Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Salem Witch Trials


Like an avalanche that gathers more force as it thunders down the mountain, the witch-hunt in Salem fed upon itself. Pressed for more details, the girls began giving up more witches. Whether it was because they were in too deep to back out, they truly believed they were bewitched or they were horribly malevolent isn't clear, but for whatever reason, the affliction spread and the victims became more brazen.

It was Ann Putnam who first accused Martha Corey of sorcery. Martha was a wizened old woman in her 60s or 70s whose initial reaction to the cries of witchcraft in the village had been a cackle and shake of the head.

"Give them a man and they'll settle down," she said, walking away from the gossips.

Ann, the apple of her mother's eye and her pride and joy, was unused to being brushed off like this. So it was not surprising that within the span of just a day or so from Martha's put-down that Ann began to be tormented by Goody Corey's "shape."

A strange coincidence doomed Martha Corey.

The town elders wanted to be sure before accusing a member of the church and a valued citizen of Salem for the past three score years of being a witch. They asked Ann in the midst of being pricked and pinched by Corey's invisible (to everyone but Ann) specter what the shape was wearing. Ann stared off for a moment and then shook her head sadly.

"I cannot tell," she replied. "The witch Corey has blinded me."

The Arrest of Martha Corey
The Arrest of Martha Corey

The deacons could not let Ann's accusation go uninvestigated, so they humbly appeared before Goodwife Corey and reported that she had been accused of being a necromancer. Martha reacted in the same fashion as she did when she first learned that witches were loose in the colony. She laughed in their faces. Then she got angry. She gave the deacons what for and then asked the question that would lead her straight to the gallows.

"Could she tell what I was wearing?" she asked, wanting the same answer the deacons had hoped for with Ann.

No, they replied, curious as to why Corey would ask that question.

"I knew it," Corey cackled again. "I knew it."

In their minds, the deacons believed the only way Goodwife Martha Corey could know that Ann Putnam could not tell what she was wearing when she tortured the poor child was if Martha was a witch. A warrant for Corey was sworn out the same day and the constable took one of the few levelheaded people left in Salem away in chains.

Joining Martha Corey shortly afterward was Dorcas Good, who had been seen by the girls flying around the countryside on her "pole," and who was sneaking into their bedrooms at night and biting them. A cunning witch, Dorcas Good must have been, and apparently wise beyond her years. When accused sorceress Dorcas Good joined her mother Sarah in Ipswich jail, she was 5 years old.



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