Post by Graveyardbride on Sept 22, 2013 9:19:16 GMT -5
Salem Witch Hanging of September 22, 1692
SALEM TOWN, Massachusetts Bay Colony – On Thursday, September 22, 1692, a cart carrying eight condemned witches made its arduous journey through Salem Town to Gallows Hill. The condemned included Mary Easty (sister of Rebecca Nurse), Alice Parker, Ann Pudeator, Martha Corey (wife of Giles Corey who had been pressed to death a few days earlier), Margaret Scott, Wilmot “Mammy” Redd, Mary Parker and Samuel Wardwell.
As the crowd crossed the causeway over North River and turned up the steep path, the ox cart stuck. While men labored to free the wheels, the afflicted girls chorused, “The Devil hinders the cart!” But eventually the oxen heaved it forward and upward.
According to legend, the seven women and one man were hanged from a locust tree, but a special gallows may have been constructed when the trials began. Whatever the object to which the nooses were tied, by the time the life was strangled from the last victim, the skies had grown ominously dark and a savage wind announced the approach of a ferocious storm.
Many wept when Goodwife Easty spoke a last farewell to family and friends. Martha Corey, a self-declared “Gospel woman,” remained so to the last, repeating her plea of innocence from the ladder and “concluded her life with an eminent prayer.” Samuel Wardwell attempted to state his innocence, but gagged on the smoke from the waiting executioner’s pipe (illustration above). The Devil, claimed the afflicted, directed the smoke to silence Wardwell.
After all eight had the breath permanently choked from their swinging bodies and they hung still and lifeless, the crowd of onlookers, realizing the angry skies and rising winds indicated a deluge was imminent, were anxious to depart for the safety of their homes. However, the Rev. Nicholas Noyes detained them long enough to gaze upon the bodies of the wretched souls dangling in space and declare: “What a sad thing it is to see eight firebrands of hell hanging there!”
Shortly thereafter, the rain commenced – a storm so fierce it seemed the wrath of God Himself had been unleashed on northeastern Massachusetts.
In nearby Boston, Judge Samuel Sewall hosted a discussion “speaking about publishing some trials of the witches.” Besides Cotton Mather, the group of six included Samuel’s brother Stephen, who likely brought a selection of court papers (but no first-person account), Chief Justice William Stoughton, and Justices of the Peace John Hathrone and John Higginson Jr. All except Mather were eyewitnesses to the trials and examinations. They discussed the problems faced by the court: the seriousness of the charges, the multitudes of suspects to be dealt with (which included Higginson’s own sister Ann Dolliver) and “the severe effects of apparent magic on the afflicted.”
The men likely considered the rising opposition to the witch trials, the “cloudy fury” referenced, but not fully described. (Boston merchant Thomas Brattle called the critics “men of a factious spirit and never more in their element than when they were declaiming against men in public place, and contriving methods that tend to the disturbance of the common peace.”) One purpose of the proposed book was to “flatten that fury,” as Cotton Mather had written to Stoughton, “which we now so much turn upon one another.” They were all aware that if Massachusetts could not establish and maintain civic order, England would send someone like Sir Edmund Andros to do it for them. The judges, Stoughton particularly, were certain their convictions were based on more than spectral evidence. And again Cotton Mather simply chose to trust their judgment and accept their assertions as fact.
As the meeting continued, the rain fell so heavily that Stoughton departed early for his home in Dorchester on the mainland. The one road from Boston’s peninsula crossed a narrow neck and the highest tides of the month reached full flood level shortly after 5 o’clock. Stoughton continued on horseback through the rain well beyond the neck’s fortifications before realizing it was impossible to proceed. Thus, the Sewalls were surprised by a dripping wet chief justice on their doorstep and obliged to put him up for the night despite a houseful of visiting relatives.
That evening before retiring, Samuel Sewall read 1st John 1:5: “God is light, and in Him is no darkness. If we say we have fellowship with Him, and walk in darkness, we lie and do not live the truth.” Though Sewell hadn’t done much to contradict Stoughton, he evidently had some nagging doubts about his own part in the trials. “If we say that we have no sin,” he read, “we deceive ourselves, and truth is not in us.”
Sources: The Devil Discovered by Enders A. Robinson, and The Salem Witch Trials, A Day-by-Day Chronicle of a Community Under Siege by Marianne E. Roach.