Publish date:
Updated on
Year
1692

First Salem witch hanging

In Salem Village in the Massachusetts Bay Colony, Bridget Bishop, the first colonist to be tried in the Salem witch trials, is hanged after being found guilty of the practice of witchcraft.

Trouble in the small Puritan community began in February 1692, when nine-year-old Elizabeth Parris and 11-year-old Abigail Williams, the daughter and niece, respectively, of the Reverend Samuel Parris, began experiencing fits and other mysterious maladies. A doctor concluded that the children were suffering from the effects of witchcraft, and the young girls corroborated the doctor’s diagnosis. Under compulsion from the doctor and their parents, the girls named those allegedly responsible for their suffering.

On March 1, Sarah Goode, Sarah Osborne, and Tituba, an Indian slave from Barbados, became the first Salem residents to be charged with the capital crime of witchcraft. Later that day, Tituba confessed to the crime and subsequently aided the authorities in identifying more Salem witches. With encouragement from adults in the community, the girls, who were soon joined by other “afflicted” Salem residents, accused a widening circle of local residents of witchcraft, mostly middle-aged women but also several men and even one four-year-old child. During the next few months, the afflicted area residents incriminated more than 150 women and men from Salem Village and the surrounding areas of satanic practices.

In June 1692, the special Court of Oyer and Terminer [“to hear and to decide”] convened in Salem under Chief Justice William Stoughton to judge the accused. The first to be tried was Bridget Bishop of Salem, who was accused of witchcraft by more individuals than any other defendant. Bishop, known around town for her dubious moral character, frequented taverns, dressed flamboyantly (by Puritan standards), and was married three times. She professed her innocence but was found guilty and executed by hanging on June 10. Thirteen more women and five men from all stations of life followed her to the gallows, and one man, Giles Corey, was executed by crushing. Most of those tried were condemned on the basis of the witnesses’ behavior during the actual proceedings, characterized by fits and hallucinations that were argued to have been caused by the defendants on trial.

In October 1692, Governor William Phipps of Massachusetts ordered the Court of Oyer and Terminer dissolved and replaced with the Superior Court of Judicature, which forbade the type of sensational testimony allowed in the earlier trials. Executions ceased, and the Superior Court eventually released all those awaiting trial and pardoned those sentenced to death. The Salem witch trials, which resulted in the executions of 19 innocent women and men, had effectively ended.

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