In 1692, mass hysteria gripped Salem and its surrounding villages, resulting in hundreds of people accused of witchcraft. Over the course of a single year, hundreds of people were arrested and 20 died for their suspected crimes, becoming victims of the Salem Witch Trials.
We know the name of each and every person accused in the small colony. They all deserve to be remembered. But for various reasons, these 7 are some of the most significant Salem Witch Trials victims. Either because of what they represent, or what happened to them during the witch hunt.
The Putnam Family
The Putnam family were some of the first colonizers of Salem. They were close allies of the Puritan minister, Reverend Samuel Parris, and were heavily involved in the politics of the settlement. It’s no coincidence that many of those they had issues with wound up accused of witchcraft.
At the young age of 12, Ann Putnam Jr. played a significant role in the happenings of the Salem Witch Trials. Her 62 accusations led to all 20 convictions and hangings. While she expressed remorse later; her actions contributed to the tragic loss of lives and exemplified the impact of the mass hysteria within her own family.
7. Sarah Osborne
Sarah Osborne was one of the first victims of the Salem witch trials, and the first of three to be accused.
After Osborne’s first husband, Robert Prince, died, she remarried her indentured servant. This allowed her to keep her property for herself, rather than passing it on to her sons. This kind of economic independence for a woman threatened the social norms and scandalized the town. She also rarely attended church, which allegedly showed her lack of piety and affiliation with the devil.
In reality, Osborne’s first husband, Robert Prince, was a member of the infamous Putnam family. By keeping her property for herself she ignored the family alliance with the Putnam’s, who were threatened by her economic independence. Seizing their opportunity, they utilized the families’ young girls, using them to accuse both Sarah Osborne and another local woman, Sarah Good.
On trial Osborne tried to deflect her accusers, claiming she had seen specters in her sleep, but in doing so sealed her own fate. While proclaiming her innocence she mentioned a voice in her head that told her not to attend church. From remaining records this, coupled with accusations from Sarah Good and Tituba of Salem, meant she was condemned as a witch and jailed on March 7, 1692, dying in prison just a few months later on May 10th.
6. Sarah Good
Sarah Good’s crime was being vastly unlikable. She had made a name for herself in Salem as someone who was antagonistic toward others.
After her first husband’s death, Good remarried but she and her new husband soon found themselves on the streets as her money quickly ran out.
Forced to rely on the amnesty of their neighbors, even her own husband was reported to have said that she ‘had the work of the devil inside her’. This, coupled with her disenfranchised state was more than enough to make Abigail Williams and Betty Parris’ accusations hold ground within Salem town.
The two girls claimed that she, along with Osborne pinched and pricked them “dreadfully”. In an attempt to get the limelight off herself personally, Sarah Good quickly turned to blame Osborne; claiming it was she and she alone who tortured the girls.
Soon others jumped on the bandwagon. After Sarah Good was jailed another townsman William Allen claimed she visibly appeared to him as a specter one evening. Then, Constable Joseph Herrick’s wife claimed to have seen a wound on Good’s arm that had not been there the prior evening.
On July 19th Sarah Good, alongside four others was hanged for witchcraft, victims of the Salem Witch Trials.
5. Tituba of Salem
Tituba of Salem was the slave of Reverend Parris. Her exact origins are unknown, but it’s most likely she was an Afro-Caribbean slave who came over from the UK to Salem with the Parris family.
Tituba was a practitioner of Voodoo; which is what white people call a wide range of African and Caribbean religions that they don’t understand. And to the Puritans of Salem, they were downright satanic.
Ironically, it was Tituba’s attempts to prove the guilt of other women – notably Sarah Good and Osborne, that led to her being suspected of witchcraft. Abigail Williams and Ann Putnam Jr reported they had witnessed spectral evidence and Tituba’s baking of a ‘Witch Cake’, leading to accusations of witchcraft.
