Category: THE SALEM WITCH TRIALS

Salem Massachuetts AND The Salem Witch Trials

SALEM MASSACHUSETTS

 

The saddest story in the history of the country is that of the witch craze at Salem, Massachusetts, brought about by a negro woman and company of girls. The negress, Tituba, was a slave, whom Rev Samuel Parris, one of the ministers of Salem, had purchased in Barbados. We may think of Tituba as seated in the old kitchen of Mr. Parris’s house during the long winter evening, telling witch stories to the minister’s niece, Elizabeth, who was nine years old. She draws a circle in the ashes on the hearth, burns a lock of hair, and mutters some gibberish. They are incantations to call up the devil and his imps. The girls of the village gather in the old kitchen to hear Tituba’s stories, and to mutter words that have no meanings. The girls were Abigail Williams, who was eleven, Anne Putnam who was twelve, Mary Walcot,and Mary Lewis who were seventeen, Elizabeth Hubbard, Elizabeth Booth, and Susannah Sheldon, eighteen, and two servant girls, Mary Warren and Sarah Churchill. Tituba taught them to bark like dogs, mew like cats,  grunt like hogs, and to creep through chairs and under tables on their hands and feet, and to pretend to have spasms. 

 

Mr. Parris had read the books and pamphlets published in England, how persons bewitched acted like animals, and went into spasms, and he came to the conclusion that they were bewitched. He sent for Doctor Griggs, who said that the girls were not sick, and without doubt were bewitched. 

 

THE TOWN WAS ON FIRE! 

People came to see the girls, who delighted with the success of their play, crept about all the more like cats and dogs, barking, mewing, and uttering piercing screams. 

Sunday came, and when the congregation had finished singing, Abigail Williams said to Mr. Parris, “Now stand up and name your text.” 

The minister and everybody else was amazed, but he read his text. 

“It is a long one,” said Abigail. 

The minister went on with his preaching. 

“There, we have had enough of that,” shouted another girl. 

“There is a yellow bird on the minister’s hat,” cried Anne Putnam. 

The parents of the girls stood aghast, and Mr. Parris, believing that they were assaulted by the devil, invited the ministers of the other parishes to come and hold a day of fasting and prayer. The ministers assembled, saw the girls go into fits, rolling their eyes, holding their breath, muttering gibberish, peeping like frogs, barking like dogs, and devoutly believed that they were bewitched. They prayed solemnly and fervently, recalling the saying of Jesus Christ, “This kind goeth not out except by fasting and prayer.” 

The news spread quickly, and the people came in crowds to see the girls. 

“Who bewitched you?’ they asked.

 

Sarah Good, Sarah Osburn, and Tituba,” the girls answered. 

 

Sarah Good was a poor old woman, who begged her bread from door to door. Sarah Osburn was old, wrinkled, and sickly. 

 

What a scene was around the meeting house, March 1st, 1692!

All of Salem was there, for the women who were accused of being witches were to be examined by the justices.

 

Sheriff and constable escorted the justices, John Hathorne and Jonathan Corwin, from Thomas Beadle’s tavern to the meeting house and gave them seats in front of the pulpit. Rev. Parris prayed that God would direct them. The girls were there, and Sarah Good was brought in by the sheriff. 

 

“Have you made a contract with the devil?” asked Justice Hathorne.
“NO.”

“Children, is this the person who hurt you?”  

“Yes, she is sticking pins into me!” the girls screeched. 

“Why do you torment the children?” 

“I do not.” 

The girls went on with their screeching, and the justice and all the people were so deluded, and were such firm believers in witchcraft, that they accepted all that the girls said as truth, and the denials of the wrinkled old women as lies. 

 

“Sara Osburn, have you made a contract with the devil? Asked the justice. 

“I never saw the devil.”

“Why do you hurt the children?”

“I do not hurt them.”

“SHE DOES! She Does!” said the girls, and the people decided in their minds against her.

“Tituba, why do you hurt the children?”

“I do not.”

“Who is it, then?”

“The devil, for aught I know.”

“Did you see the devil?”

“Yes, he came to me and bid me serve him. Sarah Good and Sarah Osburn wanted me to hurt the children, but I would not.”

“How does the devil appear when he comes to you?”

“Sometimes like a hog, and sometimes like a great black dog.”

“What else have you seen?”

“Two cats, one red, and the other black. I saw them last night, and they said “Serve me, but I would not.” 

“What did they want you to do?”

“Hurt the children.” 

“Did you not pinch Elizabeth Hubbard?”

“Yes, they made me pinch her, and wanted me to kill her with a knife.”

“How do you ride when you go to meet the devil?”

