In Part II of The Salem Witch Trials Miniseries, we’re looking at:
- Trials and executions
- The end of the trials
- The aftermath and what came next
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Trials, Tribulations, and Executions: June – August
On June 10, 1692 Bridget Bishop was hanged on Gallows Hill. Six days later, Dr. Roger Toothaker also died. Roger hadn’t even had his trial yet. He didn’t survive the Boston.
At the end of June, the Court of Oyer and Terminer got back to work. After Bridget Bishop, there was Sarah Good, Rebecca Nurse, Susannah Martin, Elizabeth Howe, and Sarah Wildes.
They were the next five women to be tried, convicted, and sentenced. After Bridget, these were the people with the strongest cases against them.
There was a crazy amount of “evidence” brought against Sarah Good during her trial.
In addition to spectral evidence, there was also the fact that Sarah Good was accused of witchcraft by quite a few self-confessed witches. Survey says: she’s a witch. Susannah Martin was the next to be convicted.
After Susannah came Rebecca Nurse. Unlike some of the other people who were accused, Rebecca had an incredible support system behind her.
Her entire family was campaigning her innocence, trying to get a sound defense ready, getting other members of the community to sign a petition in regards to her innocence.
The jury went out, talking it over, came back. Verdict: not guilty. People were unhappy, to say the least. So out the jury went again. They came back with a new verdict: guilty. And then, the members of the Salem Town church excommunicated Rebecca Nurse.
Elizabeth Howe and Sarah Wildes, both from Topsfield, were the last of this set to be tried. Yet again, there was that ever damning spectral evidence held against them, plus earlier accusations of witchcraft. Both were found guilty.
All five women were taken to Gallows Hill on July 19, and hanged. Sarah Good didn’t meet the end without getting in a parting shot. When asked to confess, Sarah Good said, “You are a liar. I am no more a witch than you are a wizard, and if you take away my life God will give you blood to drink” (A Storm of Witchcraft by Emerson Baker).
Rebecca Nurse was a rockstar until the end. She got up there, said her prayers, and even asked God to pardon all the people who stood against her.
The night after those women were killed, the male members of the Nurse family went back to the site of the crime and brought Rebecca Nurse home.
That in itself was incredibly dangerous. But they knew she was innocent, and loved her too much to leave her on that hill. She was reburied in an unmarked grave on the Nurse family land.
And then, the insanity spread to Andover. Two of the Salem girls being tormented by witches went to Andover to suss out the evil witchy element in town.
Elizabeth Ballard had been really sick for a while. The only reason could be witchcraft. As a result, Ann Foster, her daughter Mary Lacey Sr., and her granddaughter Mary Lacey, Jr. were named as witches.
What made it even worse…they confessed. And then named other witches. Miss Junior said Martha Carrier was a witch, killed people with magic.
Martha’s sons, Richard and Andrew, were also accused, and didn’t confess until it was basically tortured out of them. Then they named even more people, including their own mother. At the end of this Andover mess, more than 40 people were accused.
Trials, Tribulations, and Executions: August – November
On August 2, the Court of Oyer and Terminer met for a third time, with Martha Carrier as the first to stand trial. Since so many people were so eager to say their piece about Martha, it was a no brainer for the court to convict her. Apparently, Martha was the Queen of Hell as well.
Up next were John Proctor, Elizabeth Proctor, John Willard, George Jacobs, and George Burroughs. The Proctors were found guilty. Elizabeth did get a stay of execution until she gave birth to her child.
Her husband was going to hang and she got to finish out her pregnancy in prison, which obviously had the best conditions and care for a pregnant woman.
George Jacobs was also found guilty, followed by John Willard, a constable. This man had the audacity to go against the grain. He didn’t want to arrest some of the people he was sent to arrest. He ran to save his life but eventually the Putnams caught him.
Last but not least was the Reverend George Burroughs. Burroughs was a minister who was also a witch. 30 people testified against Burroughs, with 8 of the confessed stating he was the one in charge of their witchy circus. Guilty, guilty, guilty.
Two weeks after their trials, John Proctor, John Willard, George Jacobs, Martha Carrier, and George Burroughs were taken to Gallows Hill and hanged. Margaret Jacobs, granddaughter of George Jacobs, did ask for George Burroughs’s forgiveness the night before he was killed. Burroughs gave it, and then they prayed together.
