Thursday, October 27, 2005

What do Sarah Good, Rebecca Nurse, Susannah Martin, Elizabeth How, and Sarah Wilds have in common?

Give up?

They were hanged as witches in Salem on July 19th, 1692.

Now, let's look at just one of those names.

I give you Sarah Wilds. She was, by some accounts, a somewhat wild young woman. She'd been arrested twice for lewd behavior in the past.

One of those arrests was for wearing a bright scarf.

The Salem arrest warrant for Sarah (and others included in the same warrant) reads:
Salem Aprill the 21'th 1692

There Being Complaint this day made (before us) by Thomas putnam and John Buxton of Salem Village Yeomen, in behalfe of their Majest's for them selfes and also for severall of theire Neighbours, Against Wm Hobbs husbandman and Delive' his wife, Nehemiah Abot Jun'r weaver. Mary Easty the wife of Isaac Easty and Sarah. Wilds the wife of John Wilds all of the Towne of Topsfield. or Ipswitch and Edward Bushop husbandman & Sarah his wife of Salem Village, And Mary Black a negro of Leut Nath Putnams of Salem Village also And Mary English the wife of philip English Merchant in Salem for high Suspition of Sundry acts of Witchcraft done or Committed by them Lately upon the Bodys of Anna putnam & Marcy Lewis belonging to the famyly of the aboves'd Thomas putnam Complain't and Mary Walcot the daugter of Capt Jonat' Walcot of s'd Salem Village and others, whereby great hurt and dammage hath benne donne to the bodys of said persons above named therefore Craved Justice

High suspicion of sundry acts of witchraft.

That's terrifying stuff, if you live somewhere that is very dark indeed, when the sun sets. The devil might walk just out there, in the forest, just beyond the palisade that protects the village from wild animals and . . . other dangers.

The trial is shockingly brief. It consists of a flurry of exchanges that I'm tempted to paraphrase, just because it would sound so terribly ridiculous.
Here's the transcript:

Hath this woman hurt you?

Oh she is upon the beam.

Goody Bibber that never saw her before sayd she saw her now upon the beam, & then said Bibber fell into a fit

What say you to this are you guilty or not?

I am not guilty Sir.

Is this the woman? speaking to the afflict[ed]

Thay all, or most, said yes, & then fell into fits.

What do you say, are you guil[ty]

I thank God I am free.

Here is a clear evidence that [you have] been not only a Tormenter [but that] you have caused one to sig[ne the] book, the night before last [What] you say to this?

[I n]ever saw the book in my life [and I never] [saw these per]sons before

[Some of th]e afflicted fell into fits

- 807-

[Do] you deny this thing that is [torn]

All fell into fits, & con[firmed] that the accused hurt th[em]

Did you never consent that [these should] be hurt?

Never in my life.

She was charged by some [with] hurting John Herricks mo[ther]

The accused denyed it.

Capt How gave in a relation [and] confirmation of the charge before made.

She was ordered to be taken away, & they all cryed out she was upon the Beam, & fell into fits.

She was condemned, of course. Then she hung. Sarah, John's wife, with a daughter of her own. Sarah, who once wore a brightly-colored scarf. I wonder if she loved that scarf, loved the color of it.

I hope so.


Anonymous said...

A disturbing window into human behavior.

Was the problem witchcraft (women)?
Was the problem race (slavery)?
Was the problem nationality (war)?
Was the problem religion (Holocaust)?
Was the problem culture (Middle East)?
Was the problem environment (Katrina)?

No. None of those things. The problem is, was, and will be common, human behavior.

And the moment you think you're better than them and would never do evil, you're well along the road to doing it.

(For all of those countless atrocities I left out, my apologies).

Mark Pettus said...

This was an interesting story until the last paragraph. In the last paragraph, you made it hurt.

Masterful writing, Mac.

Mac said...

Jason, I believe the problem is even simpler. I believe the problem if fear.

Mark, thank you. I try very hard to find that place in a character that goes straight to the readers viscera. Because our characters are only people, in the end, wearing various masks.

Anonymous said...

Fear, yes, and perhaps greed.

Anonymous said...

Wow, Mac! It sure is as a result of fear. Fear is a strange beast that causes us to react to the unknown/different w/ bizarre and sometimes cruel actions.

It's almost a crime that time isn't spent in trying to understand and learn prior to condemnation.

Anonymous said...

Being the 11th ggranddaughter of the last woman (Mary Barnes) hung in Connecticut for witchcraft in 1662, I read this with great interest. Your last paragraph brought tears to my eyes.

In Mary's case, those of us who have delved into her case have come to the sad conclusion that her husband was involved. Seems there was a neighbor lady he wanted more than he wanted Mary...

shannon said...

Have you ever read the essay by Margaret Atwood about witches? One of her ancestors was a witch who was hanged, but survived it. Atwood says in the essay that this is her favorite relative. She has some interesting hangings in her writing, as well.

Anonymous said...

Very, very interesting...I have to believe she loved the scarf...she had to have.

Anonymous said...

Definitely, fear. Thank you, Mac. Frighteningly real.