“On a stick. I ride in front, and Sarah Good and Sarah Osburn behind me. We go up over trees, and in a short time are in Boston or anywhere else.”

Tituba had a great many other things to tell…that the devil sometimes wore a tall black hat, that one of his imps was about three feet high, hairy all over, and had a long nose, and that the imp came into Mr. Parris’s house and stood by the fire. 

 

The people believed her. Would she be likely to admit that she was a witch if she were not one? 

 

The girls accused her of pinching them and she acknowledged that she did so. Therefore, the girls were telling the truth and Sarah Osburn and Sarah Good, were liars. So the justice and the people reasoned, and the sheriff took them to Ipawich jail which was about 10 miles away, and the people went home to talk over the event. 

 

The ministers of Salem, Boston, and the surrounding towns met to consult over the situation. Among them was the learned Cotton Mather who accepted the terrible accounts as truth which had reached him from England. Few if any doubted that the girls were bewitched, and the girls were loving the attention so went on with their creeping, barking, mewing, and falling into convulsions, and crying that someone was sticking pins in them. They accused Martha Corey and Rebecca Nurse, two women who were kind to the poor, and very religious, but so credulous were Rev. Parris and Rev. Noyes and everyone else, that they were arrested. When they were examined before the justice, the girls all cried out that the women were tormenting them. “I am as innocent as a child unborn,” said Mrs. Nurse: but the people, the ministers, and the justices, all lost their heads, and the women were committed to prison

 

. Mrs. Good had a little girl, Dorcas who was five years old, and the girls said that Dorcas helped her mother in tormenting them. “She bites me!” they cried, and showed the prints of teeth on their arms. The sheriff arrested Dorcas and put her in prison, where she was chained with her mother. It was believed that unless the witches were chained they would fly out through the keyhole. Sara Cloyse and Elizabeth Proctor were the next accused. The judges met sometimes at Thomas Beadle’s tavern and sometimes in the meeting house.

 

The news spread quickly. No one doubted that the devil had come in great wrath to afflict the good people of Salem. Rev Lawson, Rev Parris, Rev Noyes, and other ministers preached sermons against witchcraft, making it clear that these manifestations were without a doubt produced by the devil. The whole colony was up in arms, and Lieutenant -Governor Danforth and his councillors, which consisted of six hundred men, went to Salem to sit in judgement at the trial of Sarah and Elizabeth. Abigail Williams brought a horrible accusation. 

 

“I saw a company of witches at the Rev Parris’s house,” she said; “there were forty of them. They had a sacrament, and Sarah Cloyse and Sarah Good were their deacons, and the witches drank blood.” 

Sarah Cloyse fainted at the terrible accusation, and the girls went into convulsions. John, a negro of Mr Parris, rolled and tumbled upon the floor, and all cried out that the witches were tormenting them. 

Governor Danforth and his councillors were amazed. The prisoners had no one to help them. There were few lawyers in America at that time. The governor and the judges asked them questions, having already made up his mind that they were witches, and poor women, friendless and alone, had nothing to say except “We are innocent.”  

No one believed them but took the word of the girls as the truth. The poor women were thrown into prison. 

Instead of there being fewer witches, there were more, and in a short time the jails were filled with men and women. Among those arrested was Rev. George Burroughs, who had once preached in Salem, but who was living in Maine. The sheriff made a long journey to arrest him. 

Not only the girls and Tituba, but others accused those arrested of being witches. If a man had anything against his neighbor, it was easy for him to take revenge by accusing him of exercising witchcraft. Samuel Shattuck who dyed clothes for a living, had trouble with Bridget Bishop. John the negro also had a grievance against her, and testified that she was a witch. “I saw her go through a hole no larger than my hand, “ said John. The judges believe him.  

 

Samuel Shattuck’s child had fits. “I believe it is the work of Bridget,” he said.

 

WHAT COULD THE JUDGES DO? 

 

They condemned them to be hung. The Bible commanded that witches should not live. For one hundred and fifty years the laws of England had been in force against witches. Thirty thousand had been executed in England. Parliament had appointed a witch finder. King James had written a book against them.  Archbishop Jewell had begged Queen Elizabeth to burn them. Rev Richard Baxter, whose name was reverenced all over, had written against the witches. In all lands they were seen as the enemies of God and man as they were conspiring with the Evil One against the livelihood of the community. The great and good Lord Chief justice of England, Mathew Hale had condemned those to death who were not near so diabolical as the accused, and had written a book referring from the Bible that witches were in cahoots with the devil! 

