Has there ever been anything like the Salem Witch Trials in our world’s history? Certainly not in the Americas. The hunting and killing of witches goes back centuries, with a witchcraft frenzy rippling through Europe from the 1300s to the end of the 1600s. Tens of thousands of supposed witches, mostly women, were executed. But for the small colonial Massachusetts town, the winding down of witch hunts in Europe seemed to almost fan the flames, where Devil worship and women given the power to harm others were thought to lurk through the region.
History of the Salem Witch Trials
In 1689 England and France were warring- not in Europe, but rather here in the colonies. Fighting tore up the colonial settlers in both the United States and Eastern Canada, and refugees began evacuating and moving south. Many stopped in Salem Village, which is now called Danvers, Massachusetts. Colonial Salem Town, 25 miles to the Northwest, is the city now known as Salem.
Danvers, which officially changed its name 63 years after the trials, was renamed for settler Danvers Osborn, an outspoken proponent for King George 2 and the Royal Governor for the Province of New York. Sadly, Danvers arrived in New York on October 6, assumed office on October 10th, and killed himself either late October 11th or early October 12th, as his body was found hanging in the garden of the house he was staying in. Danvers was known for speaking up for the settlers in English Parliament, regulation for local trade and a myriad other local matters. He brought pride to the area, and his death was attributed to his decade-long depression over his wife’s death while giving birth to their second child. Danvers death came a year after Salem Village had changed its name. The change was to set a distance between the horrific acts that were being committed.
But let’s get back to the trials themselves, rather than take side roads, we have a lot to cover tonight.
Refugees were swarming down into Salem Village, which put a huge strain on their resources. There already existed a riff between the wealthy families in the area who had ties to shipping and the local port, and those who lived on what they could raise from the land. The area’s first ordained minister, the Reverend Samuel Parris, arrived in 1689, and he was immediately disliked for his rigid ways and greedy nature.
Puritan villagers believe all quarreling was the work of the Devil, so it wasn’t hard when 3 short years later, the Reverend’s daughter Elizabeth Parris, who was 9, and his niece Abigail Williams, age 11 started “having fits”. It is said that just before the fits, the girls were telling their fortunes by the light of the fire. English superstition claimed that if you cracked an egg into a glass of water you would see it settle into a shape= the shape predicting the profession of your future husband. Being Puritan, however, the practice was forbidden, but the girls proceeded anyway. Apparently the egg took shape in the form of a coffin before the girls were “struck dumb”.
The girls screamed, threw things, made strange sounds, barked like dogs, and one tried crawling into the fireplace while the other began screaming that the Devil was after her. They contorted themselves into odd positions and throw themselves on the floor. A local doctor said it was due to supernatural forces. Then a few weeks later another girl, Ann Putnam, age 11, began having similar issues. Salem Town Magistrates Jonathan Corwin and John Hathorne, now having gotten involved, pressured the girls to say who was affecting them with such conflictions.
The girls, under duress, eventually blamed three women for their afflictions: the Reverend’s Caribbean slave, Tituba, a homeless beggar named Sarah Good, and an elderly impoverished woman named Sarah Osborne.
The women were hauled to Salem Town and interrogated for days. Osborne and Good both proclaimed their innocence, but the slave girl confessed that “The Devil came to me and bid me serve him.” She described images of black dogs, red cats, yellow birds and a black man who wanted her to sign his book. She admitted to signing the book and said there were several other witches in town that wanted to destroy the Puritans. She claimed that she and her two fellow prisoners rode on sticks and that two rats had hold her to serve them.
All three were promptly put back into the Salem Town jail, though Tituba, in recognition that she confessed her sins, and her was spared execution and was pardoned.
The floodgates opened up over the next few months, with charges going up against Martha Corey, a loyal member of the Salem Village Church. This horrified the community, because if good Martha Corey could be a witch, then anyone could. More and more girls were having fits, claiming to see “witches flying through the summer mist”, and claiming to find “poppets” which were little dolls made to represent a person for casting spells into. Witches familiars were being spotted, as well as specters and spirits hovering in midair, demanding the girls sign the Devil’s Book.
In total, ten girls were afflicted, though 25-year old Sarah Churchill and 18-year old Mary Warren were also both accusers and confessors. By confessing to witchcraft allowed them both a pardon, as long as they pointed out another witch.
Sarah Good’s 4-year old daughter, Dorothy, was even interviewed, and her hesitant answers were twisted into a confession against her mother. It was at this point that the Deputy Governor, Thomas Danforth and his assistants began attending the hearings. Dozens of people from Salem and Massachusetts villages were hauled in for questioning.
The Governor ordered a Special Court and Terminer to hear and decide on the cases for the local counties. The accused would have to speak for themselves, as none were allowed the luxury of a lawyer.
First to be hauled in from of the special court was an older woman thought of as promiscuous as she had been married three times and was a gossip. When questioned, Bridget Bishop responded, “I am as innocent as the child unborn.” It isn’t known what other defense was given, but she was found guilty and on June 10th, 1692 was the first person to be hanged.
5 days later, a local respected minister named Cotton Mather wrote a letter imploring the court to not use spectral evidence or testimony about dreams and visions.
The plea was ignored, and 5 people were sentenced and hung in July, 5 more in August and 8 in September.
Cotton Mather’s father, Increase Mather, who was the president of Harvard, also denounced the use of spectral evidence, saying, “It were better that ten suspected witches should escape than one innocent person be condemned.”
The Governor, William Phips, whose own wife Mary was questioned for witchcraft, prohibited further arrests, released many of the accused witches, and dissolved the Court of Oyer and Terminator on October 29th. The Governor then replaced them with a Superior Court of Judicature, which refused to allow spectral evidence, and only ended up condemning 3 out of 56 defendants.
Phips ended up pardoning all of those who had been imprisoned in May of 1693, but by then it was too late. 19 women had been hanged, a 71-year old man was pressed to death with heavy stones, several people had died in jail and nearly 200 people in total had been accused of practicing “the Devil’s magic”. Two dogs were even hanged as children said they gave them the “evil eye”.
Afterwards, many of those involved, including Judge Samuel Sewall, publicly confessed their error and guilt. January 14, 1697 the General Court ordered a day of fasting and soul-searching over the tragedy. In 1702, the court declared the trials as unlawful. In 1711 the colony passed a bill restoring the rights and good names of those who had been accused, and granted a 600 pound restitution to be paid to any heirs. It wasn’t until more than 250 years later that the state formally apologized for the events in 1692.
