Salem Witch Trials in History and Literature
An Undergraduate Course, University of Virginia
Spring Semester 2001

Courtroom Examination of Bridget Bishop
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 in 1692.

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 examination follows.

As soon as Bridget Bishop entered the courtroom, the afflicted girls fell into fits. Judge Hathorne asked which witchcrafts she was conversant in, to which she replied, "I take all this people (turning her head and eyes about) to witness that I am clear." Then Hawthorne asked the girls if they had been afflicted by Bishop, to which Elizabeth Hubbard, Ann Putnam, Abigail Williams, and Mercy Lewis affirmed that she had. The afflicted girls charged her with having hurt them in many ways and tempting them to sign the book of the devil. Ann Putnam even went so far as to say that Bishop called the devil her God. Bishop continued to proclaim her innocence by saying that she "never saw these persons before, nor [ever] was in this place before." She claimed to be as "innocent as an unborn child."

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."

Bridget Bishop apparently became frustrated with Hathorne's continual attack on her character and his disbelief in her innocence. Her deferential attitude soon gave way to anger as she slowly realized that denial was not an effective strategy. The following interchange between Bishop and Hathorne is very memorable and is often quoted.

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?"
"I am innocent."
"Why do you seem to act witchcraft before us, by the motion of your body, which seems to have influence upon the afflicted."
"I know nothing of it. I am innocent to a witch. I know not what a witch is."
"How do you know then that you are not a witch."
"I do not know what you say."
"How can you know, you are no witch, and yet not know what a witch is."
"I am clear: if I were any such person you should know it."
"You may threaten, but you can do no more than you are permitted"
"I am innocent of a witch."

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.

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