The Violent Wizards of Salem Aug 18, 2017 15:31:25 GMT -5
Post by Graveyardbride on Aug 18, 2017 15:31:25 GMT -5
The Violent Wizards of Salem
Throughout the Salem witch trials, the “afflicted girls” and others who joined their ranks repeatedly insisted the accused men and women of beating, whipping, tormenting, torturing, pinching, biting, scratching and even sticking them with pins. This was particularly true in the cases of five of the six men condemned and executed for wizardry, the accused being the Rev. George Burroughs, Giles Corey, George Jacobs, John Proctor, Samuel Wardwell and John Willard. All these men, with the exception of Wardwell, already had reputations for abusing subordinates, specifically wives and/or servants. The records explicitly indicate Burroughs and Willard treated their wives harshly and during the trials, both were accused of murder. Records also indicate Corey, Jacobs and Proctor were known for their savage behavior, both in reality and the public imagination. Jacobs was alleged to have beaten people with a stick; Proctor of threatening his own servant, Mary Warren, with serious bodily harm; and it was attested that Willard beat his wife and mistreated either subordinates and/or animals. Giles Corey had been fined 16 years previous for beating his servant, John Goodell, to death. Wardwell, who was likely targeted as a witch for his penchant for fortune-telling and dabbling in magic, was the only man executed at Salem who did not fit the pattern.
Scholars have generally overlooked the evidence of abuse and focused instead on other, more sensational, accusations. However, it is prudent to examine such allegations in order to understand why these men, in particular, were singled out for accusations of witchcraft and put to death, as well as the behavior of the afflicted girls, many of whom were themselves the subordinates of some of these men.
The issue of wife abuse in the Salem trials is undisputed in the case of John Willard. Benjamin Wilkins “testifyed for all his natural affections he abused his wife much and broke sticks about her in beating of her,” and Peter Prescot confirmed he heard Willard admit, “with his own mouth,” to beating his wife, Margaret Wilkins Willard. Aaron Way addressed Willard in court, saying, “If I must speak, I can say you have been very cruell to poor creatures.” While being “cruel to poor creatures” may have been a reference to animal abuse, the Essex County court records include cases in which the phrase is used in reference to the abuse of subordinates, which included servants, wives, women in general, children and the poor. For example, in one case, Joane Suiflan, an Irish servant woman, accused her master of being a “cruell master unto me poore creature.”
Willard’s case was largely a family affair, with witnesses – aside from the regular accusers – belonging almost exclusively to his extended family. Henry Wilkins, Goodwife Willard’s uncle, accused Willard of causing the death of Daniel Wilkins (Henry’s son). Another accusation at Willard’s trial was that of Bray Wilkins, Margaret’s grandfather, who claimed he became immediately ill after Willard gave him a “mean look,” a suggestion that Willard possessed supernatural powers, specifically the “evil eye.” In Puritan society, a woman’s family was usually her best source of protection against an abusive husband, a dynamic that conceivably transpired in the familial testimonies and accusations against John Willard.
Ann Putnam Sr., the wife of Thomas Putnam, who joined the afflicted girls in their wild accusations, not only accused Willard of beating his wife and/or subordinates, she turned him into a serial killer, insisting he murdered Samuel Fuller, Lydia Wilkins, Goodwife Shaw, Fuller’s second wife and Aaron Way’s child, among others. Most significantly, Mrs. Putnam claimed Willard killed her own child, Sarah, who died December 17, 1689, at less than four-months-of-age. Ann Putnam Jr., aged 12, always attentive to the rumors floating about her home and village, elaborated on her mother’s story the following day, testifying: “He tould me he had whiped my little sister Sarah to death and he would whip me to death if I would not writ in his book ... affter this I saw the Apperishtion of my little sister Sarah who died ... crieing out for vengeance against John Willard.” The image of the whip characterized the violent aspect of the accused men that so frightened the girls. However, in this case, it was not Willard’s subordinate he allegedly killed, but rather another defenseless creature, Ann Jr.’s own baby sister.
While Jacobs and Proctor weren’t known for beating their wives, they were accused of mistreating servants. One of Jacobs’ maids described him as “an old man that goes about with two sticks” and these sticks (or staffs) became a prominent feature in the allegations against the old man, who at the time of the trials, was feeble and walked with the assistance of “two sticks.” In fact, sticks were notably prevalent in abuse cases recorded in the Essex County court records. For example, in one case of physical assault, Thomas Bettis declared, “... my master haith this mani yeares beaten me upon small or frivelouse occasion ... he broke my head twice, strucke me on the hed with a great stick.”
Sarah Bibber, another matron who joined the ranks of the afflicted, and Mary Warren accused George Jacobs of spectrally beating Mary Walcott with a staff and Walcott confirmed, “He used to come with two staves and beat her with one of them.” Sarah Churchill, a servant in the Jacobs household, was his chief accuser and provided testimony as to his character: “I know you have lived a wicked life,” she charged. When she was unable to do her work, she said Jacobs called her “bitch witch and ill names and then afflicted her.” Mercy Lewis also testified that Jacobs’ specter beat her “black and blue.” Salem Village was a small community, maidservants talked among themselves and it is possible Mercy Lewis was repeating what Sarah Churchill said he had done to her.
There are those who believe Salem’s vengeful girls were afflicted by very real, in addition to spectral, forces. Mercy Lewis, for example, was the former maidservant of George Burroughs. If Burroughs did, indeed, mistreat his wives, as it was alleged, it is likely he treated his servants severely.
The Essex County records confirm George Jacobs had a propensity for violence. In June 1677, when Jacobs would have been in his 50s or early 60s, he was fined for striking John Tompkins: “John Walters, aged thirty-five years and Stephen Small, aged twenty years, deposed that they saw George Jacobs Sr. strike John Tompkins Jr. one blow and if the latter had not held him by the arms, he would have struck him more, he being in such a passion.” Although it doesn’t appear Tompkins was subordinate to Jacobs, as records from just three years later indicate Tompkins was in possession of his own estate, Jacobs’ violent temperament manifested as a tendency to beat his servants. His forceful behavior wasn’t new to his neighbors and undoubtedly contributed to the witchcraft accusations levied against him.
Burroughs, Jacobs, Proctor and Willard were all hanged July 19, 1692, at Salem. On September 19, 1692, Giles Corey, who stood “mute” before the justices, was taken to a field near what is now Salem’s Howard Street Cemetery and pressed to death. Samuel Wardwell was hanged September 22, 1692, one of the group of eight convicted witches who were the last executed during the Salem witch madness.
Sources: Tamar Weinstock, “The Abusive Men of Salem,” December 4, 2006; The Devil Discovered by Enders A. Robinson; The Salem Witch Trials by Marilynne K. Roach; and The Salem Witch Trials Documentary Archive.
Illustration: Specters of George Burroughs’ wives appear to Ann Putnam Sr.
See also “Ghosts of the Salem Witch Trials”: whatliesbeyond.boards.net/thread/2734/ghosts-salem-witch-trials
“Salem Witch Hanging of September 22, 1692”: whatliesbeyond.boards.net/thread/50/salem-witch-hanging-september-1692
“September 19, 1692: Hard and Forceful Punishment at Salem”: whatliesbeyond.boards.net/thread/2460/september-1692-forceful-punishment-salem