The circumstances surrounding the Salem Witch Trials continues to fascinate even today. Studies have been published, including one published in Science magazine in 1976 by a psychologist named Linnda Caporael, who blamed the accusers’ afflictions to a fungus called ergot, which is found in rye, wheat and other cereal grasses. Toxicologists have reported that ergot-contaminated foods can cause muscle spasms, vomiting, delusions and hallucinations. Ergot thrives in warm and damp, which was plentiful as the local rye was grown in the local swampy meadows.
Deemed as the most notorious mass hysteria cases in Colonial America, many historians believe the lasting effects of the trials to have been of great influence in United States history. George Lincoln Burr has been quoted as stating that “the Salem witchcraft was the rock on which the theocracy shattered.”
Thoughts of a Memorial
A memorial had been considered for Gallows Hill back in 1892, in time for the 200th anniversary, but was scrapped. The monument would have been formed of a 45’ high stone lookout tower placed on top of the hill. Bronze tablets with the names of the “martyrs” would be attached. Supporters for the monument believed the memorial would helpfully instruct the thousands of annual visitors of the lessons to be learned from the delusions of the Witch Trials. Opponents, however, believed that the whole affair “ought to be case into oblivion as too horrible to contemplate; a shame on Salem and the community.”
There were also fears that it might offend some of the old families in the town whose ancestors had participated in the prosecution and execution of witches. Nathanial Hawthorne, a descendant of Judge Hathorne, lamented to the fact that there was no memorial on Gallows Hill in an 1835 essay that he titled, “Alice Doane’s Appeal”.
“At that season, to a distant spectator, the hill appears absolutely overlaid with gold, or covered with a glory of sunshine, even beneath a clouded sky. But the curious wanderer on the hill will perceive that all the grass, and everything that should nourish man or beast, has been destroyed by this vile and ineradicable weed: its tufted roots make the soil their own, and permit nothing else to vegetate among them; so that a physical curse may be said to have blasted the spot, where guilt and frenzy consummated the most execrable scene that our history blushes to record. For this was the field where the superstition won her darkest triumph; the high place where our fathers set up their shame, to the mournful gaze of generations far remote. The dust of martyrs was beneath our feet. We stood on Gallows Hill, Yet, ere we left the hill, we could not but regret that there is nothing on its barren summit, no relic of old, nor lettered stone of later days, to assist the imagination in appealing to the heart. We build the memorial column on the height which our fathers made sacred with their blood, poured out in a holy cause. And here, in dark, funereal stone, should rise another monument, sadly commemorative of the errors of an earlier race, and not to be cast down, while the human heart has one infirmity that may result in crime.”
The Salem City Council debated another memorial in 1931, but decided against the $1000 needed to build the project. 5 years later, Thomas Gannon, who owned the hill, gave the city the deed to a strip of land to build a memorial on. They took the deeded land, but never built the monument.
It wasn’t until the 300th anniversary in 1992, that the city finally agreed, and asked Nobel Peace Prize winner, Elie Weisel to dedicate a park and memorial to the tragedy. It consists of 20 granite benches surrounded by a low stone wall. Each bench is engraved with the names of the 20 victims of the trials, along with the date of their execution The stone slabs in the entry to the memorial are inscribed with the victim’s protests, which were taken directly from the court records. The inscriptions read:
“For now my life lies in your hands”
“On my dying day, I am no witch”
“God knows I am innocent”
“Oh Lord help me”
“I am wholly innocent of such wickedness”
“If I would confess I should save my life”
“I do plead not guilty”
The site also holds numerous black locust trees planted on the grounds of the memorial, which was believed to be the type of tree the victims were hung from. The memorial park sits next to the Old Burying Point cemetery where the Salem Witch Judge John Hathorne is buried, as well as many other Salem residents from that era, rather than on Gallows Hill itself.
The Real Place Hangings Took Place
That turns out to be a good thing that they held out on the memorial, as in January of 2016 the University of Virginia’s Gallows Hill Project team of 7 scholars determined that the site of execution was not the place everyone thought. The local tall hill thought to be where the witches were hung had been called Gallows Hill for ages, but the team instead found that a small outcrop closer to the center of town called Proctor’s Ledge is the actual execution site, as it was in close proximity for the public to view the hangings, as it was a spectacle that drew in pretty much the entire village, despite age.
The site for the hangings was never officially named in the records, so the team went into personal journals and what court documents did record, in order to pinpoint the location. It wasn’t such a shock, said Emerson “Tad” Baker, a history professor at Salem State University. In the early 1900’s historian Sidney Perley conducted his own research and settled on Proctor’s Rock. Perley lacked technological proof, however, so the team researched records for 5 years, using court record descriptions, maps, ground-penetrating radar, aerial photographs, and individual personal records.
The ledge itself is a wooded, city owned area that sits at Proctor and Pope streets and has basically been described as a “rocky ledge at the base of the hill”. It sits in a residential area, and the back of various homes all look out onto the area. The owners of which are not pleased with the attraction the area has had since the news of its location broke. The majority of the ledge itself is accessible, but some is considered private property and should be treated with respect.
Testimony of Location
And there isn’t anything to find there anyway. The bodies of the condemned were cut down and tossed into crevices within the rock, had a little dirt tossed on top of them and then left to rot. It was considered taboo to touch a dead witch, and family members would have to wait until the cover of darkness to sneak in to claim their family members’ remains and carry them off to be buried properly. No records exist that we have heard of that says what the town inhabitants thought of the bodies disappearing in the night, but there had to have been an element of understanding that the families would want to bury their dead as a last sign of respect. No one else would have certainly helped them with the task though.
As for the most convincing evidence that Proctor’s Ledge was the real site of execution, there were a few lines of eyewitness testimony in the August 19, 1692 records. Defendant Rebecca Eames, who had been on her way to the court in custody of guards, travelled along the Boston Road, which ran just below the execution site.
When she appeared a few hours later at the Salem court for a preliminary examination, the magistrate asked her whether she had witnessed the execution that took place earlier that morning as she was passing by. She explained that she was at “the house below the hill” and that she saw some “folks” at the execution. Marilynne Roach, from the research team, determined that the house below the hill was most likely the McCarter House, which originally stood at 19 Boston Street, or one of its neighbors.
