The fourth person to be
accused of witchcraft in the Salem Witches hysteria of
1692–93, who was tried and executed.
Martha Corey was the wife of Giles Corey, who also
was executed. The Coreys were well-to-do, pious residents
of Salem Town. Martha’s age at the time of the trials
is not known. Presumably, she was beyond child-bearing
years. She was Giles’ third wife; the couple had no children
of their own.
Corey was renowned for her piety, but she became
a target after the slave Tituba confessed to witchcraft.
Tituba said that four women were hurting the afflicted
girls, but named only two—Sarah Good and Sarah Osborne.
The afflicted girls came up with no names. Then
gossip circulated that the girls were talking about others
as witches, including Martha Corey. Thirteen-year-old
Ann Putnam broke the silence in March 1692 by naming
Corey next as one of the four who was tormenting them.
Corey, she said, appeared in spectral form and pinched
and tormented her.
One of the girls’ tricks was to claim that they could
identify their tormentors, who came in spectral form, by
their clothing, which they could see. Two representatives,
Thomas Putnam (Ann’s uncle) and Ezekiel Cheever, were
chosen to visit Corey to ask her questions about the allegations
of the girls. First, they asked Putnam to describe
Corey, Martha 73
the clothing that Corey would be wearing when they arrived.
But Putnam dodged the matter, claiming that Corey
had struck her blind so that she could not see the
When Putnam and Cheever arrived at the Corey residence,
Martha confidently denied any knowledge or role
in the girls’ afflictions. When told she had been cried out
against by Putnam, she asked if Putnam had identified
her clothing. Apparently, Corey was wise to the trick and
thought she would expose it. Instead, her answer was taken
as a sign of witchcraft, for how else would she know?
Corey was arrested on March 19 and taken to the Salem
Town meetinghouse for examination by the magistrates.
She seemed to be convinced that common sense
would prevail. She denied being a witch and said she did
not know if there were any witches in New England. She
laughed at some of the questions. She said the magistrates
were blind to the truth, and she could make them see it,
but then declined to do so.
Days later, Putnam was sent for and, when in the presence
of Corey, went into fits. If Corey bit her lip, the girl
said she was being bitten. If Corey clenched her hands,
she said she was being pinched.
Corey was sent to jail and tried in September. She continued
to think that it would be impossible for a person
such as herself to be found guilty of witchcraft. What
could she do, she said, if others were against her? Unfortunately,
her husband Giles contributed to the case
against her. Giles had bought completely into the hysteria
and said that Martha acted in strange ways “like the Devil
was in her.” He testified that some of their animals had
been mysteriously hurt or sick, implying that Martha may
have been responsible. Corey was condemned to death.
She was excommunicated from the church in Salem Town
on September 11. On September 22, she was hanged with
seven others. She ended her life with prayer.
As Corey and the others swung at the ends of their
ropes, Reverend Nicholas Noyes said, “What a sad thing
it is to see eight firebrands of hell hanging there.”
Corey’s excommunication was reversed on February
14, 1703. In its statement, the brethren of the church said
that “we were at that dark day under the power of those
errors which then prevailed in the land” and that Corey’s
execution “was not according to the mind of God.”
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