From magic spells and curses to steaming potions and bubbling cauldrons, the world of witchcraft and wizardry has become widely popular thanks to J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series that has left millions dreaming of life at The Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. This hasn’t always been the case, however, since any sign of witchcraft in the United States during the late 17th century was no laughing matter. Instead of invisibility cloaks, wands and magical messenger owls, witchcraft was a straight path to execution.
Out of the entire New England region, the town of Salem and its neighboring villages in colonial Massachusetts were home to the longest and most gruesome witch trials between February 1692 and May 1693. Panic spread through the town like a crazed disease as accusers pointed fingers at dozens of town residents for afflicting them with their harmful supernatural powers that went against the grain of their Puritan beliefs. Chaos ensued on every street corner and in every home as no one felt safe.
With accusations based on everything from outrageous claims and outbursts of anger to acts of revenge and hearsay, the 20 people executed as witches didn’t even have justice on their side. What were the trials like and just how horrific were the accusations? Traveling back in time to 17th century New England, join us as we take a look at 10 Salem witch trials that are sure to send chills down your spine.
#10 – John Proctor
Born in England in 1632, John Proctor moved to the United States with his parents when he was only three years old. Once settled in Massachusetts, the Proctor family became one of the wealthiest in town, which inspired John’s incredible work ethic as an adult. Marrying three times and widowed twice with a total of 17 children, Proctor worked as a farmer and bartender in Salem until he became a victim in the infamous Salem Witch Trials when he was accused of witchcraft after defending his third wife, Elizabeth, from similar accusations.
Fingers quickly pointed at John as Abigail Williams, Mary Walcott and Mary Warren accused him of witchcraft and physical harm. Despite family members and friends petitioning to their Christian beliefs, John and Elizabeth were found guilty and sentenced to be hanged at their trial on August 5, 1692. Once in jail, the government took all of their possessions and granted Elizabeth, who was pregnant, a reprieve. On August 19, John was hanged leaving his wife to spend another nine months in jail before being released with nothing left to her name.
#9 – George Burroughs
Like John Proctor, George Burroughs was only a child when his family moved from the town of Suffolk, England and made their way to Massachusetts. Raised by his mother and later graduating from Harvard College with distinguished honors in 1670, Burroughs was named the minister of Salem Village a decade later. Spending three years at the pulpit, the Salem community continuously sang his praises and often described him as a handsome man of great strength with a charismatic personality. Their opinions, however, would later change.
Burroughs was accused of witchcraft for two simple reasons, the first of which involved a debt he supposedly owed to former church members and, the second, being his incredible strength that was considered beyond normal human ability. Found guilty at his trial with the only evidence of his strength coming from lifting a musket with one finger, Burroughs became the only minister ever executed for witchcraft and conspiracy with the devil in the Salem Witch Trials. He met his tragic end when he was hanged on August 19, 1692.
#8 – Elizabeth Howe
Growing up in Yorkshire, England and settling in the Puritan community of Topsfield, Massachusetts, Elizabeth Howe was taught to lead an extremely religious life in order to protect herself from the devil who was believed to be a small black man with cloven feet. Though her extreme piety was normal in the community, the Perley family believed otherwise when they accused Howe of cursing their 10-year-old daughter. Claiming she felt as though she was being poked with pins, the daughter told authorities, “I could never afflict a dog as Good Howe afflicts me.”
Despite leading a quiet life and raising six healthy children of her own, five other girls between the ages of 11 and 21 came forward and accused Howe of cursing them. Arrested and jailed, Howe’s case began on May 31, 1692 in a courtroom filled with complete chaos as her accusers flopped around on the ground claiming they were afflicted. With the Perley family arguing that Howe cursed their cow and even her brother-in-law claiming that she cursed his six piglets, the 57-year-old Howe was found guilty and hanged on July 19, 1692.
#7 – Giles Corey
Already 30 years old by the time his life in Salem, Massachusetts was documented in the town’s records, England native Giles Corey quickly established himself as one of the most successful farmers in the area. Marrying three times and continuing to build his wealth, Corey was no stranger to the courtroom when, at the age of 65, he was brought to trial and accused of beating a farmhand to death with a stick after catching him stealing apples. Only fined for the offense, the 1676 trial wouldn’t be the last time Corey saw the inside of a courtroom.
When the witch trials began in 1692, Corey was accused of being a warlock by 19-year-old Abigail Hobbs who said he forced her to write in one of his unholy books. Already 80 years old at the time, Corey refused to enter a plea in the case which meant that the court could not try him for the alleged crime. Instead, Corey was sentenced to pressing and was stripped naked in a nearby field where a heavy plank and boulders were placed on top of his chest. Yelling out “More weight!” and refusing to plea, Corey was tortured for two days before he died on September 19, 1692.
#6 – Susannah Martin
Emigrating from Massachusetts to England when she was 18 years old, Susannah North settled in Salisbury where she met and married a blacksmith named George Martin. Giving birth to eight children and tending to the home, Susannah first faced accusations of witchcraft when she was 48 years old but her husband countersued the accuser for slander and the charges were dropped. Years later, the Martins found themselves in a legal battle once again when they were accused of stealing inheritance money from Susannah’s stepmother. With the court siding against them, life would only get harder.