A Professor named Benjamin Ray conducted research that pinpointed the McCarter’s house location and worked with geographic information system specialist, Chris Gist, of the University of Virginia’s Scholars Lab. It was determined that if a personal was standing at the site of the McCarter house, they would clearly be able to see the top of Proctor’s Ledge.
More on Gallows Hill
Gallows Hill didn’t work for several reasons- eight victims were hanged on Sept 22nd, being driven by cart to the site of their execution. It wouldn’t have been possible to get a cart loaded with 8 victims up its steep and rocky slope which lacked a road.
As executions were public events, while Gallows Hill was certainly prominent, it would have been a difficult hike to get to the top for everyone who would have attended. Also, there is no word in the records of a gallows being built, and ground-penetrating radar there indicated there was only a few small cracks in the ledge and that the soil is less than 3’ deep, which would not be deep enough to drop a body.
Family oral traditions tell of the victim’s families coming in the night to collect the remains, one stating he did so as a youth in order to bury his mother. The young man quietly paddled his boat from the family pond to where it intersected with the local river under the dead of night. He managed to get to the ledge unseen and recovered his mother’s body, terrified the entire time that he would be heard and killed, for touching the body of a deceased witch would supposedly be penalized with death as you had just come into contact with the Devil’s own and could be claimed as his.
This definitely supports that Proctor’s Ledge was the execution site, as the river originally did run by the spot years ago, but has since been redirected. There has never been record of any waterway close to Gallows Hill.
So who all was part of the tragedy?
The main accusers, or afflicted, included:
Elizabeth Booth (who at 16 was accused of being a witch, and at 18 accused at least 10 others of witchcraft),
Elizabeth Hubbard, 18, who was orphaned and living with her uncle, local physician, William Griggs.
Mercy Lewis, a former refugee to the area and a 17-year old servant of Thomas Putnam.
Betty Parris, the 11-year old daughter of the Reverend Samuel Parris.Ann Putnam, Jr, the daughter of Thomas and Ann Putnam.
Mary Warren, 18-years old and a servant for the Proctors.
Abigail Williams, the 11 or 12 year old cousin of Betty Parris.
Other accusers (including accused witches who “confessed” and outed others were:
Benjamin Abbot, a local carpenter, who accused Martha Carrier of witchcraft, claiming that she caused his foot to swell, and that his foot healed shortly after her arrest.
Sarah Bibber, a 36-year old who was accused of witchcraft and pointed the finger against 15 others
Deliverance Dane, whose father-in-law was the Reverend Francis Dane. Dane was outspoken against the trials and, possibly in retribution, both of his daughters, Abigail Faulkner and Elizabeth Johnson were also accused. Most of Deliverance’s records have been lost, but she has been quoted as saying that she and some other witches had brought her father-in-law’s specter along with them to torment the afflicted. Luckily for him, Deliverance’s accusation was ignored and the Reverend was not arrested. Deliverance, however, for her confession, escaped the noose.
Thomas Putnam, was a significant accuser in the trials. His father, Lt. Thomas Putnam Sr, was one of Salem’s wealthiest residents. As Thomas was excluded from major inheritances by both his father and father-in-law, he and his daughter issued accusations against many members of his half-brother’s family, as his half-brother is who inherited the estates. Thomas Putnam himself if responsible for accusing 43 people, while his daughter accused 62.
Samuel Preston Sr accused a woman named Martha Carrier saying “that about 2 years since I had some difference with Martha Carrier which also happened several times before and soon after I lost a cow in a strange manner being cast upon her back with her heels up in firm ground when she was very lusty, is being June. Within about a month after this the said Martha and I had some difference again at which time she told me I had lost a cow lately and it would not or should not be long before I should lose another, which accordingly came to pass, for I had a cow that was well kept with English Hay and I could not perceive that she ailed anything and yet she pined and quickly lay down as if she was asleep and died…” Martha, the accused, was hung for a witch on August 19, 1692.
We can’t forget those who died while imprisoned before they could be hanged:
Ann Foster, age 75
Ann was claimed to cause a fever in a woman named Elizabeth Ballard
When two of the afflicted girls were brought to Ann’s village of Andover, they fell into fits at the sight of her.
Ann’s daughter, Mary Foster Lacey and granddaughter, Mary Lacey Kemp were accused of witchcraft themselves.
Ann resisted confessing, despite being tortured, but her resolve broke when her daughter accused Ann of the crime in order to save herself and the granddaughter. At that point Ann confessed, likely to protect both of the younger women.
Ann died in the Salem jail of December 3. 1692, having already been imprisoned for 21 weeks before her trial ended.
Sarah Osborne died in custody on May 10, 1692
Sarah was accused of afflicting young Betty Parris with an unknown illness.
Betty also claimed Osborne pinched her and poked her with knitting needles.
Osborne hadn’t attended church for nearly three years due to her own long illness, and was dealing with legal issues with the Putnam family regarding her 150-acre farm. It has been thought that the accusations by Betty Parris were suggested by the Putnams to turn the legal matter in their favor.
Sarah was incarcerated months before her death and died at the age of 49
The condemned, hung as witches on Proctor’s Ledge…
we’ll cover them by date of execution.
Only one person was killed on June 10, 1692
Bridget Bishop, age 59
Her spectral shape would pinch, choke and bite the girls
Others stated she could harm them just by glancing at them
A woman claimed that Bishop’s apparition tore her coat
Samuel Shattuck claimed she asked him to dye a piece of lace, which was too small to be used on anything other than a poppet. He also claimed she bewitched his child and struck his son with a spade.
After Samuel’s claim, John and William Bly, father and son, testified about finding poppets in her house, while not stating why they had been in her home to begin with. They also claimed their cat was bewitched or poisoned after a dispute with Bishop.
Richard Coman accused her of taking hold of their throats and ripping he and his wife from their beds.
Even Bishop’s own husband claimed she praised the Devil.
5 were killed on July 19, 1692
Sarah Good, who had just turned 39
Sarah was accused of biting and pinching young girls and scorning them instead of leading them towards the path of salvation.