Just like with Burroughs’s trial, a ton of people showed up to watch him, and his comrades, hang.
They went out with dignity, and never once said they were anything but innocent. Burroughs made such a great speech at the end that people second guessed things for a second.
But only for a second. Cotton Mather stepped in and made it all better.
Their bodies were buried in shallow graves or between the rocks on the hill. Like Rebecca Nurse, George Jacobs’s family retrieved his body in the dead of night and buried him on their land.
Business continued as usual. There were apparently quite a few witch meetups. According to Abigail Williams, 40 people went to one. Susannah Post, a confessed witch, said she went to one that had 200.
According to her, there were 500 witches in the area. Mary Toothaker of Billerica said there were actually 305 at a meeting.
Finally, it’s at this point that more than the accused loved ones started realizing that maybe the trials weren’t the best idea ever. When Major Robert Pike’s neighbor, Mary Bradbury, was accused he wrote to Judge Jonathan Corwin about spectral evidence.
He didn’t like it, and argued that the devil could go around wearing the faces of people who weren’t witches. Yet again, it didn’t do a damn thing.
At the beginning of September, six more people were brought before the Court of Oyer and Terminer – Mary Bradbury, Martha Cory, Mary Easty (Rebecca Nurse’s sister), Alice Parker, Ann Pudeator, and Dorcas Hoar. The verdict for all 6: guilty.
After those six poor souls, nine more people were tried and convicted – Abigail Faulkner, Margaret Scott, Wilmot Redd and Mary Parker, all guilty verdicts, all to be executed. Samuel Wardwell had originally confessed but then changed his mind during his trial and pled not guilty. The court’s verdict: guilty. The sentence: hanging.
Ann Foster, Mary Lacey Sr. (the daughter of Ann), Rebecca Earnes, and Abigail Hobbs confessed and originally pled guilty during the indictment. They were also convicted and set to be executed.
The Court of Oyer and Terminer then took another break. It was time to deal with Giles Cory, the guy who first implied his wife was a witch and then ended up being accused.
He’d pled not guilty at the indictment, but wouldn’t agree to be judged by a jury. In fact, he didn’t say anything at all. If he didn’t say anything at all, he couldn’t be put on trial until he did.
Next step? The process was known as “peine forte et dure” – “strong and hard punishment.” Rocks were piled on top of the boards placed on Giles Cory’s chest.
More and more rocks were added every time he didn’t answer their question. Stubborn until the end, Giles Cory was pressed to death. His last words allegedly were: “more weight.”
Before Giles and Martha Cory died, the Salem Village church had them excommunicated.
On September 22, three days after Giles Cory was tortured to death, Martha Cory was finally executed. She swore she was innocent until the end. She reserved her final words for a prayer. And then she was gone.
Margaret Scott, Mary Easty, Alice Parker, Ann Pudeator, Wilmot Redd, Samuel Wardwell, and Mary Parker were hanged the same day as Martha.
Mary Easty and Sarah Cloyce, the sisters of Rebecca Nurse, had a petition delivered to the court asking for an honest trial, with actual evidence. Absolutely nothing came of this. Mary was hanged. Luckily, Sarah Cloyce was never brought to trial. In January 1693, the charges were dismissed. Sarah Cloyce got to live.
Some of the people sentenced to death didn’t face the gallows. This included those who confessed – Rebecca Earnes, Ann Foster, Mary Lacey Sr., Abigail Hobbs, and Mary Bradbury.
Mary took the opportunity to escape. Like Elizabeth Proctor, Abigail Faulkner couldn’t be put to death just yet since she was pregnant.
While the accusations seemed to die down in Salem, they were on the rise in other towns, with nine people named as witches in Gloucester.
Luckily by this point, some people had seen enough. Increase Mather wrote a treatise that poo-poohed spectral evidence and the ever so reliable touch test.
It was called the “Cases of Conscience concerning Evil Spirits Personating Men.”
Thomas Brattle, a rich Bostonian merchant and scientist, penned a letter wondering why the trials were happening in the first place.
