren, constituted almost a village unto itself on “Will’s Hill” in the extreme western part of Salem Village. The story of John Willard becomes comprehensible only when seen as a chapter in the story of the Wilkins family.
The Wilkinses, in their remote corner of Salem Village, had good reason to be chary of outsiders. Although they were devoting themselves exclusively to farming by the 1690’s, there had been a time when Bray Wilkins and his sons, like John and Nathaniel Putnam, had entertained visions of profitable involvement in the commercial and mercantile life of Salem Town. But (in a fiasco similar to that of the abortive Putnam iron-works) those visions had proven illusory. In 1658 Bray Wilkins, then living in Lynn, had joined with a tailor named John Gingell to purchase, on credit, a 700-acre tract of land around Will’s Hill. (the seller was Richard Bellingham, a Massachusetts politician and former governor who had received the land from the General Court in 1639 but never developed it.) Putting up houses and moving their families to this isolated region, Wilkins and Gingell soon began logging and timer-processing operations, converting the dense stands of oak and cedar into boards, shingles, marine supplies, and barrel staves. These they transported to Salem Town and sold to George Corwin, a leading merchant of the day. At first they prospered, with an annual production – as one of Bray Wilkins’ sons boasted to a friend in town – as high as 20,000 barrel staves and 6,000 feet of boards. But in terms of profitability, the operation was from the first a marginal one. Indeed, in 1661, Bray Wilkins – otherwise a notably upright man – was forced to steal some hay to feed the oxen with which he transported his timer to Salem Town. When Bray was brought to court, his defense was that he had been “in great want of hay, and knew not what shift to make.” His enterprise suffered a severe setback in the winter of 1664-65 when his house burned down.
Under such circumstances, Wilkins and Gingell found themselves unable to keep up with their mortgage payments, and in 1664 they returned to Bellingham two-thirds of the land they had been attempting to purchase. But even a reduced mortgage burden proved too heavy, and in June 1666, after Bellingham (once again governor of the colony) won a foreclosure action in county court, his lawyers began to seize the stock of shingles and other goods belonging to the hapless entrepreneurs. Bray Wilkins ultimately managed to pay off the mortgage and to hang on to his land, but his commercial dream had proven to be jus that and nothing more. By the 1680’s Bray and his sons had lapsed into the prosaic role of subsistence farmers on marginal land. As a family, the Wilkinses ranked near the bottom in the average per-capita Salem Village taxes assessed in the 1680’s and 1690’s. While not precisely impoverished, the family which in mid-century had launched itself with such hope upon the commercial seas found itself a generation later in very modest circumstances indeed.
For the Wilkins family, as for the Putnams, only the land itself had proven trustworthy, and the survival of Salem Village as a stable agricultural community was particularly important to them. Not surprisingly, the Wilkinses were second only to the Putnams in the extent and intensity of their support of the Salem Village autonomy movement. Bray Wilkins signed the various petitions of the 1660’s looking toward Village independence and (with Nathaniel Putnam) he led the 1679 effort to force the Reverend James Bayley from the Village. Between 1689 and 1691, eight men and women of the Wilkins family joined the Salem Village church, and in 1695 no fewer than eleven Wilkins signatures, including those of the eighty-five-year-old Bray and his wife, appeared on the pro-Parris petition. Only three Wilkinses are to be found on the anti-Parris petition: one of Bray’s younger sons, Thomas, together with Thomas’s wife and daughter. For reasons we cannot now recover (but possibly connected with his marriage to a niece of Rebecca Nurse), Thomas Wilkins had not joined in the family’s accusations against John Willard, and shortly after the witchcraft outbreak he had emerged as one of the four “dissenting brethren” who led the anti-Parris movement from within the church. Later, when Bray Wilkins died (having chosen his “loving friend” Thomas Putnam, Jr., as co-overseer of his estate) he virtually disinherited his turncoat of a son.
The decision of Bray’s granddaughter Margaret Knight to take an outsider for a husband had profound psychological ramifications for this tight-knit and economically marginal family. The seventh member of the third-generation Wilkinses to marry, she was the first to choose a spouse who was not from Salem Village. Her kinfolks’ uneasiness about John Willard must have been intensified when it became clear that he was interested in land speculation as well as in farming. In March 1690, with three partners, he purchased from the widow of George Corwin a large tract of land – “by estimation four or five hundred acres,” as the deed rather vaguely has it, lying just north of the Salem Village line. In the succeeding months, at least two substantial portions of this tract were sold off to new purchasers.