Her husband, who disliked how she met his expectations as a wife claimed that he feared she was a witch due to her “bad carriage to him”
As she challenged Puritan values, she was accused of possessing two women
One of the so-called afflicted girls claimed Sarah had attacked her with a knife, and produced a piece of it, saying it had broken off while she fought Sarah off, but a young townsmen then stood and said the piece had broken off of his own knife the day before with the girl as witness and she had then pocketed the broken piece. The girl was simply scolded for exaggeration, but her words were still taken as truth.
Rebecca Nurse, age 71
Edward and John Putnam accused Nurse of witchcraft, though much of the community spoke on her behalf due to her kind and forgiving nature.
Nurse was actually found “not guilty” by the jury, but the Putnam’s and the afflicted girls gave an outcry. The jury asked if they could deliberate again and Nurse was then questioned about her relationship with fellow accused witch, Deliverance Hobbs, as she had claimed Deliverance was “one of her company”. Being hard of hearing at her age, Nurse later claimed that the comment was made as she was referring to the women as a fellow accused person, and not stating that they had both signed a pact with the Devil. It didn’t matter the reasoning behind her answer, as the jury swiftly came back and claimed Rebecca guilty.
14 years later, in 1706, accuser Ann Putnam Jr gave a public church confession when she joined the Salem Village congregation. In it she admitted her role against Rebecca and her two sisters, Mary Eastey and Sarah Cloyce.
“I desire to be humbled before God for that sad and humbling providence that befell my father’s family in the year about ’92; that I, being in my childhood, should, by such a provenance of God, be made an instrument for the accusing of several persons of a grievous crime, whereby their lives were taken from them, whom now I have just grounds and good reason to believe they were innocent persons; and that it was a great delusion of Satan that deceived me in that sad time, whereby I justly fear I have been instrumental, with others, though ignorantly and unwittingly, to bring upon myself and this land the guilt of innocent blood: though what was said or done by me against any person I can truly and uprightly say, before God and man, I did it not out of any anger, malice or ill-will to any person, for I had no such thing against one of them; but what I did was ignorantly, being deluded by Satan. And particularly, as I was a chief instrument of accusing Goodwife Nurse and her two sisters, I desire to lie in the dust, and to be humbled for it, in that I was a cause, with others, of so sad a calamity to them and their families; for which cause I desire to lie in the dust, and earnestly beg forgiveness of God, and from all those unto whom I have given just cause of sorrow and offense, who relations were taken away or accused.”
Nurse’s family accepted Ann’s apology and reconciled with her, however they never forgave Samuel Parris, the village minister, whom they held personally to blame for their bereavement. They did not rest until Parris was finally removed from office in 1697.
Elizabeth Howe, age 45
Howe was primarily accused by the Perley family, whose 10-year old daughter complained of being pricked by pins. In her parent’s accusation, they quoted their daughter as saying, “I could never afflict a dog as Good Howe afflicts me”.
Her parents didn’t believe her at first, until doctors told them their daughter was under the influence of an evil hand. Her condition continued to worsen for two or three years until “she pined away to skin and bones and ended her sorrowful life.”
It didn’t help that the family cow suddenly became crazed, ran into a pond and drowned itself right after they managed to keep Elizabeth out of their church.
Mercy Lewis, Mary Walcott, Ann Putnam, Jr, Abigail Williams and Mary Warren all claimed to be afflicted, though Mary Warren later recanted, claiming she and the other girls were all lying. The afflicted girls turned on Mary and accused her of being a witch. In the end, Mary saved her own life by switching sides again, and accusing her employer, John Proctor and his wife, of “certain deeds” though she never outright called them witch or wizard.
During the trial, when asked how she pleaded to the charges made against her, Elizabeth boldly responded, “If it was the last moment I was to live, God knows I am innocent of any thing of this nature.”
Susannah Martin, age 70 or 71
A pious woman who quoted the Bible freely, Susannah was accused by Joseph and Jarvis Ring of attempting to recruit them into witchcraft, as well as John Allen of nearby Salisbury, who claimed she bewitched his oxen and drove them into the nearby river where they later drowned.
During her trial the afflicted girls put on a show. As soon as she walked into the space, Mercy had fits.
The Magistrate then asked “Do you know this woman?”
Abigail answered, “It is Goody Martin, she hath hurt me often.”
The others, due to their fits, were unable to answer, but Mercy pointed at her and Ann threw her glove.
The magistrate demanded to know why she had laughed at it.
Susannah replied “Well I may at such folly.”
The magistrate asked, “Is this folly? The hurt of persons?”
Susannah answered, “I never hurt man or woman or child.”
Mercy, “She hath hurt me a great many times and pulls me down.”
To which Susannah laughed again.
It didn’t help her case.
Susannah was also twice forced to have a physical examination for “witch’s tit or physical protuberance which might give milk to a familiar.”
No such deformities were found, but it was noted that “in the morning her nipples were 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.” Authorities considered this an indication that she was being visited by a witch’s familiar and it was clear evidence of her guilt.
Sarah Wildes, age 65
A complaint by Thomas Putnam stated that his daughter, as well as other afflicted girls were being tortured by witchcraft. As such, Sarah was arrested along with her stepdaughter, her stepdaughter’s husband and six others. Putnam was related to the Gould family, who were upset when Sarah married John Wildes only 7 months after his first wife, a Gould, had died. John had also testified against his former brother-in-law in a treason trial. John also happened to be a surveyor, and during a border dispute, his opinion settled things against the town of Salem’s favor.
One of Sarah’s stepsons was known in the area for strange behavior, which could have been mental distraction or, as claimed during her trial, as possession by the devil. Another stepson, known for his honesty, had supposedly gone to a neighbor and claimed that Sarah was a witch. The first son died in the war, and the second died at a young age, so neither was able to substantiate or refute the Putnam’s claims at the time.
Sarah had a reputation as a non-conformist and considered glamorous and forward as a young woman. In her youth she was sentenced to be whipped for fornication, and in her middle years was charged for wearing a silk scarf.
During the trial young Ann Putnam even accused Sarah of killing Thomas Dorman’s cattle and geese, which was a surprise to Dorman when he heard this, as his livestock had actually frozen to death several years earlier.
Deliverance Hobbs, who had been arrested at the same time, wound up saving herself by making a confession that Sarah’s apparition had nearly torn her to pieces as she lay in bed. Sarah eventually recruited her to attend a black mass and only offered to stop tormenting her and reward her with clothing if she signed the Devil’s Book.