He basically trampled all over the evidence they used – the touch test, confessions, the tormented girls – and shit on the judges a bit too.
Brattle mentioned the tormented girls as well. Too much stock was put into what the afflicted girls had to say.
In October, most of those from Andover who confessed recanted. They also took back their accusations against other witches. On October 12, Governor Phips wrote a letter to England: no more witch trials! He had finally seen the light.
Because the afflicted girls had named Lady Mary Phips, the Governor’s own wife, as a witch. In addition to Lady Phips, they named Judge Jonathan Corwin’s mother-in-law, the former governor’s sons, and Reverend John Hale’s wife.
After Phips’s letter to England, people who were being accused as witches weren’t sent to prison. They, and some of the people already sitting in prison, were released on bail. At the end of October the Court of Oyer and Terminer was no more.
On November 25, a new court system was finally set up for the new colony charter. The Superior Court of Judicature would be the main court where capital crimes would be tried.
The new judges for this court were assigned on December 7, some of them very familiar – William Stoughton, Samuel Sewall, Wait Winthrop, and John Richards.
But, Thomas Danforth, the former deputy governor, was appointed as well. He was someone who didn’t like the trials. The Superior Court first met in Salem on January 3, ready to put an end to the trials. But Phips wanted more than that.
The Beginning of the End
Honestly, things weren’t going to change at all if Phips didn’t do more than let some people out on bail. He set up the Superior Court, but if left to their own devices, events could follow the same pattern as before, especially since some of the judges had already been in the thick of the trials.
Phips made sure they were all on the same page. Don’t be stupid. Be fair. No more spectral evidence or touch test nonsense. When the judges actually got together in January to talk about what would count as evidence, one of the judges made it clear that those two forms of evidence were worthless.
Stoughton, on the other hand, threw a fit. He saw witches everywhere. He wanted to get rid of all of them. And now he couldn’t rely on the two pieces of evidence that made conviction a certainty. Too bad for him, most of the Superior Court didn’t see things his way.
With that sorted, it was time to get down to business. And things were about to take a turn for the better. Over 50 people were forced to put their futures into the hands of the court. In a matter of weeks, the charges brought against 30 plus people were dropped. Only 22 of the accused actually had to stand trial. And of those, only 3 – Elizabeth Johnson, Mary Post, and Sarah Wardwell, wife of Samuel Wardwell – were convicted.
Soughton wasted zero time getting everything in order to hang these ladies. And while he was at it, he was going to add in the names of the five people who got a stay of execution back when the Court of Oyer and Terminer was still running shit, which included Elizabeth Proctor.
Phips came to the rescue. No executions. Not until the king and queen themselves let him know what he should do.
Stoughton was pissed. When he found out on February 1, he stormed out of the courtroom in a big huff, leaving Danforth to take care of things in Charlestown.
Stoughton returned in April to continue hearing cases. Things during these trials followed the new pattern that had been established since the Superior Court was formed.
All of the accused were cleared of the charges. They were free! Except, not really.
They may have been aquitted, but get this: they had to pay for the privilege of rotting in prison. Until all the fees were paid, the people were stuck in prison. That might sound easy enough, but when a lot of people were jailed, most of their possessions, including property and land, were taken away.
Lydia Dustin was a sweet granny from Reading. She’d been in jail for about 10 months before she was cleared of all the charges. What should have been a happy occasion, soon ended in tragedy.
She died in prison in March 1693, a month after she was exonerated, before her family could get the money together to buy her freedom.
After Charlestown, the Superior Court was off to Boston to start trying people from the County of Suffolk. Everyone was acquitted.
In May 1693, Phips made a divine move. All the charges were dropped. Against everyone still in prison. There was no point in continuing on with the trials when pretty much every case was relying on boat loads of spectral evidence and the touch test.
He made sure that everyone in prison was let out. Or rather, they had the option to leave, provided they could pay the prison.
About 150 people in total were able to breathe fresh air again, but there were a lot of people who were stuck there because no money, no exit. Some people felt bad for those still in prison and paid their fees. Such was the case with Margaret Jacobs.
Her family had zero money to get her out, so some random man paid her fees. But, said man eventually took Margaret to court for the debt. Took some time, but she was able to pay it off.
