Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Salem Witch Trials

The Trials

Drawing of Bridget Bishop
Drawing of Bridget Bishop

The first witch to have her fate decided by the Court of Oyer and Terminer was Bridget Bishop, although she was one of the last people arrested. Bishop's most evil spell was to instill in the men of Salem the deadly sin of Lust, because she was an attractive young woman who flouted the Puritan morals by dressing in a modest black dress with a scarlet bodice. Her shape visited the men of Salem village in the middle of the night and beckoned them toward sin and when they fought her off, the succubus of Bridget Bishop would torture her poor victims.

When she was brought before Hathorne for examination, Bishop claimed not to know what a witch was and as she heard the accusations against her, she rolled her eyes in disgust.

The afflicted young ladies of Salem, sitting in front and to the side of Hathorne, did the same, clearly under Bridget's power.

That and her "smooth and flattering manner with men", coupled with her arrogant reply of "No!" when Hathorne asked if she was troubled by seeing the young ladies in agony, sealed her fate.

Now, a month later, Bridget was back in Salem, this time in the town's larger hall on trial for her life.

William Stacey, a 36-year-old yeoman who had been nursed back to health by Bridget when he was down with smallpox was the first witness against her.

"Shortly after I got well," he told the seven judges of the court, "Bridget Bishop got me to do some work for her, for which she gave me three pence. I thought it was good money. But I hadn't gone above 3 or 4 rods when I felt for the pence in my pocket and it was gone."

"Was that the only time she bewitched you?" asked William Stoughton, the chief judge.

Chief Judge William Stoughton
Chief Judge William

"No, milord. Sometime after, in the winter, I was sleeping and felt something between my lips," Stacey testified. "It was so cold that it did awake me and as I sat up in bed I did see Goody Bishop sitting at the foot of my bed."

A collective gasp swept through the gallery at the thought of a good Puritan being tempted by such a succubus. Stoughton asked another question. "What happened then?"

"Then she, or her shape, clasped her coat close to her legs and hopped upon the bed and about the room, and then went out!" Stacey testified.

In all, 11 people of Salem village in addition to the afflicted girls stepped forward to accuse Bridget Bishop of witchcraft. They had seen her flying about the countryside on a pole, they knew she controlled cats and birds. One person blamed her for the time the wagon fell in a hole shortly after she had argued with him, and many men complained that Bridget's shape visited them in the night and urged them to sin. Another witness, who had worked in Bishop's tavern, testified he had seen rag dolls and puppets in the cellar of her house.

When 42-year-old Samuel Gray testified that he saw the shape of Bridget Bishop looking in at his child and that the child pined away and died shortly after, it was clear Bridget Bishop, the lusty and vain barmaid whose real offense was perhaps too much pride in her appearance, was to hang.



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