Tituba of Salem’s Conviction
After initially denying any witchcraft, Tituba later confessed in jail. At the same time, she also implicated Sarah Good and Sarah Osborne, claiming they were all guilty of the crime.
Her confessions ranged wildly from seeing a variety of specters and animals known as bad omens (foxes, bats, wolves, etc.), to accusing Osborne of owning an animal-human hybrid creature with “the head of a woman, two legs, and wings”.
She later confirmed to Robert Calef, a contemporary writer on the Salem Witch Trials, that her confession had been coerced by Reverend Parris while in jail.
What Became of Tituba of Salem?
Tituba remained in jail until after the end of the Salem Witchcraft Trials. It’s unknown why she wasn’t hanged, but we know Reverend Parris refused to pay her jail fees. She was later purchased in April 1693 for the price of her unpaid fees.
4. Bridget Bishop
Another accused witch, Bridget Bishop was arrested on the same day as one of our other victims of the Salem Witch Trials, Giles Corey; on 19th April 1692.
Although accused later than Osborne, Good, and Tituba; Bridget Bishop was the first victim of the Salem Witch Trials and was hanged on 10th June 1692.
Who was Bridget Bishop?
Originally from Norwich, Bridget Bishop traveled to the Massachusetts colony sometime around 1666. Much like her alleged witch-buddy Giles, Bridget Bishop was married three times, leading to gossip of her part in her husband’s deaths.
Bridget Bishop stands out because she was already suspected of witchcraft long before the hysteria of 1692. In 1680 she faced accusations of stealing eggs and frightening horses. And she had a tumultuous relationship with her second husband Thomas Oliver, marked by physical fights and abuse.
Over the next 12 years, accusations from others followed. By the time the mass hysteria had embedded itself into Salem village in 1692, it was inevitable that Bishop would be one of the first people the finger pointed at.
When brought in for questioning, Abigail Hobbs and Mary Putnam immediately fell into fits. This only increased when Bridget Bishop was questioned and denied murdering her first husband.
With reports of apparitions of Bishop appearing before Salem’s villagers, it wasn’t long before she was the first to be found guilty of witchcraft, and not in the fun, Halloween tradition way.
3. Giles Corey
Giles Corey was one of the oldest of the Salem Witch Trials victims, and the only person who did not die via hanging. His execution was actually far worse than ‘a quick drop and a sudden stop’ the other victims of the trials experienced.
Initially, Giles Corey was as excited by the notion of witches and witchcraft as the rest of Salem. In fact, he was so swept up by the fervor, that Giles even believed the accusations against his own wife Martha Corey upon her arrest on 18th April 1692. That was until a month later when he found himself on the receiving end.
Who was Giles Corey?
Giles Corey was an English-born colonizer who settled in Salem sometime around 1640.
He owned one of the most prosperous farms in Salem and married three times before his untimely death at 80. So, he did pretty well for the 17th century anyway.
But he wasn’t particularly nice. 16 years earlier Corey was accused of beating one of his indentured farm workers, Jacob Goodale, to death. Since corporal punishment was allowed, he didn’t face a murder charge and instead paid a fine for “unnecessary force”.
Giles Corey Accused
On April 18th, they arrested Giles Corey under the belief of ‘wizardry’, alongside Mary Warren, Abigail Hobbs, and Bridget Bishop.
Corey was yet another victim of Ann Putnam Jr and her co-conspirators Abigail Williams and Mercy Lewis, but he refused to enter a plea of guilty or not guilty. After multiple other refusals, this led to the one and only case of ‘death by crushing’ in American history.
Death by Crushing
Death by Crushing was a particularly horrific method of execution or torture where the victim lay down and stones were placed upon their person until they eventually died under their weight.
“and there be laid on his back on the bare floor, naked, unless when decency forbids; that there be placed upon his body as great a weight as he could bear, and more, that he hath no sustenance, save only on the first day, three morsels of the worst bread, and the second day three draughts of standing water”
Every day Corey was visited by the Court official who asked him to enter a plea; but he refused. Each time, more stones were added to the board.
