Not for Profit Martyrs – Part Two
Historical Fiction Stories
Historians cite a multitude of reasons for the occurrence of the 17th century witch trials in Salem and in Europe during the Dark-Middle Ages.
A belief in happen stance, luck, or in an external presence such as Satan, witches, warlocks, Pan, Bigfoot, werewolves, vampires, elves, fairies and the like have also been listed by some scholars.
Others have referred to the heinous trials and happenings as resulting from the marriage of the landed elite to the religious, moral aristocracy.
It does seem that through the centuries civilizations from the Sumerians, to the Philistines, to the Greeks, the Romans, the Egyptian and also the Incas constructed gods, altars and other religious rituals such as the worship of Zeus, Diana, Loki, Montezuma, Saturn, Isis, Mercury and Ra were created to assist the average person to maintain some sort of sane existence under insane and unbearable strains and conditions.
Most religions help make sense of the unknown and unexplainable phenomenon which causes their misfortunes, everyday hurts , trials and calamities such as why the creeks rises to wash
away needed crops, or why droughts happen, or why the biting locust or the Black Death plague comes.
The invisible world or dark spirits were often blamed for the sorry condition of man and for most of the problems of this life or so the clergy said.
So it happened that in Salem, Massachusetts because of a combination of factors such as a smallpox epidemic, some Indian-Puritan battles, the King of England’s threats to use military force on the scared colonist, starvation and the strange pagan, natives that occupied the land caused many settlers to blame, not themselves or their behavior or even the ruling classes but to scapegoat the social outcasts, the poor person with the title of witch or wizard.
Others, including some prominent historians have called the hysteria and wide eyed finger pointing that surrounded the witch hunts simple teenage boredom, midnight forest dancing and childish imaginings.
But after more in depth studies, many have alleged systematic child abuse, power and land grabbing as the main contributors to the vengeful egging on of the young girls in particular, Betty Parris and Anne Putnam, Jr. by Thomas Putnam and Samuel Parris.
One fact is certain, that almost all of the accused women, children and the elderly were targeted by the Putnam family and whatever possessions and property that was connected with them confiscated and practically given to their accusers, making them richer for their vicious, troublesome behavior and lies.
It is also interesting and noteworthy that when one sex is favored over another or one race considered superior to another and placed in isolated areas that evil, falsehoods and bullying are present.
The slave, Tituba was one of the first of four women accused of witchcraft.
She was severely whipped and brutal beaten by her owner, Mr. Samuel Parris because she adamantly denied being a witch or to have any knowledge of witches or wizards in Salem.
After the beating, she reversed her innocent plea and accused various people, dogs, birds, a hog and even snakes as witches and familiar spirits.
Tituba pointed her battered finger at any and all enemies of the Putnam family.
Fortunately for her, she was owned by the Parris family and thusly released to them for her punishment.
Two of four accused women were Sarah Osborn and Sarah Goode whose trials did not fare as well.
Sarah Osborn born 1643 was the wife of Robert Prince who just happened to be the brother of Anne Putnam, Senior.
At the time of the trial, Robert Prince had been dead for twenty years and Sarah Osborn Prince was in a legal battle with the Putnam’s concerning her deceased husband’s property.
To her detriment, she refused to attend church where the Putnam family ruled and this was cited by her accusers during the trial.
Sarah Goode was woman whose father had been an innkeeper with a good amount of property who was found died in a body of water and whose property was divided between his son, his daughter, Sarah and his wife.
His death was said to be a suicide.
No one asked if he could swim.
As Sarah was still a child, her share of the inheritance was held in trust by her mother.
But Sarah’s mother remarried and Sarah’s share was taken control of by her stepfather.
In court the stepfather testified that Sarah and her then husband, William were given her inheritance but that they paid his debtors, as he was an indentured slave.
Sarah Goode, was at that time an outcast like the other two women.
She was a homeless beggar who lived from hand to mouth with her four year old daughter.
Sarah begged for food and shelter but when she was not given anything from the passing or ignoring people, she would curse at them.
During Sarah’s trail her curses were cited as evidence of her bewitchment.
Sarah had several body moles that her husband, testifying in court referred to as the Devil’s Mark.
Sarah’s four years old was accused, jailed and tortured as well.
Then in 1711, William, the husband and father of Sarah’s child was awarded the largest money settlement of any family member hung or put in jail for witchcraft.
Sarah Goode for her part responded to one of her tormentors with this statement,
‘I am no more a witch than you are a wizard and if you take away my life, God will give you blood to drink.’
Her prediction came true for he collapsed and died later of a brain hemorrhage.
Then we come to Bridget Bishop who some years before had been accused of being a witch but had been found not guilty and released.
Ms. Bishop was one of the first along with Tituba, the slave to be identified as a witch and carted into court by the Putnam family.
Bridget Bishop was an tavern owner who served wine and spirits on Sunday, did not live the Puritan lifestyle, married three times, publicly fought with her husbands, wore elaborate, expensive clothing and allowed the forbidden games of shuffle board to be played in her inn.
The gossip mill was constantly abuzz about her being the mistress of the other male tavern owners.
There was a whole lot of drinking going on in (pure) Salem to sustain three taverns.
Bridget Bishop repeatedly defended herself against the girls and others with,
‘I am as innocent as a child unborn.’
Mentally insane, Deliverance Hobbs and Mary Warren and even the husband of Bishop’s sister witnessed against her.
Her brother-in-law stated that she sat up at night and conversed with the Devil.
None bothered to question him on how he knew what Bridget did at night and in her bedroom.
Several months after her hanging, Bishop’s husband married Elizabeth H. who was one of her accusers.
Whatever the reasons for the brutal torture and treatment of these people- victims, one thing is certain that there in Salem was a malevolent indifference towards those considered lower, different or more fragile at work within the minds and hearts of the people.
An eighty year old man was pressed to his death because he refused to submit to the courts questionings in order to maintain his children’s land inheritance as anyone found guilty of witchcraft would have their land or possessions confiscated.
Another man was actually stoned to death on the most filmsy evidence ever conceived.
A wealthy man who was a descendant of the Mayflower crew passing through Salem, Mass during the trials was accused and jailed for several months until he was able with the help of friends to break out of his cell and narrowly escape to New York.
previous: Not For Profit Martyrs – Part One
more by DEBRA BISHOP
photograph by Breno Machado