The Salem Witches Belong To All Of Us

Dana Tuttle with someone who is not a Salem witch

Dana Tuttle with someone who is not a Salem witch

[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.

Honoring Witches

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!

A writhing witness at a witch trial (Wikimedia)

A writhing witness at a witch trial
(Wikimedia)

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!

Giles Corey under the stones (Wikimedia)

Giles Corey under the stones
(Wikimedia)

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.

Examination of a Witch, by Thompkins H. Matteson (Wikimedia)

Examination of a Witch, by Thompkins H. Matteson
(Wikimedia)

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

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15 Responses to The Salem Witches Belong To All Of Us

  1. Laura Droege says:

    Wonderful post. I became interested in the Salem witchcraft trials in high school, when I wrote a paper on them for American history class. I read a fascinating research book (which unfortunately I can’t remember the title or author) that claimed that the culture was prejudiced against marginalized people (imagine that!), which in this case were many older, single/widowed women who just didn’t “fit” into that society’s idea of what a good Puritan woman should be. Those, the author claimed, were the majority of the accused witches. Of course, this was close to 20 years ago, so the research may be dated.

    I’ve read The Heretic’s Daughter, and I’ll add my recommendation to yours. It’s great! It also highlights the jail conditions, and how horrible it was to be a prisoner, almost completely dependent on friends/family for food. It’s no wonder that Sarah Good’s infant died.

    • Dana Tuttle says:

      Thank you Laura for adding to my thoughts with your great knowledge of the trials! Yes! Those “types” of women were definitely targeted! And “The Heretic’s Daughter was a fantastic highlight of the jail conditions!

  2. John Allman says:

    I didn’t know that those killed had actually been professing saints, never having looked into this episode, but I had always suspected that most of them (and many others persecuted as “witches” elsewhere over the ages) probably were.

    • Dana Tuttle says:

      My work here is done then! My goal was to highlight just that point. Although we have no record of Bishop’s profession of faith or Good’s, they should have been protected as members of their community. Especially homeless and with child, Good. They did fit the stereotypical life of a witch. Good often grumbled and cursed those who would not help her. So many layers of study!!

  3. Hester says:

    For pretty much the authoritative account of the trials, read this book by Marilynne Roach. It’s a meticulously researched, day-by-day chronicle spanning several years.

    http://www.amazon.com/Salem-Witch-Trials-Day-Day/dp/1589791320

    The whole episode is actually even sadder / stupider than Dana describes. There were two kinds of membership in the Puritan church by 1692, full membership and half membership. Only full members could take communion. To become a full member, you had to give a detailed account of your conversion to the church. If it was approved, you got to be admitted to communion. (The idea was to make sure that only the truly saved were admitted to communion.)

    Well, here’s the kicker to this whole situation. Rebecca Nurse, Martha Corey and Giles Corey were all full members of the Salem church, i.e. they had been declared to be saved by the church. But even in the face of that, it was claimed that they had dealings with the devil and they were executed.

    Another fun fact: it was commonly believed that witches could not recite the Lord’s Prayer. George Burroughs did recite it in full while standing on the scaffold at his execution. This was ignored (even though it proved he was not a witch by their own standards) and they executed him anyway.

    And for all that, I have met an inordinately large number of Christians (as in, more than zero, because really? seriously really?) who looked at me in surprise and puzzlement when I said that no one who was executed was a witch.

    • Dana Tuttle says:

      Love the book recommendation and your extra thoughts! Yes! The godly evidence of these victims were overwhelming. I wanted so much to include several examples as you have highlighted! Ugg! The time and space did not allow me to to that! Thanks foe adding it!

  4. Aimee Byrd says:

    I love your purpose in writing this, Dana. Thank you! That Scripture on loving our neighbor verses biting and devouring one another is convicting.
    And I was also wondering if George Burroughs had any relation to Jeremiah Burroughs?

  5. Ruth says:

    This reminds me of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s book The Scarlett Letter, which I have read, along with The Crucible. Awful attacks on women and men, cruel religious treatment, and fanaticism about evil with strong superstitions.
    The mind -set certainly was of a deep suspicion of woman as temptress, and only women attached to a man was sometimes safe, no wonder fear rode a dark horse through those roads of fearful minds. Sadly, we seem to be heading down a road that is putting womankind back into this frame by neurotic men who believe in their spiritual superiority and women’s weakness as a scriptural truth.
    So women aren’t hanged any more, but the abuse and repression of Christian women seems to be escalating out of control in some places, and the web is burgeoning with sites where this evil is either being expounded or fought. Oh that we could learn from history and behave in a Christ-like way to each other.

  6. This is very interesting, Dana. Thank you for enlightening me…I’ve never researched this and I love how you draw out the fact they were actually believers. And that scripture is a perfect reminder today how important that greatest commandment is for us and why. Love seeing your passion through your words! xoxo

    • Dana Tuttle says:

      Not sure of the relation! I was actually wondering if I was related. My genealogy is traced closely to the Burroughs!! But when I looked, my ansestors spelled it Burrows.

  7. Tim says:

    Dana thanks for the guest post. You’ve given us a look at our history and a reminder of what it means to be in the family of God caring for one another.

    let’s see, you’ve written on zombies and witches now for my blog. What’s next? Werewolves? Vampires?

  8. Jeannie says:

    Very interesting post, Dana; I didn’t know anything about this subject and it is pretty eye-opening. Reminding us to love our neighbours as ourselves — not to attack, suspect, and manipulate each other — is a great way to end this post.

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