In 1692, The Wilkins family turned with particular ferocity against this outsider with his speculative bent. If Martha Cory and Rebecca Nurse were initially “family witches” in the household of Thomas Putnam, Jr., John Willard played a similar role for the Wilkins clan. The finger of witchcraft was pointed at him by no fewer than ten members of the family. In early May 1692, shortly after John Willard had been named by the afflicted girls, but before he was arrested, seventeen-year-old Daniel Wilkins was felled by a mysterious affliction from which he died the following week. At about the same time old Bray Wilkins was struck by a painful and alarming urinary difficulty. Both afflictions were blamed on John Willard. Not long afterwards, Ann Putnam, Sr., picked up the theme, accusing Willard of having murdered no fewer than thirteen Salem Villagers during his brief residence in the community.
John Willard himself seems to have been genuinely mystified by the intensity of feeling against him. When first accused he came to Bray Wilkins “greatly troubled” and asked this respected church member and family patriarch to pray with him – but the old man refused, pleading a prior engagement. Bray Wilkins had learned, over the years, that you cannot be too cautious in dealing with outsiders.
From A Delusion of Satan, Francis Hill
Key Persons Involved, page 219
“George Burroughs, noted for his physical strength despite his small stature, came to Salem Village as minister in 1680, at age twenty-eight. He was born into a well-to-do family in Suffolk, England, but was brought up by his mother in Roxbury, Massachusetts. Having graduated from Harvard in 1670, he preached in Falmouth, Maine, until an Indian attack in August 1676 forced him to flee to Massachusetts. After a period as minister in Salisbury, he came to Salem Village, where he buried his second wife and married his third. He remained in the village for less than three years, leaving after deep disagreements with Thomas Putnam and his allies. He returned to Main but in May 1692 was brought back to Salem Village a prisoner, having been arrested for witchcraft. His unusual strength was used against him as evidence of his complicity with the devil.”
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The Salem Witch Trials: A Day-By-Day Chronicle of a Community Under Siege by Marilynne K. Roach, page 201-202
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Between eight o’clock and noon, Sheriff George Corwin transported Rebecca Nurse, Susanna Martin, Elizabeth How, Sarah Good, and Sarah Wildes – all praying that God would prove their innocence – from prison by cart through the streets of Salem to be hanged. Quiet housewives or turbulent scolds, well-to-do or in rags, all five women now faced a painful, public death.
It was customary for the dying to attempt facing death in a spirit of forgiveness lest their souls appear before Heavenly judgment seething hatred. Sarah Good would have none of it. At the gallows Reverend Nicholas Noyes urged her to confess what the courts had seemingly proven and at least not die a liar. When she denied the guild, Noyes said she knew she was a witch.
“You are a liar,” she snapped. “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.” (The folk curse was loosely based on a verse in Revelation. People later remembered it when Noyes, it was said, died bleeding at the mouth when a blood vessel burst in his head.)
Rumors hinted that the Devil might attempt a last-minute rescue of his followers, but all five hanged as scheduled on the ledge above the tidal pool.
Joseph Ballard probably witnessed the executions on his way from Andover. Soon after, he entered a complaint in Salem before Magistrates Gedney, Corwin, Hathorne, and Higginson against Mary Lacy and her daughter Mary Jr. for tormenting his wife Elizabeth with “strange pains and pressures.” He even put up a £100 bond “on condition to prosecute.” (Plaintiffs customarily did this in civil suits, the sum forfeit if the plaintiff didn’t appear in court, but this is the first recorded bond in these witch cases where the accusations seem to have been treated as a public emergency.) The magistrates issued a warrant for only Goody Lacy, however, and not for her daughter.
The bodies of the dead, meantime, were buried (if only temporarily) near the rocky execution site. By family tradition the Nurses waited for darkness (sunset was about a quarter after seven) then rowed up the North River to the bend by the ledge and exhumed Rebecca’s body. According to another tradition Caleb Buffum (a distant relative) noticed this effort from his home nearby and helped carry the remains to the shore. From there a small craft could slip downstream past town on the midnight’s high tide, then north up the estuary to Crane River and along its narrowing length to the Nurses’ land, where they buried her privately on the homeground.
On the 319th anniversary of the hanging of Bridget Bishop we approached learning more about her story in a few unique ways. We spoke with Jenney Dale, the actor who portrays the first executed Salem witch trial victim in the History Alive! theatrical production of Cry Innocent.
We asked Ms. Dale what most captivated her about playing Bridget Bishop. “She was stubborn. I could identify with her outspoken nature, not wanting to go along with others’ definitions of how a person should act.” In some ways we still experience that today, but we have it so much easier than they did in 1692.” Being an outspoken woman certainly made her all the more suspect of being a witch, having endured years of town talk about her independent spirit.
Cry Innocent calls their audience to sit on the Puritan jury, hearing the reenacted historical testimonies from the pre-trial examinations, cross-examining the witnesses, and finally passing judgment themselves. Ms. Dale admits that sometimes the verdict is surprising. “It’s hard to tell which way they’ll go. But, I really want people to see the events through the eyes of Puritans,” so they can understand why the proceedings went as they did.