Sarah’s stepdaughter, Phoebe Wildes Day was arrested in September of 1692, but there are no records of her ever going to trial. Stepdaughter Sarah Wildes Bishop and her husband Edward, who had been arrested along with Sarah managed to escape their captors while being transferred between prisons.
5 more were killed on August 19, 1692
Reverend George Burroughs, age 42.
The Reverend’s accusation rose from personal enemies in his former congregation who had sued him for debt.
The was found guilty based on his feats of strength, such as lifting a heavy musket by inserting a finger into the barrel, which was considered as impossible without some diabolical assistance.
He failed to baptize his children or to attend communion, and was suspected of killing his wives by witchcraft. While witchcraft was clearly not involved, there is evidence that he treated them badly.
The Reverend maintained his innocence and, while standing on the ladder before the crowd awaiting his turn to swing, he reciting the Lord Prayer.
George Jacobs Sr, age 83
Jacobs’ son was also accused but evaded arrest. His accusers included his daughter-in-law and his granddaughter, the granddaughter having accused him in order to save her own life as she had also been accused of being a witch.
It appears no one ever went back for Jacobs’ body to bury it properly as he was left in the crevice near where he was hung. His bones were held for decades in a drawer at the Danvers Historical Society, but in 1992, during the 300th anniversary celebration he was buried in the Nurse Graveyard, named for Rebecca Nurse, who was also killed as a witch. The graveyard is located on her old homestead and is maintained as a historic site.
Martha Carrier, age 33
Martha was accused of being in league with the devil not only by the afflicted girls, but also by her neighbors and her own children, with the afflicted girls accusing her of leading a 300-strong witch army and using her occult powers to murder and afflict others with terrible diseases, as a smallpox epidemic had come to town.
She was also said to have been promised the position of “Queen of Hell” by the Devil.
This wasn’t her first accusation of witchcraft, however. Her original accuser, from her town of nearby Andover, was neighbor Benjamin Abbott who accused her of bewitching him with sickness after they had gotten into an argument involving a land dispute. She was taken to jail and kept in chains in order to keep her spirit from roaming. Her 18-year old son, Richard and 7-year old daughter Sarah were arrested and thrown into jail as well under the hopes that seeing her children suffer would make her confess.
When brought to Salem for trial, the afflicted girls went into their act, and neighbors were called forward to air their grievances.
One such witness claimed that Martha’s witchcraft caused him to lose a fistfight against her son. Others claimed the loss of livestock after disagreements.
Martha’s two children, however, was the final nail in her case when they claimed she made them become witches to haunt others at her direction. Later, John Proctor wrote to governor William Phips that he witnessed the childrens’ torture in the jail where he was also imprisoned. He claimed the children were hung by their heels “until the blood was ready to come out of their noses” until they were ready to say what their interrogators wanted to hear.
Throughout the process, Martha remained defiant and stubborn. She did not confess to save her life, though others being tried as well jumped to name Martha as their principal ringleader in return for clemency. She then accused the court of complicity in plotting for her guilty verdict.
To the end, as she was lined up alongside the four men hung with her that day, she was clearly heard asserting her innocence and refusing to confess to “a falsehood so filthy.”
Her body was dragged to a common crevice in the ground, tossed in alongside the bodies of George Burroughs and John Willard.
John Proctor, age 59
Initially accusations were aimed at John’s third wife, Elizabeth. When he defended her and expressed his disbelief in the accusers, they turned on him as well.
Affected girl Abigail Williams was his primary accuser, alongside Mary Walcott who stated he tried to choke her and his former servant, Mary Warren. Warren testified that Proctor had beaten her for putting up a prayer bill and then forced her to touch the Devil’s Book.
32 neighbors signed a petition in his favor stating Proctor had lived “a Christian life in his family and was ever ready to help such as they stood in need.”
A wealthy man, the Proctors belongings and household was seized by the sheriff. Their cattle was sold cheaply, their tavern was emptied of beer and their children were left with no means of support.
Proctor was hanged, but his wife, Elizabeth, was given a reprieve as she was pregnant. By the time she gave birth, the trials had ended and she was released. Given that she had been legally convicted, the law did not recognize her claims to her husband’s estate as she was considered legally a “dead woman”. Eventually she remarried and became legally recognized amongst the living, though there was no estate remaining of her former husband’s by that time.
Richard: John Willard, age estimated at 35
John was disapproved of by the Wilkins family when he proposed marriage to their daughter, Margaret. Mostly this was because John was a land speculator, and Margaret’s father had a failed venture with a speculator decades before, losing 2/3 of his land holdings and narrowly missed being foreclosed on what little remained. He didn’t like the idea of his daughter associating with anyone of that profession, let alone marry them.
Initially John worked as a farm hand on the Putnam farm, where one of his tasks was to look after the young children. The Putnams had recently given birth to a baby girl they named Sarah, but she died after a few months. Poor John was blamed for the infant’s death and let left the job, eventually being hired on as a constable of the town. Once the witch trials started, however, John left the post and publicly denounced the girls’ accusations towards their neighbors.
It was then that afflicted Ann Putnam accused John of witchcraft, claiming his specter was appearing to her and admitting to her that he was culpable in several murders, including that of her infant sister, and that she told his apparition, “I am very sorry to see you so. You were the one that helped to tend me, and now you have come to afflict me.”
During her testimony she would claim John “set upon me most dreadfully” and had admitted to her that “he had whipped my little sister Sarah to death and he would whip me to death if I would not write in his book.” She later claimed to see the apparition of her dead infant sister who was “crying out for vengeance against John” along with the specter of his first wife, who apparently declared that John had caused her death as well.
John’s own family began accusing him, starting with cousin Bray Wilkins, who was dating fellow afflicted girl Mercy Lewis at the time, and later testified that while on a trip to Boston, John had “looked upon me in such a sort as I have never before discerned in anybody.” Bray was suffering from painful attacks at the time and said “I cannot express the misery I was in, for my water was suddenly stopped, and I had no benefit of nature, but was like a man on a rack.” He also stated, “I am afraid the Willard has done me wrong.”