 

Besides the people of Salem, the friends and neighbors all believed that the accused were witches, and ought to be put to death. They were magistrates, appointed by God, as they believed, to administer the laws faithfully and impartially. They had seen the girls go into fits and convulsions, and heard them cry when the witches pinched them. With the rest of the world, the judges lost their minds, and condemned the poor people accused to death. 

 

TO THE HILL THEY GO! 

 

Gallows were erected on a hill overlooking the village. Through the streets of Salem rattled the cart that bore them to their place of execution. They climbed the ladder with the halter around their necks, men and women, the minister, and those who had listened to his preaching. 

People gazed in horror as their old friends and neighbors,  swang in the air struggling at the throes of death.  When life was gone from them, the bodies were thrown into holes, and piled with dirt. They trampled it down, and thought of them as suffering the torments of the devil. 

 

HOW HORRIBLE! 

If we were living in those days would we too have lost our judgement, reason, and common sense? 

The wisest and best of men in 1692 fell for it, under the terrible delusion, wild foundation, and lamentable ignorance of the period. 

Nineteen men and women were hung. 

Giles Corey, who would neither say “Guilty” or “Not Guilty, “ had rocks piled upon him til he was crushed to death. 

One hundred and fifty men and women were thrown into prison before the people came to their senses! 

The wife of Rev. Hale, of Beverly, was accused. There was not a woman in Massachusetts more beloved, honored and respected. The people were amazed. They could not believe that such a godly woman would join with the devil. They began to see, what they had not thought of before, was that perhaps the girls were lying about the witches tormenting them. The judges had not questioned the girls, …only the accused. The denials had been disregarded . Why would young girls lie? 

 

THE SPELL WAS BROKEN

 People saw that they had been under a delusion. Samuel Sewall,  one of the judges, humbly confessed on Sunday in the old South Church in Boston, with tears rolling down his cheeks, and ever after, so long as he lived, kept a day of fasting and repentance once a year to manifest his sorrow to the world. 

“Touching and sad a tale is told, 

Like a penitent hymn of the Psalmist old, 

Of the fast which the good man life long kept, 

With a haunting sorrow that never slept. 

As the circling years brought round the time

Of an error that left the sting of crime.” 

 

IT’S OVER NOW

SET THEM FREE 

The sheriff threw open the prison doors and the prisoners accused of being witches were released. The girls, having no one to believe their accusations, had no more stories to tell of being tormented. The great wave of superstition that had sent hundreds of thousands to an untimely grave in Europe, died out in the village of Salem. 

The girls…

Though fully and humbly confessing  for their actions found little happiness in life. Forever before their eyes were the swinging forms of those who had died upon the gibbet due to their childish pranks and the terrible tragedy they had mustered. 

I cannot begin to imagine the guilt they must have carried with them throughout their lives. 

I hope you enjoyed this episode for the Salem Witch Trials. Stay tuned for upcoming post as I will reveal to you how The Pierce Family has connections to some of those involved. If you liked this post please leave me a comment in the comment section and STAY tuned for the next post. My source of information here was mostly from the  book Old Times in the Colonies by Charles Carleton Coffin as well as most of the pictures. No copyright infringement was intended. 

 

Happy Hunting

The Pierce Family Historian

WHAT LED TO THE SALEM WITCH TRIALS

 

THE SALEM WITCH TRIALS BEGINNING

PART 1

 

The Salem Witch trials took place from FEB 1892 and continued to May of 1893 before the people finally realized that something was wrong here. But to truly understand the panic of the people,  we must go back a bit further in time. When trying to decide how to share the information that connects us to this history I was undecided. I have decided to do this as a series in order to get all the information together. So follow along as I lay out a map of events. 

 

YEARS BEFORE

 

Back in the day EVERYONE believed in witches. They believed that men and women alike could make a bargain with the devil who gave them power to torment whoever they pleased. Everyone believed that the devil was very much like a man, except that he had wings like a bat, a tail, cloven feet, and horns, and that he was able to empower witches, enabling them to conjure up storms, sink ships, afflict children with fits, kill cattle, set chairs and tables to dance, and that they had the power to make themselves invisible and creep through keyholes,ride on broomsticks and delighted in holding  orgies in the thunderstorms. To doubt the existence of witches was to reject the teachings of the Bible. 

 

In 1488, four years before Columbus sailed in search of the New World, a storm swept over Constance, in Switzerland, which destroyed the corn and grapes and the people accused Anne and Agnes Mindelen of having raised it. They confessed that the devil put them up to it and they were burned to death. Two years before this in 1486, Pope Innocent VIII issued a bill directing that witches should be burnt, so we know they were in belief even before this. 