For more information about Cry Innocent, please click here or call their box office at: 978-867-4767
BRIDGET BISHOP, “alias Bridget Oliver”; Salem; born Bridget Playfer; married Samuel Wasselby 1660, then Thomas Oliver, lastly Edward Bishop; long suspected of witchcraft; tried, found guilty; hanged 10 June 1692; sentence reversed 2001.
1. a container of metal or refractory material employed for heating substances to high temperatures.
2. Metallurgy . a hollow area at the bottom of a furnace in which the metal collects.
3. a severe, searching test or trial.
From dictionary.com, based on the Random House Dictionary.
This play has inspired interest in the Salem trials since 1953. In it Arthur Miller “brilliantly explores the threshold between individual guilt and mass hysteria, personal spite and collective evil.” The DVD, filmed on location in Ipswich, is also available in our store.
Over the weekend Ann Putnam, Jr. continued to report being tortured by the apparition of Martha Corey, who was Giles Corey’s third wife and a full member of the Salem Village church. Ann’s uncle Edward Putnam and neighbor Ezekiel Cheever set out to investigate by asking young Ann about the specter’s clothing. She claimed she could not see the Invisible World that day, but only felt the torment.
When Edward and Ezekiel traveled on to find Martha Corey on her farm, she seemed to already know the purpose of their visit; “…Does she tell you what clothes I have on?” They explained that Ann had been blinded so no comparison between the specter’s clothing and her own physical attire could be made. Goody Corey was not intimidated.
Meanwhile, in Salem town, Martha’s phantom was reportedly plaguing Mary Warren, John and Elizabeth Proctor’s twenty-one year old servant. John Proctor had his own treatment for this affliction. He kept Mary spinning at the wheel and threatened to beat her if she had any more outbreaks. This method seemed to work until he had to leave the home for a day, and without his presence, she deteriorated back into fits.
Later in the weekend, Ann Putnam, Jr. claimed to be afflicted by yet another ghost, that of an indistinguishable woman. Her mother, Ann Putnam, Sr., and their maid Mercy Lewis – a refugee from the wars in Maine – hoped to discover the identity by suggesting a few names to the ill young girl. She confirmed that of Rebecca Nurse who, though a member of the Salem town church, often attended Village meetings, which was closer to her family farm.
By Monday, Abigail Williams said the invisible forces of Martha Corey and Elizabeth Proctor were causing her convulsions. Giles Corey had reported that one of his oxen was unable to rise and work though it had walked moments before. Later the ox rose and stood as if nothing had been wrong. Then his cat seemed to become ill as if on the verge of death. Martha recommended hitting the creature on the head, but Giles refused and the cat recuperated as inexplicably as the ox.
Giles Corey had a checkered reputation himself: it had been evidenced that he’d stolen dry goods from Justice Corwin’s father and rumored that he’d beaten a handyman to death. Giles had a few run-ins with his neighbor Robert Moulton who called him “contentious” and “quarrelsome” and went as far as accusing him of stealing twelve bushels of apples. John Proctor had accused Corey of setting fire to his house, and the two sued each other until it was discovered that the true culprit had been one of Proctor’s own sons who confessed to the accident.
In 1692, as today, March 9th fell on a Wednesday. According to Marilynne Roach’s the Salem Witch Trials: A Day-By-Day Chronicle of a Community Under Siege the infamous events continued to unfold as the afflicted girls maintained being harassed by the “vengeful specters” of Goodwives Good and Osborn. Since Tituba’s confession, her spirit was no longer reported to be torturing the young girls.
All three earthly women, however, were serving their third day in a Boston jail. Since most capital trials were held in Boston, Sarah Good, Sarah Osborne and Tituba were transported there earlier that week from Salem town jail, a trip that would have taken all day. John Arnold, prison keeper, took custody of the women on March 7th.
The basic fee was two shillings, sixpence a week – about as much as a woman could hope to earn in a week – plus processing fees and fees for shackles. Boston’s jail seemed to be an open common room bordered by smaller rooms where some of the prisoners were locked at night (and from which some escaped by removing the window bars). Like the smaller Essex County jails, it was set inside a fenced yard that less dangerous prisoners could exercise in. Wealthy prisoners could even rent a room in the prison keeper’s house and attend religious meetings under guard. It is not clear if any of the rooms were underground, although there may have been windowless inner rooms. References to “dungeons” may be metaphorical, synonymous with “close confinement” or “close prison,” a term an earlier prisoner used when confined full-time to a room with an exterior window. Even then the jails, intended to hold prisoners only temporarily, were hot in summer and cold in winter, infested with lice, and stank at all times of dung and tobacco. Prisons, as one visiting Englishman said a few years before, were “suburbs of Hell” (Roach 35).
Roach, Marilynne K. Salem Witch Trials: A Day-By-Day Chronicle of a Community Under Siege. Cooper Square Press. New York. 2002.