Giles Corey died three days later, never having entered a plea of guilty or not guilty. But he got the last laugh. His refusal meant he retained his estate (which otherwise would have ended up as government property) and his sons-in-law inherited it. So, all that suffering was for a good reason at least.
Rebecca Nurse and her two sisters were unexpected victims of the Salem Witch Trials. Nurse, a married woman with eight children, was widely regarded as a popular and pious community member.
Like many others, she was accused by the Putnam family. But this time, it was family members Edward and John, not Ann Putnam Jr, that sealed her fate.
At the time, Rebecca Nurse was a frail 71-year-old. Her accusation soon caused an outcry amongst her neighbors, to the point where even a neighbor whom she had quarreled with spoke up in her defense. 39 of the most prominent members of Salem signed a petition to say Rebecca was innocent of all charges.
“She appears to have been an amiable and exemplary woman, and well educated for the times in which she lived. We suspect, from an examination of the charges brought against her at the courts, that she had several times severely rebuked the accusing girls for their folly and wickedness, when meeting in their circles. In this way, she probably incurred the displeasure of Ann Putnam and her mother – her principle accusers. “
She faced accusations based on ‘spectral evidence’ alone; and an old claim that she had mentioned an affiliation with someone later accused of witchcraft.
Rebecca Nurses’ piety and pleas from her family, as well as many members of the village, meant that Governor William Phipps did actually offer her a reprieve, but it was later rescinded by his counterpart at the court.
Rebecca Nurse’s Execution and Anne Putnam’s Regret
She was hanged in July 1692. Legend has it that after her death her son rowed across town in the dead of night to illegally retrieve her body and bury it in their family plot.
The accusation of a respected woman signaled a shift in the Salem Witch Trials. With many believing her innocence, people began to question who else too could have been innocent of the accused crime of witchcraft. 2 months later, they banned spectral evidence as a method of proof in the Court of Oyer and Termintor.
Surprisingly, Ann Putnam later regretted her accusations against the people of Salem and in particular Rebecca Nurse. She asked for forgiveness in 1706, claiming “She particularly desired to lie in the dust” for her accusations against Nurse and her two sisters. In many ways, Ann Putnam was a victim of the Salem Witch Trials herself. A young girl caught up in a town’s mass hysteria, used as a pawn for the game of power played by the adults of Salem.
Rebecca Nurse’s family did later forgive her, as did the families of some of the other victims. But the accusation of such a prominent and well-liked member of the community marked the beginning of the end of the Salem Village witch trials.
1. Elizabeth Howe
Elizabeth Howe, residing in nearby Topsfield, was one of the few victims initially accused by a source other than the Putnam family.
It was the Pearly family who initially believed Howe to be a witch and more specifically their ten-year-old daughter. Surprisingly the parents didn’t initially believe their offspring’s accusations. But after several years and multiple doctors claiming she was “under an evil hand”, the Pearlys believed in Howe’s guilt. Their daughter died three years after her illness began.
After, several other members of the community accused Howe of witchcraft, and she was convicted. Her primary accusers include, of course, Ann Putnam Jr, Abigail Williams, and Mary Walcott (amongst others).
She was arrested on May 29th, 1692 for “Sundry Acts of Witch-craft done or [committed] on the [bodies] of Mary Walcott, Abigail Williams, and others of Salem Village.”
Immediately upon seeing Howe during her trial, Ann Putnam, and Mary Walcott would fall into fits and claim they could feel someone pricking and pinching their skin.
Now fully convinced by the other girls’ antics, the Pearlys claimed their daughter was also suffering the effects of witchcraft, and what’s more, now their family cow was too!
With so many accusers, it was perhaps inevitable that Elizabeth Howe was found guilty of witchcraft. She was hanged alongside Sarah Good, Rebecca Nurse, Sarah Wilde, and Susannah Martin on July 19th, 1692.