Then there was her father, George Jacobs Jr., the son of the George Jacobs who had been hanged already. The man had run from Massachusetts so he wouldn’t be arrested, leaving his wife and daughter behind. Both of whom were arrested and imprisoned.
While Grandpa Jacobs’s property had been confiscated when he was arrested, the family was able to hang on to their house and some land. They remained in Salem Village after the trials, but they were dirt poor.
Tituba, on the other hand, was sold to a random slave trader. There was no way Parris was going to pay her fees and get her out. So he somehow finagled it that she was sold to pay for her own fees. What happened afterward to her and her husband, John Indian, is a mystery.
Edward and Sarah Bishop were able to pay their way out of prison because they still had some property they were able to use to pay their fees.
Not much is known about what happened to them after. They did have 12 kids to take care of. Who knows who looked after them while their parents were jailed. It’s completely possible that no one did.
This was pretty much the same story for a lot of the accused. The only problem was, as soon as the trials ended and people were back home, they wanted restitution. No, they didn’t want money. Though, I’m sure that wouldn’t have been rejected. But it really came down to the reputations that had been dragged through the mud.
In 1700, Abigail Faulkner from Andover made a case to the General Court about wiping her slate clean. Spectral evidence was the only kind of evidence brought against her, which was later deemed invalid. Everywhere she went, people shunned her. But nothing happened.
Two years later, more people made the same petition, either for themselves or their relatives. This included John Proctor’s son and Mary Easty’s husband. This time, they wouldn’t be ignored.
A bill was passed by the Massachusetts House of Representatives stating that spectral evidence would never again be used. The people who were jailed or killed as a result of the trials shouldn’t be looked down on. It didn’t really accomplish much.
In 1703, a bunch of Essex County ministers wrote to the General Court on behalf of the accused, asking that their names be cleared since the girls doing all the accusing were dirty little liars.
The General Court still didn’t lift a finger. One of the ministers involved was Joseph Green, the guy who took Parris’s place as minister of Salem Village.
There was another petition in May 1709, this time asking for money as well as clean slates. And more petitions were sent to the General Court in September 1710.
This time from Mary Easty’s husband, and the families of Elizabeth Howe, Sarah Wildes, Mary Bradbury, Edward and Sarah Bishop, George Burroughs, Giles and Martha Cory, and Rebecca Nurse. The General Court finally did something in October 1710.
The act they passed made good on clearing the names of the people who’d reached out to them.
Basically, if they received a petition for John Smith, alive or dead, but they didn’t get one for Cindy Lou Who, who had been hanged, only John’s conviction would be erased and his name made nice and new and shiny. Fair? Not even a little. They have reversed the convictions for everyone.
Unfortunately, Bridget Bishop, Susannah Martin, Alice Parker, Ann Pudeator, Wilmot Redd, and Margaret Scott, to name a few, were not cleared. No one spoke up for them.
At the end of 1711, the General Court paid out, but again, it was only to those who had sent in petitions. And it wasn’t an equal distribution of funds. The Proctors got the most money since John Proctor was the richest person murdered.
Then George Jacobs’s family got the next highest sum, and George Burroughs’s family the third. Aside from those three families, the General Court handed out money as if it was playing a game of pick a card.
Especially since only a fraction (24 families to be precise) of the people connected to the trials one way or another, received anything.
Salem After Salem
The problem with Salem after the trials was that many people would have been more than happy to sweep everything under the rug, wash their hands of the whole thing, and walk off whistling a jolly little tune.
Too bad for them, that just didn’t sit well with some people. Joseph Green got to work righting a wrong.
Green voided Martha Cory’s excommunication in 1703. Then in 1712, Salem Church was basically strong armed into doing the same thing with Rebecca Nurse and Giles Cory.
Salem may have wanted to forget what had happened only a decade before, but the families weren’t going to let them.
That’s not to say that some people didn’t feel bad for the part they played in the trials. Cause some people sure did. Twelve of the men who sat on the jury during some of the trials, plus Thomas Fisk, signed a statement admitting as much.