 

When the wicked and cruel Alexander VI was in the papal chair, he set the Inquisitors to work to rid the world of witches. They burned six hundred poor old women in the bishoprie of Bamberg in Germany. By  the shore of Lake Geneva, in 1515, during three months more than five hundred were burned to death. Can you even imagine? Innocent women were accused of horrible crimes by their neighbors and best friends and were led out by the shore, chained to stakes, wood piled around them and their bodies were smeared with pitch so that the fire might take better hold upon the bodies. 

 

In 1549 the good Archbishop Cranmer gave these directions to the bishops: “You shall inquire whether any one makes use of charms, sorcery, enchantments, witchcraft, soothsayings, or any like craft invented by the devil.” 

 

Countess of Lennox, who conspired against Queen Elizabeth was one who consulted witches. 

 

ARCHBISHOP SPOTSWOOD 

 

In 1591 Archbishop Spotswood spent nearly all his time examining witches. All throughout Spain, France, Germany, and Holland during this time, thousands of men and women were burned. In the village of Lindheim Germany which at the time contained only six hundred inhabitants, thirty were put to death in one year. Overall more than one hundred thousand were burnt at the stake. 

 

In 1618 seventeen witches were condemned to death in Lancashire; sixteen in Yarmouth and fifteen in Chelmsford. 

 

JUST THROW THEM IN THE POND

 

When a woman was accused of being a witch, her hands were tied to her feet, and she was thrown into a pond. If she didn’t sink, it was considered proof that she was a witch and the devil had given her the power to float. If she did indeed sink and went to the bottom she was supposed to be innocent. Very few floated and nearly all the poor creatures were drowned while being proved innocent. 

 

MATTHEW HOPKINS

 

Matthew Hopkins was appointed witch finder. He travelled through England, his expenses being paid, and a fat fee besides. He would examine their bodies for witch marks and arrested whoever he pleased. If a pimple, wart, or wen were discovered, it was an indication that a person was in conjunction with bad spirits! (OH MY! We are all witches! ) These were considered devil marks. The accused were subjected to terrible torture to get them to confess. It wasn’t long before more than one hundred persons were hung through Hopkin’s efforts. He was aided by some of the best men in England. One  of those who suffered death at his hands was a good old minister who was 88 years of age and had preached over half a century. Hopkins threw him into a pond, and as he did not sink, it was a sure sign that he had sold himself to the devil. The good man died declaring to his last breath that he was innocent. 

 

Hopkins was highly thought of by the people as he was thought to be of superior wisdom. However, he was soon accused also and as we know, paybacks are hell, right? His thumbs were tied to his big toes and he was thrown into the pond. However he managed to swim and insisted that he was not a witch and saved his neck from the noose. 

 

SIR MATTHEW HALE

 

Sir Matthew Hale was lord of chief justice and was revered a good man, an upright judge, and presided at many of the witches trials. Amy Duny and Rose Cuflender were accused by Margaret Arnold of bewitching her little girl who was afflicted by fits. 

 

“One day a bee flew into the face of my child, and a few minutes later she vomited up a two penny nail. At another time my little girl caught an invisible mouse which she threw into the fire, and it instantly flashed like gunpowder.” she said. 

 

Nearly all the accusations were as silly as this. 

 

Sir Matthew called upon Thomas Brown who was considered a great and learned physician at the time, to give his opinion.   Mr. Brown felt that the fits were natural but that they had been heightened by the devil cooperating with the witches. 

 

Sir Matthew was a tender hearted man but with the testimony of the greatest physician in England ruled that the devil and two old women were making the child sick.  The Bible commanded that he put them to death and he ordered them executed. 

 

Later Sir Matthew wrote a book about witchcraft.  Soon Rev. Richard Baxter, a learned and godly minister, wrote another. Shortly after Rev. Perkins published a third book, all three telling of the horrible crimes and incantations of the witches. The Printers of London kept their presses busy, printing pamphlets about witches. No one doubted the stories told by the accusers, especially when so many of the accused confess that they were in a league with the devil. I think it was a damned if you do damned if you don’t situation. I mean what are you going to do? 

