September 19, 1692: Hard and Forceful Punishment at Salem Sept 20, 2014 15:56:35 GMT -5 Kate, Joanna, and 1 more like this
Post by Graveyardbride on Sept 20, 2014 15:56:35 GMT -5
September 19, 1692: Hard and Forceful Punishment at Salem
In his diary for Monday, September 19, 1692, Samuel Sewall recorded the following: “About noon, at Salem, Giles Corey was pressíd to death for standing Mute; much pains was used with him two days, one after another, by the Court and Capt. Gardner of Nantucket who had been of his acquaintance: but all in vain.”
Giles Corey of Salem Farms was born around 1620 in England, so he would have been in his early 70s when the Salem witch madness began in 1692. He was a prosperous farmer, but a more contentions man there never was and in his early years, he had been charged with theft on at least two occasions. In 1675, Corey beat Jacob Goddell, a farm worker, so severely the man died a few days later. Corey claimed Goddell had fallen from his horse and broken his arm, but the inquest jury reported: "We find several wrongs he hath had in his body as upon his left arm and upon his right thigh a great bruise which is very much swold and upon the reins of his back in color differing from the other parts of his body we caused an incision to be made much bruised and run with a jelly and the skin broke upon the outside of each buttock." Corey was found guilty of “abusing the body” of his servant and ordered to pay a substantial fine. Three years later, a small house belonging to John Procter, a prominent farmer and tavern owner, was partially burned and Procter suspected Corey set the fire because “he had done so many ill things to his neighbors” and had issued threats that included setting fires. However, on this occasion, Corey was able to prove he was at home in bed the night of the fire.
Corey and his first wife, Margaret, had four or five daughters, three of whom were still living in 1692: Margaret, married to Jonathan Biles: Deliverance, wife of Henry Crosby, and Elizabeth, married to John Moulton. Following Margaret’s death, Corey married Mary Bright, who died in 1684 at the age of 63. She is buried in Salem’s old Burying Point graveyard.
Around 1690, he married his third wife, Martha Rich, a widow with two sons, who was probably in her late 30s or early 40s. (Some scholars claim Martha Corey was in her 60s when she was accused of witchcraft, failing to take into account that she gave birth to a son after 1684.) Since marrying Martha, Corey had not committed any crimes, or at least he hadn’t been caught and charged. In 1691, he applied for church membership and seemed to have turned over a new leaf. According to church records: "Giles Corey a man of 80 years* of age having been a scandalous person in his former time, and God having in his later time awakened him unto repentance he stood ... making a confession of such evils as had been observed in him before. He was received into the Church with consent of the brethren."
By 1692, Martha Corey was a churchgoing and self-described “gospel woman,” but her life was not without blemish. In 1677, she gave birth to a son – presumably out of wedlock – described as a “mullato,” however, he may have been half-Indian as opposed to half-negro. The boy was named Benjamin, or possibly Benoni – in the Bible, Rachel gives birth to a son she calls “Ben-Oni,” which means "son of my trouble." Following the boy’s birth, she lived a reclusive life with her apparently illegitimate child in the home of John Clifford of Salem. In 1684, Martha married Henry Rich and gave birth to a second son, John Rich, shortly thereafter.
Both Giles and Martha Corey were members of the church in Salem Town, but because of the distance, they attended services in Salem Village, the minister of which was the Reverend Samuel Parris, whose daughter, Betty Parris, and niece, Abigail Williams, were responsible for starting the witch lunacy. Parris was also the owner of the Indian slave woman Tituba, who had already been accused of witchcraft. Goodwife Corey scoffed at the fits of the so-called “afflicted children” and on March 1, when Giles insisted on attending the examinations of Sarah Good, Sarah Osborn and Tituba at Nathaniel Ingersoll's tavern in Salem Village, she attempted to stop him, going so far as to pull the saddle from his horse. Giles, miffed at his wife, disingenuously told others what happened and on March 12, Ann Putnam Jr. claimed she had seen Martha Corey’s specter. Two church deacons informed Goody Corey of Ann Jr.’s allegations and the following day, the headstrong Martha visited the home of Thomas Putnam to see his daughter and ask why she had accused her of witchcraft. As soon as Martha entered the house, Ann Jr. fell into “grievous fits,” crying that “she [Goody Corey] did it.” Soon Mercy Lewis (the Putnams’ maidservant) joined Ann Jr. and the two put on a show to demonstrate how badly they were bewitched. For Goodwife Corey, the visit was a dismal failure. On Saturday, March 19, the conspiracy filed a complaint against Martha Corey and two days later, she was arrested by the sheriff and examined for the practice of witchcraft. She refused to confess and was imprisoned in Salem jail. Within days, the apparition of Giles Corey was tormenting the “children” and on April 18, 1692, the conspiracy filed a complaint against him. He was arrested the following day, examined and imprisoned. The first sitting of the Court of Oyer and Terminer took place Monday, June 2, 1692. Ann Putnam Jr. and John Fuller testified against Martha Corey, accusing her of killing Samuel Fuller by witchcraft. On June 30, Elizabeth Booth described for the grand jury a vision she had June 8 in which Martha Corey used witchcraft to kill George Nedom and Thomas Gould Sr. On Thursday, June 9, Elizabeth Woodwell and Mary Walcott both said they had seen the specter of Goodman Corey enter Salem meeting house and sit down in the men’s section by the post, where he remained throughout the entire lecture. (They did not explain why a person in league with the devil would sit through a church lecture and no one asked.)
