The Hanging Of Bridget Bishop

Today, we remember and honor Bridget Bishop. On this day, June 10th, three hundred and twenty-six years ago, Bridget Bishop, the first colonist accused in the Salem Witch Trials, is hanged at Gallows Hill for her crime: “certaine Detestable Arts called Witchcraft & Sorceries.”

Bridget Bishop’s Memorial Marker, Salem Witch Trials Memorial, Salem Mass

Bridget Bishop’s difficult early life

In 1660, she married her first husband, Samuel Wasselby in England, moving to Salem around the same time. He died 4 years later. In 1666, she remarried to a widower named Thomas Oliver, who had children from a previous marriage.

Bridget and Oliver had a volatile relationship. They were brought to court for fighting in 1670, where their neighbor Mary Ropes testified that Bridget’s face was bloody on several occasions. In 1678, she was brought to court for using foul language against her husband. When Oliver died of an illness in 1679, and Bridget inherited his estate, his children inherited close to nothing. This led Bridget’s stepchildren to accuse Bridget of “bewitching Oliver to death.”

In 1687, Bridget was then accused of stealing brass from a local mill. Bridget denied any responsibility, but her word was not trusted, as it was found in her yard, though she said she had no idea how it got there.

Following Oliver’s death, Bridget married again, this time to a well respected woodcutter named Edward Bishop. This is not to be confused with Sarah Bishop, who was also accused of witchcraft and was married to Bridget’s step-son.

The Salem Witch Trials

In February 1692, nine-year old Elizabeth Parris and 11-year old Abigail Williams, the daughter and niece of Reverend Samuel Parris, began having fits and displaying other odd behaviors. A doctor, upon examining them, concluded that they suffered from the effects of witchcraft, which both girls corroborated. Under instructions from their parents and the doctor, the two girls named the people allegedly responsible.

On March 1st, Sarah Goode, Sarah Osbourne, and Tituba, an indian slave from Barbados, became the first residents to be charged, with Tituba confessing later that day and assisting in the identification of more “witches;” mostly middle aged women, but also several men and even a four year old child. In the end, there were more than 150 men and women from Salem and surrounding areas accused of satanic practices.

Site of Bridget Bishop’s Salem house, published in New England Magazine, vol. 12, circa 1892

Around the time of the witch trials, Bridget Bishop lived in what is now known as downtown Salem. She owned an apple orchard, which was located at what is now 43 Church Street. She was arrested for charges of witchcraft on April 18, 1692, after she was accused by Mercy Lewis, Abigail Williams, Elizabeth Hubbard and Ann Putnam, Jr. She was examined the next day in Salem Village by Judge John Hawthorne and Judge Jonathan Corwin. According to court records, Hawthorne wasted no time bringing up the original accusation of witchcraft against Bishop by her step-children:

“[Hathorne]: They say you bewitcht your first husband to death.
[Bishop]: If it please your worship I know nothing of it.
She shake her head & the afflicted were tortured.
The like again upon the motion of her head.
Sam: Braybrook affirmed that she told him to day that she had been accounted a witch these 10 years, but she was no witch, the Devil cannot hurt her.
[Bishop]: I am no witch.
[Hathorne]: 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?
[Bishop]: I have no familiarity with the devil.
[Hathorne]: How is it then, that your appearance doth hurt these?
[Bishop]: I am innocent.
[Hathorne]: Why you seem to act witchcraft before us, by the motion of your
body, which seems to have influence upon the afflicted?
[Bishop]: I know nothing of it. I am innocent to a witch. I know not what
a Witch is.
[Hathorne]: How do you know then that you are not a witch?
[Bishop]: I do not know what you say.
[Hathorne]: How can you know, you are no witch, & yet not know what a
witch is?
[Bishop]: I am clear: if I were any such person you should know it.
[Hathorne]: You may threaten, but you can do no more than you are permitted.
[Bishop]: I am innocent of a witch.”

On the same day, Bridget Bishop was indicted and arraigned on five separate charges of witchcraft; the amount of evidence was overwhelming. Bridget Bishop was accused of witchcraft by more individuals than any other defendant.

Over the next few months, over 10 witnesses gave long, detailed testimonies about how Bridget Bishop bewitched them, their family, or their animals.

At around 10 am on June 2nd, Bridget Bishop and six other accused witches underwent a humiliating physical examination by nine local women and a doctor, where the examiners reported finding unnatural growths in strange places. It was later debunked.

Bridget Bishop’s trial began and concluded on the same day, according to the book Legal Executions of New England:

“The trial of Bridget Bishop opened in Salem on June 2, 1692. It was a one-day affair. Seven judges headed by Deputy-Governor William Stoughton comprised the court. Bridget was allowed no counsel; at least no one is known to have risked their skin to defend her. The evidence produced was but a rehash of the scurrilous stories that long circulated about her. The prevailing lunacy of the ‘afflicted girls’ counted heavily against her as well. Cotton Mather, who later wrote of the trial, captured the quintessence of the proceedings when he remarked, ‘There was little occasion to prove the witchcraft, it being evident and notorious to all beholders.’ Bridget Bishop was predoomed by popular opinion and prejudice.”

On June 8th, 1692, Bridget Bishop was found guilty of witchcraft and issued a death warrant, and sometime between 8 am and noon on June 10th 1692 she was taken to the execution site at Gallows Hill and hanged. As a convicted witch, she was not allowed to be buried on consecrated ground; she was buried at the execution site.

Illustration of the hanging of Bridget Bishop

While Bridget Bishop was not the first accused of witchcraft during the hysteria in 1692, it is believed officials chose to review her case first because it would be an easy win, given her reputation of dressing flamboyantly (by puritan standards) volatile relationships with her husband(s), keeping guests until late, drinking and playing the forbidden game of shovel board.  Sadly, they were right, and her story of struggle sheds light on modern day misogyny, prejudice, and hysteria. Bridget Bishop was unrightfully hanged and persecuted against, and we live to honor her memory and all she stands for.


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