Back in Salem Village, another cousin, Daniel Wilkins, had also fallen ill. Dr. Griggs, who was caring for the young man apparently affirmed that “his sickness was by some preternatural cause” and that nothing he could give the boy would help. Mercy Lewis then stepped in, claiming that she saw “the apparition of John Willard” afflicting Daniel. Ann Putnam stepped up and claimed she also saw the same thing, and with that John fled to the town of Lancaster.
Bray returned home, still in “grievous pain in the small of my belly”. Mercy Lewis, who was there with him stated that she saw John’s apparition attacking young Daniel and that John told her, “I will kill him within two days.” Mercy’s prediction came true and two days later young Daniel died. John was found in Lancaster and hauled back to Salem Village for trial.
The magistrates considered John’s fleeing as an acknowledgement of his guilt, but still demanded he confess the truth. John proclaimed that he was innocent.
Susannah Shelton fell down during the trial, claiming she couldn’t go towards John because “the black man stood between us.” Mary Warren, having fits, was brought over to John and once he laid his hand on her the fits ceased. His wife wanted to come forward to testify in her husband’s behalf, but was refused entry to the proceedings. John was then asked to recite the Lord’s Prayer, which he couldn’t do. He apparently laughed nervously and then say, “It is a strange thing. I can say it at another time. I think I am bewitched as well as they. It is these wicked ones that do so overcome me.”
9 were murdered on September 22, 1692
Martha Corey, age 72
Townsfolk were surprised when Martha was accused, as she was a faithful churchgoer and was known within the community for her piety. She also held a good economic stability and social standing. Up until this point, women being accused were of lower status, but after Martha’s accusation and condemnation, the Putnam family, who were her accusers, established that they would and could attack anyone who openly doubted their authority. After Martha’s trial accusations escalated to include both sides of social boundary.
During her trial, however, as the afflicted girls began testifying against her, Martha asked the judge not to believe the rantings of hysterical children, and calmly made similar statements throughout her trial, fully believing that the judge would understand how outrageous the accusations were and that she would be found innocent.
The girls, however, put on quite a show, copying Martha’s movements and claiming that she was controlling them, Mercy Lewis insisted that she could see a man whispering in Martha’s ear. John Hawthorn asked Lewis if it was Satan, and then little Ann cried out that Martha had a yellow bird sucking on her hand. That statement was enough to convict her, as it was thought that the yellow bird must be her witch’s familiar.
Martha’s husband, Giles, defended her and was accused of witchcraft himself. He didn’t die by hanging, however, but was pressed to death under heavy weights three days before Martha’s hanging, but we’ll get back to him in a minute.
Mary Eastey, age 58
During her trial Mary was asked how far she had complied with Satan. Her reply was: “Sir, I have never complied with Satan, but prayed against him all my days. I have no compliance with Satan, in this I will say it, if it is my last time that I am clear of this sin.”
Magistrate Hathorne asked the girls if they were quite sure that Mary was the woman who was afflicting them.
She was released from prison after two months, however, two days later Mercy Lewis claimed that Eastey’s spectre was afflicting her, which the other girls quickly supported. A second warrant was issued that night for Mary’s arrest and she was returned to prison, whereby Mercy immediately claimed she had been released.
Mary’s parting words to her family before her death are not recorded, however it is said that her words were serious, religious, distinct and as affectionate as could be expressed and drew tears from the eyes of nearly all who were present.
Mary’s sisters were also charged with witchcraft, with Rebecca Nurse having been hanged nearly two months earlier, and her other sister, Sarah Cloyce, being released in January 1693 when the furor was dying down.
Before her death, Mary put forth a last petition to the court:
“I petition 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 no more innocent blood be shed. The Lord above that is the searcher of all hearts knows that as I shall answer at the Tribunal seat I never knew the least thing of witchcraft.”
Alice Parker, age 64 or 65
Alice was accused of the murder of Mary Warren’s mother, as well as numerous acts of witchcraft, including casting away Thomas Westgate and the bewitching of Mary Warren’s sister. Margaret Jacobs claimed she had seen Alice out in a field as an apparition. Alice denied all of the accusations, and said she wished that the Earth could open and swallow her, and asked for mercy from God.
It probably didn’t help that her trial included fellow accused Martha Corey, Mary Eastey, Ann Pudeator and Dorcas Hoar, so the jury was on a roll for hanging. Hoar, however, decided to confess her sins and was given a reprieve. Mary Bradbury, an elderly 77-year old was also convicted that day and sentenced to hang, but she managed to escape.
Mary Parker, age 55
Mary, unrelated to Alice, was hauled in, along with her daughter, Sarah.
During her examination she was asked, “How long have ye been in the snare of the Devil?” and responded, “I know nothing of it.” Rather than confess to save herself, she asserted that the court had the wrong person claiming, “There is another woman of the same name in Andover.” And it likely was true, as there were many unrelated Parker families in the region, so hers would be a common enough name.
Ann Pudeator, approximately 71
Ann was accused mainly by Mary Warren, who claimed Ann:
Presented the Devil’s Book to her and forcing her to sign it
Bewitchment that caused the death of a neighbor’s wife
Appeared in spectral form to various “afflicted girls”
Having witchcraft materials in her home, which Ann claimed was grease for making soap.
Torturing others with pins
Causing a man to fall out of a tree
Killing her own second husband, as well as his first wife
Turning herself into a bird and flying into her house
Wilmot Redd, an elderly woman, age unknown.
Wilmot was known in her home village of Marblehead for being easily irritated, but no one paid much attention to that until she was accused of having “committed sundry acts of witchcraft upon the bodies of Mary Walcott and Mercy Lewis and others in Salem Village to their great hurt”.
At the preliminary examination Wilmot was brought to Salem and placed before her accusers at the home of Nathan Ingersoll. This was the first time she had actually met the children she was supposedly bewitching. When the girls promptly fell into fits before her, Wilmot was asked what she though ailed them, to which she replied, “I cannot tell.” She was then told she had to give an opinion to which she answered, “My opinion is they are in a sad condition.”
She was denied legal counsel and was then convicted as a witch. She was the only person from Marblehead to be accused, and it is unknown how or why she was chosen, as she was married to a simple fisherman and had no material possessions worth seizing.
Her records, however, are mostly missing, so not much else is known about her trial or her life.
Her body was tossed into a common grave, which has since been lost to time, though she has a memorial marker placed at the Old Burial Hill in Marblehead, the city in which she was born and lived, next to that of her husband. Marblehead has also renamed the pond her home sat next to as “Redd’s Pond” in her memory.