After George passed away in 1686, the impoverished Susannah was at her weakest when she was accused of witchcraft for a second time in 1692. As neighbors accused her of trying to recruit them as witches and wizards, Susannah did everything she could to prove her Christian faith and even quoted the Bible every chance she had. The court, however, wasn’t impressed and said that the Devil would be able to “act” Godly as well and that Susannah’s actions couldn’t prove her innocence. Unconvinced of her religious piety, Susannah was hanged on July 19, 1692.
#5 – Mary Eastey
One of eight children born to William and Joanna Towne of Norfolk, England, Mary Eastey settled in Massachusetts with her family in 1640. Marrying barrel-maker and farmer Isaac Eastey 15 years later, the couple had 11 children together as Mary rose to great prominence and became one of the most revered women in Salem. By 1692, however, the town suffered a heavy blow when Mary’s reputation was forever marred after Mercy Lewis and a few others accused her publicly of witchcraft.
Despite her charismatic and eloquent plea during her trial on April 22, Mary’s words couldn’t hold a candle to the chaos that ensued from Mercy who mimicked Mary’s hand gestures by clasping her hands together only to claim she couldn’t take them apart. Left with no other choice, the court sentenced Mary to prison but released her two months later for unknown reasons before arresting her again two days later when Mercy said she was afflicted. Found guilty at her trial on September 9, Mary was hanged on September 22, 1692.
#4 – Bridget Bishop
Recognized as the first person executed during the Salem Witch Trials in 1692, Bridget Bishop had little idea what her future would hold when she emigrated from England to the United States. Marrying three times and widowed twice with only one daughter from her second marriage, Bridget was accused of bewitching five women including Mary Lewis, Mary Walcott and Abigail Williams. The young women claimed that Bridget tried to physically harm them and that her stare would cause them to freeze up and be stricken with pain until she released them from her spell.
Like the other trials on our list, Bridget’s was no exception as it was filled with utter chaos, outrageous claims and excessive acting. The prosecution even argued that she had a third nipple, which was sign of witchcraft, but a second examination proved otherwise. Regardless, the court decided that Bridget’s personality and the accusations from her victims were enough to prove she was a witch. Found guilty and sentenced to death, Bridget made history as the first person hanged in the trials when she met her fate as the town watched on June 10, 1692.
#3 – Sarah Wildes
Migrating to Massachusetts with her family as a child, Sarah Wildes had long earned the reputation of being a nonconformist and glamorous rule breaker among her Puritan neighbors when she married John Wilkes, a widower with eight children. Settling in Topsfield with her new family while John worked as the town’s treasurer and constable, Sarah couldn’t be tamed by marriage or motherhood as she was whipped for fornication at only 22 years old and again nearly two decades later for wearing a silk scarf.
Because Sarah married John only seven months after his wife died, his family was far from thrilled with his new bride and took to provoking and tormenting her to the point that she was accused of being a witch. With famed accusers like Mary Walcott jumping on board, Sarah was imprisoned and later hanged on July 19, 1692 at 65 years old. Tragically, Sarah’s accusers waited until years after her death to admit her innocence which led to her family receiving 14 Colonial Pounds in addition to her being posthumously exonerated of all charges.
#2 – Ann Pudeator
Despite very little being known about her early life, by the time Ann Pudeator was in her 70s she had become a well-known widow in Salem, Massachusetts. First marrying Thomas Greenslade and giving birth to five children, Ann buried her husband in 1674 when John Pudeator hired her as a caretaker and nurse for his alcoholic wife. With John’s wife passing away a year later, Ann and John married in 1676 and spent the next six years together before John’s death in 1682. Newly widowed and left with a massive estate, Ann quickly caught the attention of the Puritan community.
Rumored to work as a nurse and midwife, Ann was an easy target for accusations of witchcraft. Not only was she accused of bewitching neighbors, torturing people with pins and causing a man to fall from a tree, Mary Warren and others in the town also argued that she killed her husband and his late wife. Found guilty and sentenced to death alongside Mary Eastey and three others, Ann was hanged on October 2, 1692. It wasn’t until 1957 that her name was cleared of any wrongdoing by the state of Massachusetts.
#1 – Sarah Good
Born in Massachusetts and raised in a wealthy family, Sarah Good found herself fatherless and in massive debt after her father died in 1672 and she was denied her inheritance. Marrying Daniel Pool who died shortly after in 1682, Sarah sunk further into debt and married William Good who assumed his wife’s financial burden. Unable to break free from debt, Sarah and William became outcasts in Salem as they had no other choice but to beg for work, food and shelter from their neighbors in the village.
Notorious for going door to door and often described as filthy and bad-tempered, Sarah would chant under her breath when the neighbors turned her away emptyhanded. Accused of being a witch, Sarah argued she was reciting the Ten Commandments but, once in court, she couldn’t remember them. On March 6, 1692, Sarah was officially accused of witchcraft by Reverend Samuel Parris, was found guilty and sentenced to death. Spending her final months pregnant and in jail, Sarah outlived even her infant child when she was hanged on July 29, 1692 at 39 years old.