The Salem witch trials were a series of hearings and prosecutions of people accused of witchcraft in colonial Massachusetts between February 1692 and May 1693. More than two hundred people were accused. Thirty were found guilty, nineteen of whom were executed by hanging (fourteen women and five men). One other man, Giles Corey, was pressed to death for refusing to plead, and at least five people died in jail.
It all began in February 1692 when a group of young girls claimed to have been possessed by the devil and accused other women of being witches. Hysteria spread through colonial Massachusetts and a special court was convened to hear trials of those accused..
Bridget Bishop was the first person executed for witchcraft during the Salem witch trials in 1692. She was executed on June 10,1692.
On April 16, two women ‑ Bridget Bishop and Mary Warren – were newly accused by the afflicted girls. Two days later, complaints were filed against the two, as well as against Giles Corey and Abigail Hobbs. Those who claimed to be tormented were Ann Putnam Jr., Mercy Lewis, Mary Walcott, and Elizabeth Hubbard. Bishop was arrested on April 19 by Salem Marshal George Herrick and taken to Ingersoll’s Ordinary in Salem Village (modern-day Danvers) where the examinations were held. The afflicted girls writhed and convulsed. “She calls the Devil her god!” said Ann Putnam Jr. Judge Hathorne accused Bishop of afflicting the girls, which she denied. “I never saw these persons before, nor I never was in this place before,” said Bishop. “I am as innocent as the child unborn. I am innocent of a witch.” Judge Hathorne accused her of bewitching her first husband to death, which she also denied. The afflicted girls’ behavior was enough to convince the examiners. Bishop was held for trial in Salem jail, a short distance from her home.
“Q: Bishop, what do you say? You stand here charged with sundry acts of witchcraft by you done or committed upon the bodies of Mercy Lewis and Ann Putman and others.
A: I am innocent, I know nothing of it, I have done no witchcraft …. I am as innocent as the child unborn. ….
Q: Goody Bishop, what contact have you made with the Devil?
A: I have made no contact with the Devil. I have never seen him before in my life.”
Bridget Bishop was married at least 3 times, possibly 4 times , but the records are a bit hazy about that.
She married her first husband Captain Samuel Wesselby on 13 April 1660, at St. Mary-in-the-Marsh, Norwich, Norfolk, England. She had two sons and one daughter from her first marriage: John, Benjamin and Mary. Her first Husband died in 1666.
Her second marriage, on 26 July 1666, was to Thomas Oliver, a widower and prominent businessman. She had another daughter from her marriage to Thomas Oliver, Christian Oliver , born 8 May 1667.Thomas Oliver died in June 1679 .Bridget was accused of bewitching Thomas Oliver to death, but was acquitted due to lack of evidence.
Her third marriage in 1687 was to Edward Bishop, a prosperous sawyer, whose family lived in Beverly. Her third husband, Edward Bishop, is also one of the founders of the First Church of Beverly. He was 44 at the time of the trials.
Perhaps what made her neighbors most uncomfortable about Bishop had been her relationship with her second husband. While married to Thomas Oliver, Bridget gave every sign of being an abused wife. She would appear on the streets with bruises and scratches. However, it was believed that she was equally an abusive wife. The Olivers were known to verbally fight, and in public. Even on the Sabbath! The couple was once charged for that offense, and told to pay a fine or stand in the public square as punishment. Oliver’s daughter Mary paid the fine for her father, but declined payment for her stepmother. And so, Bridget was made to stand in the public square in penance for such behavior. Bridget Bishop was clearly a person who made others uncomfortable.
Bridget ran two taverns alongside Edward. Bridget Bishop was always seen by friends, family, and guests wearing exotic clothes and bright colors, both far from the standard clothes associated with the devil.
Below is a part of the Indictment against Bridget Bishop. It is in old English but I am sure you will be able to understand the contents.
“The Jurors for our Sovereigne Lord & Lady the King & Queen
pr’sent that Bridgett Bishop als
Olliver the wife of Edward Bishop of
Salem in the County of Essex Sawyer — the Nyneteenth day of April
in the fourth year of the Reigne of our Sovereigne Lord & Lady
William & Mary by the Grace of God of England Scottland France
& Ireland King & Queen Defend’rs of the faith &c and Divers other
dayes & times as well before as after, certaine Detestable Arts Called
Witchcrafts & Sorceries. wickedly and felloniously hath used Practised
& Exercised at and within the Towneship of Salem in the County of
Essex afores’d in upon and ag’t one Abigail Williams of Salem Village
in the County of Essex afores’d singlewoman.. by which said wicked
Arts the said Abigail Williams the Nyneteenth Day of April afores’d
in the fourth Year aboves’d and divers other Dayes and times as well
before as after, was, and is tortured Afflicted Pined Consumed wasted
& tormented ag’t the Peace of our Said Sovereigne Lord & Lady the
King & Queen and ag’t the forme of the Statute in that Case made
Bishop was convicted of witchcraft in short order. On June 10, Sheriff George Corwin escorted her from Salem jail, along Prison Lane to Main Street, and finally to a spot of common pasture at the edge of town. A crowd gathered. Bridget Bishop was ‘hanged by the neck until she was dead,’ on Proctor’s Ledge at Gallows Hill, the first of 19 people to be so executed. Instead of this first execution bringing people to their senses, it was not the end, but the beginning.
Even though Bridget Bishop was the first person to die as a result of the Salem Witch Trials, she wasn’t the first accused. Her accusers also eventually retracted their claims (too little, too late much?) and in the early 1700s the Massachusetts government cleared the names of most of the people who had been wrongly accused of witchcraft, Bridget Bishop not included.
Unfortunately, Bishop wouldn’t benefit from exoneration until more than two centuries later, when in 2001, the names of the remaining accused were cleared.
But Bishop’s status as the first witch hunt martyr remains today. Her unusual situation of being a thrice-married, twice-widowed woman who also owned property is said to have made her an anomaly amongst her counterparts and may have painted the target on her back for her being accused.
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