Margaret Scott, aged 76
Margaret was the only person from her town of Rowley to have been executed, though others were accused.
As a lower-class woman, having lost four children in infancy, and only 3 surviving to adulthood, she turned to begging after her husband’s death, which invited the locals to resent her.
As the Andover witch hunt was settling down, Mary Walcott and Ann Putnam, Jr were travelling to initiate other hunts. Margaret’s primary accusers were the two most prominent families in Rowley, the Nelsons and the Wycombs.
One of the “confessed witches”, only noted in records by the initials M.G. claimed that she and Margaret had turned invisible to hit Captain Wycomb with a stick, which the Captain then corroborated.
When Margaret denied having done this, M.G. was said to act incredulous and then reaffirmed her accusation.
She was then indicted on charges of witchcraft after claims by 17-year old Frances Wycomb and 19-year old Mary Daniel, who was a servant girl in Reverend Edward Payson’s household.
During her trial Frances Wycomb testified that Margaret had tormented her my choking and almost pressing her to death shortly before the witchcraft hysteria had hit Salem, and that the torment had continued until that very day.
Afflicted girls Ann Putnam, Jr and Mary Warren claimed to have witnessed Frances’ torture. Mary Warren and Elizabeth Hubbard then testified they had witnessed the torture of Mary Daniel.
Sarah Coleman, a woman from Newbury, swore that Margaret had recently afflicted her three or four times “by pricking, pinching and choking of me.” Mary Daniel then went into great detail about how Margaret had tormented her, also mentioning that Elizabeth Jackson, another accused woman, of appearing with her. According to Mary Daniel, “I was taken very ill again all over and felt a great pricking in ye soles of my feet, and after a while I saw apparently the shape of Margaret Scott, who, as I was sitting in a chair by ye fire pulled me with ye chair, down backward to ye ground, and tormented and pinched me very much, and I saw her go away at ye door, in which fit I was dumb and so continued til ye next morning, finding a great load and heaviness upon my tongue.”
Phillip and Sarah Nelson testified that Robert Shilleto (deceased several years earlier and unable to affirm or deny the story), complained repeatedly that Margaret was a witch, afflicting him until he died.
Jonathan Burbank, Captain and Frances Wycomb testified how Margaret had come begging to their house years earlier, asking for corn from their field. She was asked to wait until he could go out and get it, but she persisted, so his wife gave her some. Apparently, when Captain Wycomb went back in the field to bring in more corn from the field, his oxen refused to move, which he claimed was Margaret having betwitched them.
Another neighbor, Thomas Nelson, testified that Margaret repeatedly came to him for wood in repayment of a debt he still owed to her. After he denied her, two of his cows died, which he and the neighbors felt was unnatural, and therefore was Margaret’s fault.
Samuel Wardwell, age 49
Samuel Wardwell had the unfortunate luck to have a child, Thomas Wardwell, born out of wedlock with Mercy Playfer, who was Bridget Bishop’s sister.
He married, however, a widow named Sarah Hawkes, who, along with her young daughter, Sarah, had inherited a 188 acre estate with the death of her first husband, Adam.
By the time he was accused, he and Sarah had a 19-year old daughter they had named Mercy, after his first love and the mother to her half-brother, Thomas, as well as 6 other children.
Samuel, who was known in the area as a fortune teller, was thought by his own brother-in-law, John Ballard, to have been the reason why his wife Elizabeth was so ill. The reason being Samuel had pulled John aside and expressing concern that perhaps his fortune telling really was to blame for Elizabeth’s illness. John, however, instead of accusing his brother-in-law, instead sent for two of the affected girls, Ann Putnam Jr and Mary Walcott, as they were in Andover to root out witches. The girls were brought before Elizabeth to try to identify who was bewitching her.
The girls first targeted Ann Foster, her daughter Mary Lacy and her granddaughter, Mary Lacy, Jr., but somehow overlooked the Wardwells. Sadly, Elizabeth Ballard soon passed away. Ann Foster, her daughter and granddaughter were all condemned to die, but somehow were not selected to hang on September 22nd, which was the final execution day for the witch trials. Ann and the Mary Lacy’s were eventually acquitted and set free.
Conflicting reports state a 14 year old local boy William Baker Jr accused the Wardwell family of witchcraft, while others say it was 16-year old Martha Sprague from the city of Boxford who did the accusing. Thomas, who no longer lived at home, was not included in either accusation. The most likely story seems that Martha was the actual accuser, as Samuel’s wife supposedly suspected a relationship between her husband and the teenager, so she was hostile to the girl. Given that Sprague and six afflicted girls testified against Sarah, the hatred was apparently mutual. By the time the Wardwell family was brought in for questioning, Elizabeth Ballard had been dead for a month.
Despite his concerns, John Ballard does not appear to have accused Samuel of his wife’s death- at least not publically. In fact, he and his sister Rebecca wind up taking in the youngest of Samuel and Sarah’s children. In a stroke of irony though, earlier that year, as a constable, John was the one who arrested Martha Carrier and brought her to Salem for questioning.
At their interrogation, Samuel, Sarah, Mercy and daughter Sarah gave forced but shocking confessions in hopes to save themselves, including signing the
Devil’s Book, being baptized in the Devil’s name in a local river, pinching and afflicting Martha Sprague. Tried separately, Samuel recanted his earlier confession, but neighbors began testifying of his fortune-telling and predictions and it was enough to convict him.
Samuel’s stepdaughter, Sarah and daughter Mercy were originally condemned to die, but were retried by a new court in January where they were both acquitted and released. Wife Sarah, however, was originally condemned, retried and condemned again, and was scheduled for execution when Governor Phips issued his last minute reprieves to the last of the condemned. Sarah was eventually released.
Even though he had never been accused, after his family was accused of witchcraft, Thomas Wardwell changed his last name to Tailer to separate himself from the tragedy.
End of the Trials
As we just said, September 22nd, 1692 was the final hanging day in the Salem Witch trials. But three days earlier, on September 19, Giles Corey was slowly crushed to death.
