No way out for many victims

On June 13 Sarah Good, Rebecca Nurse, Susannah Martin, Elizabeth Howe, and Sarah Wildes were brought to

Susannah Martin stood up for herself at her trial, and tried to tell the judges that they were being tricked by the devil. Reproduced by permission of the Corbis Corporation (Bellevue).

trial. Hathorne's sister and brother-in-law testified on behalf of Nurse, and thirty-nine of her former neighbors presented a petition stating that she was a devout Christian. Even Johnathan Putnam, one of her original accusers, signed the petition. (See The Examination of Rebecca Nurse in the Primary Sources section.) When the jury declared Nurse "Not Guilty" the courtroom burst into an uproar. The girls and Nurse's other accusers went into hysterics and demanded a retrial. Chief Justice William Stoughton went so far as to ask the jury to reconsider their verdict on the basis of a statement Nurse had made earlier in the trial. At that time a confessed witch, Deliverance Hobbs, had been brought into the courtroom and Nurse had asked, "What, do you bring her? She is one of us." Stoughton convinced the jury to interpret this as a confession. When Nurse was questioned about her statement she paused just slightly too long and her silence was interpreted as guilt. Later she said she was practically deaf and had not heard the question. She explained that she had been surprised to see a fellow

Susannah Martin stood up for herself at her trial, and tried to tell the judges that they were being tricked by the devil. Reproduced by permission of the Corbis Corporation (Bellevue).

prisoner ("one of us") being brought into the courtroom. This explanation came too late, however, for the jury had already reversed its decision and declared her guilty. Nurse's astonished friends begged the court for a reprieve (pardon). Phipps granted the reprieve, but then the girls went into another series of fits that convinced him to reverse the decision. Following this new verdict, Nurse was unanimously excommunicated (expelled) from the church, an act that symbolized eternal damnation with no chance at justice in God's court. She was also sentenced to hang.

Susannah Martin was the next to take the stand in her own defense. With wit and mockery she rebuked (strongly criticized) the court and jury for admitting spectral evidence as fact (see The Salem Trials: Interrogation of Susannah Martin in the Primary Sources section). She also asserted the innocence of the other accused women appearing in court with her. Martin then gave a compelling speech in which she tried to convince the judges that they were being tricked by the devil. The court ignored her entirely and condemned her to hang on the basis of a confession she had made as early as 1669.

Elizabeth Howe's case exposed again the land rivalries behind many of the witchcraft accusations. She had lived most of her life on the contested Topsfield-Ipswich border with her blind husband and two daughters. This unfortunate geographical position had caused major financial disputes, as both towns had attempted to tax the Howe property. The Putnams had been the Howes' primary opponents in many land disputes, although other neighbors had contested their property boundaries. Howe was originally charged with witchcraft on the accusation of a neighbor who claimed his daughter had fallen ill after an argument with Howe. The child complained of being pricked and tormented by Howe. She also had reportedly seeing Howe climbing in and out of an oven as she tortured her. Reverend Samuel Phillips of Topsfield testified that he had overheard a conversation, recounted in The Salem Witch Trials, in which Howe asked the child if Howe had ever hurt her. The child had replied, "No, never, and if I did complain of you in my fits I know not that I did so." Phillips then said he had heard the girl's older brother call out from an upstairs window, " Say that Goodwife Howe is a witch! Say she is a witch!" Phillips continued to defend Howe, arguing that the child could easily have been convinced her own neighbor was a witch under pressure from her relatives. Howe's ninety-four-year-old father-in-law then testified on her behalf. He stated that she was the kindest, most helpful member of the family. He went on to describe her devotion to her blind husband, whom she assisted in every aspect of his daily life. Still, neither of these powerful testimonials budged the jury or the court. Howe was found guilty and sentenced to hang. The case of Sarah Wildes was almost identical to that of Howe. Wildes too lived on the treacherous Topsfield-Ipswich border and was considered by her neighbors to be elitist and stingy with her farm equipment. She was swiftly sentenced to hang with Howe.

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