 

GOSSIP SPREADS LIKE FIRE

Now every vessel crossing the Atlantic brought news of the doings of the witches in England, as well ast books and pamphlets to the settlers’ homes all over New England and Virginia. Governors, judges, ministers and people alike read them, and believed what the good men like Chief justice Hale and Richard Baxter had written. When anything out of the norm happened that they couldn’t account for, of course the witch did it. If the butter would not come in churning, the cream was bewitched. And the way to get the witch out was to heat a horseshoe red hot and drop it into the churn. This would so scorch the hag that she would leave in a twinkling. A horseshoe nailed over a door would prevent witches from entering it. (and we thought it was for good luck right? )

 

Ministered preached about witches and warned their listeners that the Prince of the Power of the Air was all around them, going up and down the earth looking for who he might devour. By the wide mouthed fireplaces in the old kitchens stories were told of what the witches were doing. Listeners felt their flesh creep and their hair stand on end while the stories were told. Timid people were afraid to go outside after dark, sure that they might encounter a ghost or hobgoblin. Boys and girls, if sent to the cellar for a mug of cider or for apples, were terrified of seeing a shadow on the wall. When they climbed the stairs to bed it was with a quick and nervous step (you know the kind…we’ve all done it!!) for there was no telling what was behind the boxes and barrels in the garret.  When lightning flashed or rain beat hard against the windows, they thought of the witches that were flying through the air on broomsticks or holding a revel in the forest. The dim pale light that they sometimes saw along the marshes was will-o-the wisp or the devil’s wish…ready to lure them into some snare. The devil was ever around them and the witches would do his bidding. 

 

MARGARET AND THOMAS  JONES

 Now about the time that Matthew Hopkins was tossing women into the ponds and hanging them, the people of Charlestown, Massachusetts, in 1648, accused Margaret Jones of being a witch.  She was a doctor and used roots and herbs for healing. The idea was that she had a “malignant touch;” that if she laid her hands on a person in anger they would become blind, deaf, or in some way afflicted. She was imprisoned, and the man who guarded her said that he saw a little child with her, which instantly vanished. 

 

She naturally declared her innocence but the people protested that she was in league with the devil, and she was executed. 

 

John Winthrop who kept a diary said “the day and hour she was executed there was a very great tempest in Connecticut, which blew down trees, and did much damage” . The superstitious people firmly believed that the devil was taking vengeance upon the country. 

 

Margaret’s husband Thomas, had a sorry time of it after she was hung. People pointed their fingers at him, and made life so miserable that he went on board a ship bound for Barbadoes. It was a small vessel, and there were eight horses on the deck, which made it top heavy. While at anchor in the harbor the craft started to roll fearfully, and the superstitious sailors said that Thomas Jones was the cause of it and hustled him on shore and into prison as a witch. 

 

HUGH PARSONS

 

People were such firm believers in witchcraft, and so credulous, that it was easy to create a suspicion against a person, and many women were accused of being witches by their jealous and envious neighbors. One of the settlers of Springfield, Massachusetts, Hugh Parsons, sawed boards and planks for a living. He worked hard during the day and filed his saws at night, and made money faster than some of his neighbors, who through jealousy, perhaps, accused him of being a witch. He was arrested and Hannah Lankton and her husband testified that one day they had boiled pudding for dinner, and when they took it out of the bag it was cut open lengthwise, as if with a knife. They did not know what to make of it, and said it was bewitched. They threw a piece of it into the fire, and soon after Mr. Parsons came to the door, which convinced them that he had bewitched it. A neighbor could not get a tap out of a beer barrel, but Mr. Parsons pulled it out without any difficulty, which was sure proof that he was a witch. 

 

Mrs. Parsons was sick and became insane, and the people said that she had sold herself to the devil. Her little child died, and they said that she and her husband had poisoned it. They were put in prison, and the neighbors testified against them. 

 

One man saw snakes in his room at night. A woman saw a light flickering around her petticoat, a cow would not give milk, a woman had a pain in her breast, a little girl said that she saw a dog, though no one else could see it. Others saw things that they could not account for, which made them think that their neighbor Parsons was a witch. Although he and his wife were cast into prison, the judges did not think they were witches and they were not put to death. In nearly every town there were men and women who were suspected of being witches. 

 

GENERAL  MOULTON 

 

Hampton, New Hampshire had a witch, General Moulton, who made money so fast that his superstitious neighbors said that the devil helped him. One day his house caught fire and the people said that the Evil One had done it because the General had fooled him. He had bargained with Satan to fill one of his boots every night with gold. The devil came to fill it, and was amazed to find that it took several cart loads. Wondering how so small a boot could hold so much, he made an examination, and discovered that the General had cut a hole in the sole and another in the floor, and the gold had run through it, and he had filled the cellar. Infuriated he blew a flame from his mouth and set the house on fire!

 

I will stop here for now and prepare another post. Stay tuned for the next post. Hope you have enjoyed my series to this point. If so please leave me a comment in the comment section and I look forward to bringing you more in the coming days. My source for this infomation was basically from the book Old Times in the Colonies by Charles Carleton Coffin, copyright 1908 by Sallie R. Coffin. No copyright infringement intended.

 

Thank You for stopping by and Happy Hunting

The Pierce Family Historian

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