[From the archives: Dana Tuttle has a habit of writing about historical women who’ve been killed for their faith. Get beheaded and Dana might write about you too. Here she’s deviated slightly from her usual fare by adding the fates of some men to her reflection on the Salem Witch Trials.]
Thank you, Tim for scooting over and offering me a seat on your train! The last time I was here, I wrote about zombies. Today, I’m going to introduce you to some witches … or are they?
I have had the victims of the Salem witch trials heavy on my heart for a while. The 1996 movie, The Crucible, was my first exposure to the trials. It was a jaw dropping movie for me. I wanted to research and find out what was real and what was Hollywood.
My interest got sparked again when I reviewed the novel, “My American Eden-Mary Dyer, Martyr for Freedom”, by Elizabeth S. Brinton. This historical novel is about the first woman to be executed on American soil on June 1st, 1660. As soon as I learned about Mary Dyer, I was compelled to begin my research on the Salem Witch Trials.
What better time than the Halloween season to begin my investigation of the victims of the Salem witch trials of 1692. I think we all have a stereotypical view of them and we rely on culture to teach us about them. Many movies and T.V. shows have depicted them by name or as a group in the entertainment industry. The entire town of Salem is now a hub of witch merchandise. Museums, bookstores, gift shops, and places of worship crowd the town of Salem. It is also headquarters to some of the main witch organizations. I appreciate the right of religious freedom, but the question I had to ask myself was, “Would the women and men who were murdered for witchcraft, be pleased with the cultural outcome of their deaths?” I had to find out who they were!!!
When l started my research, I was shocked at the number of victims! 19 women and men were hanged. One was pressed to death under heavy stone and several died in the horrible conditions of the jails. The amount of written testimony is outstanding and the information available on the internet is exhausting! It is very hard to narrow the information down into a small article. This is why I don’t blog. I don’t want to leave anything out!
Normally, the young afflicted girls get all the attention, but I want to focus on the victims who were accused of witchcraft. The stories are heartbreaking and the accused could not defend themselves against the spectral evidence that was allowed against them. Anyone could say that the accused visited them in the spirit form and hurt them. The afflicted girls would throw themselves into fits when the accused would enter the courtroom. They would continue their behavior by mocking every move they made. If the women tilted their heads, so would they. If they threw their arms open they would scream in pain. They were completely defenseless. And don’t get me started about the judges and ministers that should have been protecting their townspeople!
I want to honor the victims that were executed during the hysteria of the Salem witch trials. I hope to cause you to be interested in these remarkable people. Don’t let culture teach you about history, instead, examine it for yourself. Let me introduce them to you…
The Real Victims
Bridget Bishop was the first to be executed. She was hanged alone on June 10, 1692. We don’t have a lot of information about her. It is uncertain, but history records her to have been the owner of the town tavern.
Sarah Good holds the most tragic of the victims. Good and her husband were homeless and she spent the day begging. She had a 4 year old daughter, Dorcas (who was also arrested and accused of witchcraft) and she was pregnant with her second child. Sarah gave birth to her infant in jail, but the baby did not survive.
Before her execution on July 19th, Good prophesied that the reverend, Nicholas Noyes, would drink blood. Ironically, 25 years later, Noyes suffered an internal hemorrhage and died choking on his own blood!
Rebecca Nurse was a respected member of her community and church. She was a 70 year old wife of a wood artisan. When she was accused, 39 of the most prominent members of the community signed a petition on her behalf. When she received a not guilty verdict, the afflicted girls went wild until the jury changed their verdict to guilty. She was hanged on July 19th, as well.
Susannah Martin couldn’t help but laugh out loud at the ridiculous charges against her! A memorial in her honor reads, “Here stood the house of Susannah Martin. An honest, hardworking Christian woman accused of being a witch and executed at Salem, Massachusetts on July 19, 1692.”
Martha Carrier, a 33 year old mother from a neighboring town, was also executed on July 19th. I read a good historical novel based on her life called, “The Heretic’s Daughter”, by Kathleen Kent, a direct descendant of hers. If you are intrigued by these women, I highly recommend her book!
Martha Corey is recorded in history as saying, “I am a gospel woman”, at her examination. Both Martha and her husband, Giles, were members of the church. Giles defended his wife and was later also accused of witchcraft. When he refused to enter a plea, he was forced to lay down with heavy stones placed on him. When the judge came to hear his plea, he replied, “More weight!” Giles died on September 9th, after being crushed under the stones for 2 days. His wife, Martha, would follow him in death by hanging, on September 22.
Mary Eastey, Rebecca Nurse’s sister, was arrested after her examination, but was released after 2 months on May 18th, however, on May 20th Mercy Lewis claimed that Eastey’s spector was afflicting her. She was returned to jail and hanged on September 22. Other men and women executed on that day were Samuel Wardwell, Ann Pudector, Wilmot Reed, Margaret Scott, Mary and Anne Parker.
George Burroughs was the only minister accused and convicted. Reverend Burroughs was a 42 year old graduate of Harvard University and widower of 3 wives. He was hanged along with George Jacob, John Proctor and John Willard on August 19th. John Proctor’s wife was pardoned along with Abigail Faulkner because they were pregnant. Anne Foster, Sarah Osborn, Lyndia Dustin and Roger Toothaker were among the many who died in the horrible conditions of the jail cells, before their hanging.
Righting Wicked Wrongs
In 1706, Ann Putnam Jr. publicly asked for forgiveness for accusing innocent people. In 1711, the government compensated several of the families for their family member’s wrongful deaths. In 1712, Salem Village Church reversed the excommunication of Giles Corey and Rebecca Nurse. In 1957, the court formally cleared the names of more of the victims. On October 31st, 2001 the names of all the victims were finally proclaimed innocent.
Although all of the victim’s families have received a formal apology, and court reversals of their verdicts, our culture still calls them witches. My goal was to draw attention to these professing Christian women and men and help to restore their reputation as belonging to Christ. They belong to the body of believers. They belong to us.
As you live out your Christian life, remember the lesson that we can learn from this tragedy.
“For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself’, but if you bite and devour one another, watch out that you are not consumed by one another.” (Galatians 5:15.)
For further reading:
Wikipedia – Salem Witch Trials
History of Massachusetts – Elizabeth Proctor – the Salem witch trials widow
Women’s History – Accused Witches in Salem