On Friday, September 9, several witches were examined. Benjamin Gould, age 25, testified that “On April 6th, Giles Corey and his wife came to my bed side and looked upon me some time and then went away and immediately I had two pinches upon my side. Also another time, I saw Giles Corey and John Proctor and I had then such a pain in one of my feet that I could not ware my shoe for two or three days.” Not to be outdone by Bibber, Ann Putnam Jr. claimed: “I saw the apparition of Gilles Cory come and afflict me urging me to write in his book and so he continued hurting me by times till the 19th April being the day of his examination; and during the time of his examination Giles Cory did torture me a great many times and also several times since Giles Cory or his Appearance has most grievously afflicted me by beating pinching and almost choking me to death urging me to write in his book. Also on the day of his examination I saw Giles Cory or his Appearance most grievously afflict and torment Mary Walcott, Mercy Lewis and Sarah Bibber and I verily believe that Giles Cory is a dreadful wizard for since he has been in prison, he or his Appearance has come to me a great many times and afflicted me.”
Giles Corey was either a wily curmudgeon who had figured out there was no point in going to trial because a mere mortal could not defend himself in a court of law that allowed spectral evidence, or he was too stubborn to give his accusers the satisfaction of seeing him swinging from the gallows. Whatever his reasons, while adamantly denying the charges, when asked how he would be tried, instead of replying “By God and my country,” as expected, he refused to answer. In other words, he “stood mute.” Because the proceedings could not continue until he answered, Corey’s trial was postponed. On this same day, Mary Easty, Alice Parker, Ann Pudeator, Martha Corey, Ann Pudeator, Dorcas Hoar and Mary Bradbury were pronounced guilty of witchcraft and sentenced to hang.
Rev. Parris named Revelation 17:14 – “These shall make war with the Lamb, and the Lamb shall overcome them” – as his text Sunday, September 11, 1692. He was, of course, referring to the witch trials and specifically to Martha Corey, who, although in full communion with the church, had been pronounced guilty of communing with the devil. While Parris was condemning her in Salem Village, Goodwife Corey was taken from jail and transported to Salem Church, where she was excommunicated by the Rev. Nicholas Noyes.
On Friday, September 16, Giles Coey was again brought before the justices, but remained as obstinate as ever. His friend, Captain Thomas Gardner attempted to reason with Corey, but the old man refused to cooperate. Consequently, the court condemned Corey to peine forte et dure (“hard and forceful punishment”) in an attempt to loosen his tongue.
During services in Salem Town Sunday, September 18, Rev. Noyes excommunicated Giles Corey. That night, Ann Putnam Jr. was attacked by several vengeful witch specters, one of which was the apparition of Goodman Corey, who vowed to press Ann Jr. to death before the law pressed him to death. At some point, a ghost in a winding sheet appeared and told the girl Giles Corey had murdered him, pressing him to death with his feet before Ann was born, however, Corey covenanted with Satan to avoid a murder charge. Now, Corey’s heart was too hard to accept the easier death by hanging, preferring instead to be pressed to death. “It must be done to him as he has done to me!” wailed the specter. Later, Thomas Putnam, Ann’s father, marveled that no one had recalled the murder of Goddell, “all the while Giles Corey was in prison, and so often before the court.”