Another one of those official “I feel really bad about it” documents came from Samuel Sewall, who served as one of the judges on the Court of Oyer and Terminer. He gave it to the General Court. In this letter, he blamed himself for the Court of Oyer and Terminer and said he was sorry.
John Hale also apologized, but John Hathorne and William Stoughton were most assuredly not sorry. The irony of it all? Hathorne ended up buried near the family members of people he sent to prison.
In 1992, a memorial was erected, dedicated to the people who were murdered. Hathorne is near that too.
Cotton Mather, on the other hand, didn’t have the magical life he thought he deserved. To start with, he wasn’t sorry. At all. He stayed a minister, but he was super bitter about it.
No one really liked him and a lot of it had to do with the fact that he was in the thick of the trials. He died at the age of 66.
Samuel Parris admitted he was kind of sort of maybe a little bit to blame. So the people who wanted him gone, AKA the majority of the village, decided to make it as obvious as possible that he needed to get out. Parris wasn’t getting paid, people kept making a fuss about him, and they tried to get the parsonage back from him.
In November 1694, he finally said “I’m sorry” Samuel Parris style. Not only had Satan fooled him, but Satan had fooled everyone in the village and so they must all accept the blame and forgive and move forward.
In April 1695, ministers and church elders, including Increase Mather, came to Salem to observe and report. They were kind enough to let Parris know that he was more than welcome to leave — hint, hint — and no one would think less of him. Parris refused to go anywhere.
It wouldn’t be until a year later that Parris finally gave up the fight. But, he wasn’t moving. He was still living in the Salem parsonage, since he had nowhere to go. People were pissed.
So the obvious solution was to sue him to get him the hell out. And then Parris sued them right back since he hadn’t been paid in ages.
So in 1697, Samuel Sewall, Wait Winthrop, and a new player by the name of Elisha Cook came to Salem to sort things out. In the end, Parris left Salem and the village agreed to pay him some backpay.
He died in 1720, and left whatever he could to his children, including Betty, who was a married woman by that point. She married a shoemaker, had five kids, and lived a nice, long life.
With Parris no longer minister, it was time to find a new one. Salem Village had a hard time finding and keeping a minister before the trials. After the trials it was even harder. But they were finally able to find someone by the name of Joseph Green.
Green came in and asked, “So how’s about we all get along, mend fences, make peace, be good Puritans?” The people of Salem agreed. This was exactly the kind of minister they needed.
In 1706, he worked with Ann Putnam to write her own apology letter to the people of Salem for the havoc she caused. Her parents passed away 7 years earlier leaving 19 year old Ann with 7 little brothers and sisters to look after. She wanted to become a member of the church.
In order to become a church member she had to confess all her sins to all the church members. Cue the apology. Rebecca Nurse’s son even read it. He gave it a thumbs up.
So on August 25, 1706, Reverend Green read her apology to the church while Ann stood next to him. She was welcomed into the Church, but she died nine years later in her mid-thirties. Her health wasn’t the best.
As for the other girls involved with the trials, information is a little spotty. Elizabeth Booth, Sarah Churchill, and Mary Walcott all eventually got married.
Mercy Lewis got pregnant, and then got married. Sarah Churchwell was fined for having sex before marriage. Most of these girls did what quite a few families affected by the trials had already done at this point — left Salem.
Abigail Williams, Elizabeth Hubbard, Susannah Sheldon, and Mary Warren basically fell off the face of the earth. Okay, a little is known about Sheldon. She left Salem and moved to Rhode Island. And maybe died there without getting married.
Flash forward to today: there’s a memorial for Rebecca Nurse in Salem. A little ways off from the family home, stands her memorial. George Jacobs is buried not too far away from the memorial.
Unlike the other victims, he is the only person who has a concrete resting place. Not even Rebecca Nurse’s body has been found since her grave was unmarked when her family laid her to rest.
In the 1860s, the Jacobs family was doing who knows what when they came across the bones of good ole George. Since they knew about their family history, they knew they’d come across George. So they did what all sensible people do when they find a body — reburied him.
Unfortunately, the Jacobs weren’t living on that land any longer in the 1950s. So the next people to come across poor George was the town of Danvers, formerly known as Salem Village. They unearthed the bones, stuck them in a box, and put George Jacobs into storage.