Giles, at 81 had already buried two wives by the time he married Martha Corey in 1690. As a prosperous farmer, Giles used indentured farm workers on his land. When he was 65 he was actually brought to trial for allegedly beating to death one of his workers with a stick after he caught the man stealing apples. He did eventually send the beaten man to received medical attention ten days later when it was apparent he had gone too far, but the man, Jacob Goodall died shortly afterwards.
At time corporal punishment for indentured servants was allowed, so Giles was exempt from murder, but was charged with using “unreasonable force”, for which he was found guilty and merely fined.
After Giles’ wife Martha was arrested for witchcraft, he first believed her to be a witch, but his mind changed and he spoke on her behalf, earning himself accusations of being a wizard.
The following day as he was examined by the authorities, Abigail Hobbs started piling on accusations, but Giles denied the accusations and refused to plead guilty or not guilty. As such he was sentenced to prison until his turn at trial.
At the trial he was once again accused, and once again refused to plead.
At the time, if you refused to plead you could not be tried. In order to avoid people trying to cheat the system by refusing to plead, the legal remedy was to strip the prisoner naked, lay heavy boards across their bodies and then rocks and boulders would be slowly laid on the plank of wood. And this process was called Pressing.
The prisoner would not be allowed food, except on the first day when they were allowed three morsels of the worst bread. The second day they were allowed three drinks of standing or fouled water. This would be repeated until the day the prisoner either plead or until they died.
Sheriff George Corwin went ahead with the procedure, but Giles reused to cry out in pain as more rocks were added atop him. After two days, Giles was asked three times to enter a plea, and each time he simply replied, “Add more weight”. The sheriff definitely complied with the request. Occasionally he would even stand on the boards himself to add weight to the load.
Local townsfolk were all invited to watch the spectacle. Witness Robert Calef later reported “in the pressing, Giles Corey’s tongue was pressed out of his mouth; the sheriff, with his cane, forced it in again.”
Until the end, Giles refused to cry out and endured this painful form of death in silence, other than his response for “more rocks”.
Modern-day Salem draws an average million visitors a year, especially during the Halloween season- including ghost tours, tarot readings and visits to shops set up by openly-admitted modern witches. Souvenir shops sells everything like documents for each of the victims with what is known about their lives and deaths. Books abound in a variety of shops, as well as tarot cards, crystals and signboards offer lessons in how to practice witchcraft in real life. Shirts, keychains, mugs and pins can be purchased, as well as a variety of themed sweet treats and lists of herbs and their various uses in witchcraft. Known today as the “Witch City” Salem’s tourism trade brings in more than $100 million in tourism.
There is a historical museum which contains actual documents from the time, as well as a wax museum and a museum based in the “witch dungeon” where the victims were held before their executions. John Turner and his wife Elizabeth Robinson Turner built a house on the harbor that has since become a historic landmark- Nathaniel Hawthorne’s 1851 novel, House of the Seven Gables, was set in the home. It is now a popular destination stop. For those who haven’t heard of this book, it is a study of hereditary sin, based on the legend of a curse pronounced on Hawthorn’s own family by a woman condemned to death during the trials.
The Witch House, which was the home of Judge Jonathan Corwin is also a tourist spot. You can also visit sites from the Hocus Pocus films. The Sanderson Sisters’ cottage is located in the Salem Pioneer Village, which dates back to 1930 and also contains dugouts, wigwams, thatched roof cottages, medicinal gardens and a blacksmith shop, and is recognized as the first living history museum in the United States. Max and Dani’s house at 10 Ocean Avenue still stands and looks much the same, with its distinctive cupola, Alison’s house, the Ropes Mansion, was only filmed from the outside, but its grounds are open all year around from dusk to dawn. Finally, the Old Town Hall where Winifred sang “I Put A Spell On You” is still the same. The oldest surviving municipal structure in the town is still a public hall and hosts farmer’s markets, weddings, parties, fundraisers and more.
But are these spooky spots haunted? That’s why you’re really here, right?
The Salem jail, built in 1813 and operating until 1991, this old building was built on top of the same site as the dungeon where “witches” were once held. Prisoners were held in horrible conditions, with dirt floors, lice-ridden bedding, raw sewage everywhere and freezing winter conditions. The negative energies that have accumulated here have led to rumors of apparitions, cold spots and poltergeist activity. It is a popular stop on ghost tours, as four accused of witchcraft died here while imprisoned.
Proctor’s Ledge is known for its dark energy- no doubt from all of the death located atop it, as well as the bodies being callously tossed into a crevice next to the gallows.
The Old Burying Point Cemetery is home to many different spirits. Most haunting is the “hanging judge” himself, John Hathorne. He is often caught on film as a shadowy figure handing around his 300-year old grave.
Judge Corwin’s house, which is now nearly 400 years old is a museum. Its said that strange figures are captured on film as well as cold spots and the feeling of being touched- said to the not only Corwin himself, but also 4 of his children who died early in life within the house. Ghost hunters also claim that many of the spirits he condemned to death are also haunting the place.
The Joshua Ward house, a manor built upon the foundation of the home owned by George Corwin. Corwin was a malicious sheriff who tortured victims of the Witch Trials and still haunts the site today. One of his worst acts was in the death of 81-year old Giles Corey. Corey refused to plead innocent or guilty, so Corwin punished him by laying him down on his back with a plank laid across his body. Heavier and heavier weights were slowly added, and the old man eventually suffocated as his ribcage was crushed. There are legends that his final breath was spent cursing Corwin and the town of Salem. Visitors to the home experience feeling choked when visiting the basement of the home.
The Hawthorne Hotel, built on top of an apple orchard owned by Bridget Bishop, the first woman to be executed for witchcraft in the trials, is haunted by a female apparition walking up and down the halls, pausing at certain doors. Visitors claim to smell apples throughout the hotel, even though apples aren’t included in the menu.
By 1993, only 11 of the victims had been exonerated, however by this year all but 22-year old Elizabeth Johnson had finally been cleared. Which didn’t seem fair, so a group of middle school students from North Andover and their teacher, Carrie LaPierre, gave themselves a unique civics lesson. The class researched documents, learned about Elizabeth and the accusations against her. Together they drafted a bill to acknowledge that her conviction was unjust. It took a year and a half, but working together with a state senator, the bill was finally signed into law, and Elizabeth, the last of the witch trial accused, was finally cleared of the conviction against her, 330 years after her trial and recognized as another victim of the popular hysteria and unjust proceedings.
And it’s about damn time…