Around noontime the following day, Sheriff George Corwin walked Giles Corey from Salem jail to a nearby pasture. While members of the public watched, officers ordered the old man to lie down, covered him with wide boards, or possibly an old door, and commenced piling heavy stones, one-by-one, atop the boards. Periodically, the sheriff would ask: “Are you ready to plead now, old man?” to which Corey responded: “More weight.” According to Robert Calef, an outspoken critic of the trials: “In the crushing, Giles Corey’s tongue was pressed out of his mouth and the sheriff, with his cane, forced it in again.” By this point, Corey was likely unconscious and a short time later, he was pronounced dead. According to tradition, Corey’s body was buried at, or near, the crossroads at Butt’s Brook. This could be because he threatened to kill himself at one point during the proceedings, or because his failure to plead during pressing was considered suicide. The day following Corey’s execution, Jonathan Sewall’s diary entry read: “Now I hear from Salem that about 18 years ago, he was suspected to have stamped and pressed a man to death, but he was cleared. Twas not remembered till Ann Putnam Jr. was told of it by said Corey’s specter,† the Sabbath-day night before the execution.”
Cotton Mather preserved the original letter received by Sewall from Sergeant Thomas Putnam, which reads: “The last night, my daughter Ann was grievously tormented by witches, threatening that she should be pressed to death before Giles Corey. A man in a winding sheet told her that Giles Corey had murdered him by pressing him to death. The apparition said that Giles Corey was carried to court for this, and the jury had found the murder, and that her father knew the man, and the thing was done before she was born. Now, Sir, this is not a little strange to us, that nobody should remember these things, all the while that Giles Corey was in prison, and so often before the court. For all people now remember very well that about seventeen years ago, Giles Corey kept a man in his house, which man died suddenly. A jury was impaneled, among whom was Dr. Zerubabel Endicott, who found the man bruised to death, and having clodders of blood about his heart. The jury, whereof several are yet alive, brought in the man murdered, but as if some enchantment had hindered the prosecution, the court proceeded not against Giles Corey, though it cost him a great deal of money to get off.”
Three days after Corey’s horribly painful death, Martha Corey, along with Mary Easty (sister of Rebecca Nurse), Alice Parker, Mary Parker, Ann Pudeator, Willmot “Mammy” Redd, Margaret Scott and Samuel Wardwell, were hanged on Gallows Hill. Dorcas Hoar, also scheduled to hang, had confessed.
The pasture where Giles Corey had the life pressed from his body became a graveyard and many believe Howard Street Cemetery (above) is haunted by Corey’s recalcitrant spirit. Robert Ellis “Bob” Cahill, author and former Salem sheriff, is of the opinion that Corey’s ghost is something of a harbinger of doom. “My father and a friend of his came down here and tried to spend the night here in the cemetery,” Cahill explains. “That night, they saw, coming across the cemetery, old Giles Corey!” A few days later, on June 25, 1914, a great fire swept down upon Salem from Gallows Hill and before it could be contained, 1,600 buildings were burned to the ground. (Corey did have a penchant for setting fires.)
Cahill also believes Corey cursed the sheriffs of Salem. Legend has it that just before merciful death claimed him, Corey looked directly at Sheriff Corwin and with his final breath, gasped: “Damn you, Sheriff! I curse you and all the sheriffs of Salem!” Cahill had served as Salem sheriff for around five years when he was rushed to the hospital with a serious heart condition. Afterward, he began researching the health of former Essex County sheriffs and discovered every one – from George Corwin to his time – had suffered some sort of blood disorder or heart problem. “We’ve often wondered,” Cahill muses, “we, who have served as sheriff of Essex County, if the curse of Giles Corey hasn’t put its hard fist upon us over these 300 years.”
The Howard Street Cemetery is now included on some of Salem’s ghost tours and on numerous occasions, people have seen what appears to be a “male shape” flitting about the old graveyard.
*This is incorrect. Corey was born around 1620 and in 1692 would have been in his 70s.
†It was Goddell’s specter, not Corey’s, that allegedly informed Ann Jr. of the death.
Sources: The Devil Discovered by Enders A. Robinson, The Salem Witch Trials: A Day-By-Day Chronicle of a Community Under Siege by Marilynne Roach, "The Men of Salem" by Tamar Weinstock, Wonders of the Invisible World by Cotton Mather, More Wonders of the Invisible World by Robert Calef, "Salem’s Ghosts: Wraiths of Restless Witches" by Lee Holloway; The Death of Giles Corey; Robert Ellis Cahill; and Jonathan Turley.