It would take another 40ish years before George was put to rest once more, hopefully for the last time. In 1992, he was buried in the Nurse family graveyard with a nice, new headstone with his name on it.
His headstone reads: “Here lies buried the body of George Jacobs Sr, deceased August the 19, 1692.” Rest in peace, George.
Let’s Talk Cover-Ups and the Consequences
When all was said and done Phips basically enacted the first major American cover-up. People weren’t allowed to talk, write, or think about the trials.
Phipp’s supporters were starting to fade away. The whole dirty business with the trials tainted him in their eyes. They lost any faith they had in him.
Then there were the legal changes. For some years after the trials, women could do no wrong. No one in Essex County was going to convict a woman even if she was caught red handed with the stolen silver stuffed into her dress.
And thanks to the General Court, the charge of witchcraft was no longer a death sentence, starting in December 1692. Just some jail time. There would never again be another execution as result of a witch trial in America after Salem.
The trials somehow made people more religious. Everything ministers had been trying to accomplish since way before the trials was now being fulfilled. But it was different this time around. People finally started focusing on themselves instead of others or working as a religious collective.
A Quaker by the name of Thomas Maule ended the 3 year gag order Phips instituted to keep people from speaking out about the trials. He published a book using his name. He’d been causing trouble in Salem for decades.
At some point in his life, he converted from Anglicanism to Quakerism and became the man in charge of Salem Friends in the late 1660s. Which was a bold move in and of itself considering Quakers were not welcome in those parts.
In 1695, he published his book Truth Held Forth and Maintained According to the Testimony of the Holy Prophets Christ and His Apostles Recorded in the Holy Scriptures, a description and defense of Quaker theological tenets and practices.
Like the title suggests, the book bashes the Puritans and got into how they treated Quakers. And in this lovely attack on Massachusetts, Thomas made sure to mention exactly what he thought about the Salem Witch Trials and how people handled them.
William Stoughton got busy getting a warrant to arrest Thomas on December 12, 1695. At this point, Stoughton was Lieutenant Governor and acting Governor as well since Phips had passed away. Which is why he was making all the decisions.
So first, Thomas had to wait five months to get a trial date. On May 3, 1696 in Ipswich, it was decided Thomas’s trial would take place in Salem in November. So it was back to jail to wait another six months before he got his day in court.
During his trial, Thomas Maule said that he wouldn’t recognize the Superior Court since his book was based on religion, which meant the trial had to happen in a religious court. He made the argument it was easy enough to print his name on the book.
So his name on the book didn’t prove anything. And then he took it one step further and compared the printing of his name on the book to spectral evidence. Basically, his argument was “the printer or some random person did it.” Verdict: not guilty.
Witch? What’s a witch? I don’t know that word!
The word “witchcraft” basically disappeared from existence, thanks in part to Phips and the publishing ban he put into effect after the trials.
And because the government tried to cover up the witch hunts, it meant that, as an entity, Massachusetts wasn’t able to process, apologize, and move forward.
The government allowed the trials to continue, and they needed to take responsibility. Unfortunately, there was no way in hell they were going to admit they were wrong.
While the government wouldn’t come out and say they did something wrong, they weren’t going to let a Puritan minister whisper into the governor’s ear anymore. Might as well have been a slap on the wrist.
Nineteen people were hanged, damnit. One was pressed to death. And five people died in prison, including Sarah Good’s infant daughter Mercy, who’d been born in that hellhole. Where was the justice?
Of that, there was very little. The families of the accused continued petitioning the court until 1750. This was the last time a petition was presented. Makes sense, the families were probably starting to give up. Or the family lines were dying out.
But, with the petitions still coming in constantly until 1750, Salem Village never had a chance to forget and move on. Which is only fair since it wasn’t until 2001 that the final 5 accused witches were exonerated.
After just over 300 years, those men and women could finally rest in peace. And we truly hope they do. Rest in peace, ladies and gents.
*Photos: All photos used in this post are taken from Wikimedia Commons and are in the Public Domain. To learn more, click here.
*Music: Initial classical piece that’s a part of the intro is Concerto for 2 Oboes in F Major Op9 no3, 3 Allegro by Advent Chamber Orchestra under the Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 United States License.*