What most convinced me [Cotton Mather] of [Bridget Bishop's] guilt
Was finding hidden in her cellar wall
Those poppets made of rags, with headless pins
Stuck into them point outwards, and whereof
She could not give a reasonable account.
When Sir William Phips arrived on May 14, 1692, he seems not to have been fully informed as to the status of the prisoners in jail, prisoners caught between magistrates who wanted them prosecuted and a governor reluctant to do so. Perhaps he heard exaggerated reports about the threats posed by the prisoners and, in response, Calef writes, “the first thing he exerted his Power in, was said to be his giving Orders that Irons should be put upon those in Prison.” But at least some, if not all, were already in chains.
One of them was Bridget Bishop, the first person tried and hanged in the Salem witch trials. On May 27 Phips had established a special Court of Oyer and Terminer to try those accused of witchcraft, and on June 2 the court tried Bridget Bishop and sentenced her to death.
Although Massachusetts Bay colony set no precedent in hanging Bridget Bishop for witchcraft, as it did on June 10, it gave spectral evidence an unprecedented status in the judicial process. The indictments against her charged that she had “Tortured Afflicted Pined, Consumed, wasted: & tormented” her victims (SWP I: 87) on April 19, the day of her examination.
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