September 22, 2007

September 22 | Mary Easty

August 1634 - September 22, 1692: Age 68

In early 1688 a 13-year-old girl named Martha Goodwin began behaving strangely after having an argument with a laundress, Goody Glover. A few days later the girl's brother and two sisters started behaving strangely too. Goody Glover was arrested and tried for bewitching them, and when she refused to repent for her witchcraft, she was hanged. This was the first of the Salem witchcraft trials.

Four years later, in January 1692, some other young girls, including the nine-year-old daughter of a minister, began behaving in the same way the Goodwin children did four years earlier. The minister's daughter, when asked who was causing the behaviour, accused a family slave. Later she and the other girls accused two other women in the community, a beggar and a bedridden old women. The slave confessed and implicated the other two women.

Soon other young women in the community started exhibiting symptoms and accusing various community members, including a four-year-old child and her mother. Soon the jails were filled with people accused of witchcraft. Among the accused was Mary Easty, a well-liked woman of a neighbouring community. During the trials, if the accused admitted to practising witchcraft, they were freed. If they did not, they were condemned to death.

Mary Easty was accused on April 21 and examined the next day. Her convincing manner and community standing caused doubt in the judge's mind, and she was released on May 18. After this, one of the accusers redoubled her suffering and insisted that she was being tormented by Mary's "spectre". Mary returned to jail and was tried on September 9 and, denied her own counsel and not allowed to plead her case, was condemned to hang. Her final petition was written, not to save her own life, but as a plea that "no more innocent blood may be shed". It acknowledged the good intentions of the court but made a couple of practical suggestions: that the accusers be kept separate from one another to prevent influence and collusion, and that all the accused should be tried, not just the ones claiming innocence.

Easty was hanged on September 22. According to writer Robert Calef, "when she took her last farewell of her husband, children and friends, was, as is reported by them present, as serious, religious, distinct, and affectionate as could well be exprest, drawing tears from the eyes of almost all present."

In October the judges decided to stop admitting spectral evidence, and in January, 49 of the 52 surviving accused were released. In summary, between February 1692 and May 1693 more than 150 people were arrested, with even more accused. Thirty people were convicted and 20 of them executed (14 women, six men), 19 by hanging, and one by being pressed to death by rocks. At least five more died in prison.

Sources: Salem Witch Trials Documentary Archive and Transcription Project,, Wikipedia's Timeline of the Salem Witch Trials, Salem Witchcraft Trials

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