Courtroom Examination of Bridget
Written By Sarah Nell Walsh
Bridget Bishop was a self-assertive woman who had been accused
of witchcraft prior to 1692. Previous experience had taught her to
deny allegations of witchcraft at all costs. Unfortunately, in 1692
the situation was different and her only salvation lay in false
confession, which she refused to do. Bridget Bishop was married to
Edward Bishop when she was accused of witchcraft in Salem. She was
widowed twice before marrying Edward. Her second husband Thomas
Oliver accused her of witchcraft, claiming that "she was a bad
wife. . . the devil had come bodily to her . . . and she sat up all
night with the devil." This previous accusation of witchcraft in
1680 was remembered and probably explains her arrest and sentencing
John Hathorne and Jonathan Corwin presided over Bridget's
examination on April 19, 1692. Many of her accusers were present at
the examination, including Elizabeth Hubbard, Ann Putnam, Abigail
Williams, Mercy Lewis, and Mary Walcott. A summary of the courtroom
At that point, Mary Walcott said that her brother Jonathan had
torn Bishop's coat while fighting off her specter. When they
examined Bishop's coat, they found the tear in exactly the same
location. Judge Hathorne continued the attack on Bishop when he
accused her of bewitching her first husband to death. She shook her
head no in response to the question, which set the afflicted girls
into fits. Sam Braybook affirmed that although she told him that
she had been accused of witchcraft ten years ago, "she was no witch
and the devil cannot hurt her."
Bishop staunchly states, "I am no witch." To which Hawthorne
replies, "Why if you have not wrote in the book, yet tell me how
far you have gone? Have you not to do with familiar spirits?" "I
have no familiarity with the devil." "How is it then that your
appearance doth hurt these?"
After this comment, Bridget apparently rolled her eyes towards heaven. Immediately, all the girls rolled theirs, and it seemed to the court that a devil was on the loose. After this examination, Bishop was asked if she was not troubled to see the afflicted girls so tormented. She answered no. When asked if she thought they were bewitched, she answered that she did not know what to think about them.
Cotton Mather, using the court records, wrote about the trial of Bridget Bishop in his book Wonders of the Invisible World. The trial was held on June 2, 1692 in the Court of Oyer and Terminer. Even Mather admitted that it was hard to prove the witchcraft, even though "it [was] evident and notorious to all beholders." During Bishop's examination before the magistrates, the afflicted girls behaved as if they were tortured. It seemed that by casting her eye upon them, Bishop could strike them down into fits. The only thing that would stop these fits was the touch of her hand upon the girls. Abigail Hobbs, a woman who had already confessed to being a witch, played into this drama by testifying that Bishop's specter tormented her because of her confession. She also affirmed that Bishop had been present at a meeting of witches, in a field at Salem Village, and took part in a diabolical sacrament.
In addition to this evidence, evidence of other previous witchcraft was brought to light. Bishop was accused of murdering children, bewitching pigs, and coming to various townsmen during the night. In further evidence, "poppets" were found in the wall of her cellar. These puppets were made of rags and hogs bristles, with headless pins in them. Bishop could "give no account unto the court, that was reasonable or tolerable." The final piece of damning evidence was when a jury of women found a "preternatural teat" upon her body. Within three hours, the teat had disappeared, adding to the intrigue.
Her case served as a model for future cases to come, following a very predictable pattern. The afflicted girls made accusations, which were denied by the accused; one or more confessors validated the claim of the accusers; and members of the community told of past acts of witchcraft by the accused. The court used spectral evidence as the only legal basis to convict Bridget Bishop. Hanged on June 10, her death warrant emphasizes only the harm done to her accusers, primarily on the day of her examination, as the legal justification for the execution. Bridget Bishop was the first person to be hanged as a result of the infamous Salem witchcraft trials.