Thursday, January 26, 2012

Bridget Bishop

Merry Meet,

"She struggled to breathe as her stomach flipped over in knots knowing that this was to be one of the last breaths she took... she felt the breeze blowing her dress in the wind and she tried to deafen out the noise of the people cheering as she felt the rope start to tighten around her neck. She took another deep breath trying to keep her knees steady knowing what was coming......A sickening thud was the last thing she heard with the roar in her ears as the world went dark."

From the time I was little I was always fascinated with the Salem Witch Trials. To this day I still love the town of Salem. The old sea town has always felt comforting to me. We've all hear the hype about the Salem Witch trials and the fact that the "afflicted girls" made up a lot of malarky to get attention and manipulate society. That's for another article completely. Today I wanted to focus in on Bridget Bishop. She was one of the nineteen people convicted and executed for witchcraft in the Salem trials. Out of all those accused, I was always drawn to her name.

There are various websites and books that write about her, and everyone has their own take on Bridget Bishop. I have kept the facts in the article I've used as accurate as I can using a general consensus from everything I have read throughout the years and to prepare for this article. A lot of her life story that I am including here was used against her in her trial.


Background on Bridget Bishop


Bridget Playfair, known as Bridget Bishop was born in England in 1640. However, biographical records on those from the Massachusetts Bay Colony are difficult to find, so this date is an estimate. Her date of birth has been estimated in documents from 1632 to 1640.


Bridget Bishop was married three times. A fact alone that didn't go over well in a Puritan society.


First Marriage


On April 13, 1660, Bridget married George Wesselbe at St. Mary-in-the-Marsh, Norwich, Norfolk, England. This was her first marriage and she was about the age of twenty. It is said that after their marriage the two came to the Massachusetts Bay Colony and settled in Salem. There is speculation about if they came together because George's immigration records have never been found. However, as stated earlier it is not uncommon for records to be missing for the Bay Colony. He passed away after just six years of being married. She had two children from the first marriage according to church baptist records but both children died very young.


Second Marriage


On July 26, 1666, she was married to Thomas Oliver. Mr Oliver was a widower who was known to be a prominent business man. In 1667 she had a daughter that ironically was either named Christian or Christina. It is said that she also had a daughter named Mary. Bridgette and Thomas's marriage was known to be a rough marriage. She was seen many times in town with bruises or a bloody face from confrontations with her husband. They were known to fight in public which was not tolerated in a Puritan community. In 1670 she was tried for fighting with Thomas Oliver. It is said that she called him an “old rogue” and “old devil” on the Sabbath. A few years later they were both tried for fighting in public. Bridget and her husband were ordered to stand back to back bound and gagged in the main market area for an hour, with notes describing what they had done attached to their foreheads.

Thomas Oliver passed away in 1679. Bridgette Bishop was destitute and had to petition the town for assistance. It is not clear why she was left that way though. There are two different stories. One says that because she was not the "normal" Puritan domicile wife that her husband accused her of being a witch. However another story says that he simply owed a ton a money and once he passed on his assets were claimed to pay his debt.


First Formal Accusation of Witchcraft


In 1680, after his death, Bridget was actually brought up on charges of witchcraft and accused of causing Thomas Oliver's death. She was tried in Boston. At her trial the minister of her church was allowed to testify on her behalf convincing the jury that she was a member in good standing of the church. With his testimony and the lack of evidence Bridget was acquitted of all charges.



photo credit Rachael Putt


Third Marriage

In 1687, Bridget married Edward Bishop, a sawyer from Beverly. A sawyer back then, was the man who was responsible for going out and getting all sorts of wood, from wood for the fires to timber for the ships. They typically worked in teams of two to get the lumber. Bridget opened a tavern at their house for the travelers. She was known for providing refreshments, entertainment and games of shovel-board, and having the tavern open very late. In her time though, the primary method of travel was horseback, so there were many travelers going by her home on their way in and out of time. Shovel-board was actually one of the games that was allowed in the community she lived in.

Bridget was known for the black cape and hat that she always wore and her red bodice. In those times it was considered rather showy attire. Regardless of how people spoke of her, Bridget was not one to care what society thought of her. She was an independent woman who wasn't afraid to live outside the norms of a very conservative society. Her lack of conforming made her a target of the witchcraft hysteria.

Edward Bishop, was also a widower and had three children from his previous marriage to Hannah. One of the children was named Edward after him. His son Edward was born in 1648. He married Sarah Wilds, daughter of William Wilds of Ipswich.


Arrested for Witchcraft

On April 18, 1692, Bridget Bishop was arrested for Witchcraft. Bishop's response to the accusations was: "I am innocent, I know nothing of it, I have done no witchcraft... I am as innocent as the child unborn....I have made no contact with the Devil, I have never seen him before in my life.


Transcript of Warrant for Arrest 

Salem. April the 18'th 1692

There being Complaint this day made (Before us) by Ezekiell Chevers and John putnam Jun'r both of Salem Village Yeomen: in

Behalfe of theire Majesties, for themselfes and also for theire Neigh-

bours Against Giles Cory , and Mary Waren both of Salem farmes

And Abigaile Hobbs the daughter of Wm Hobs of the Towne of Tops-

feild and Bridgett Bushop the wife of Edw'd Bishop of Salem Sawyer

for high Suspition of Sundry acts of Witchcraft donne or Committed

by them, upon the Bodys of: Ann putnam . Marcy Lewis , and Abig'l Williams and Mary Walcot and Eliz. Hubert -- of Salem village --

whereby great hurt and damage hath benne donne to the Bodys of

Said persons above named.therefore craved Justice --

You are therefore in their Majest's names hereby required to

apprehend and bring before us Giles Cory & Mary Waren of Salem

farmes, and Abigail Hobs the daugter of Wm Hobs of the Towne of

Topsfeild and Bridget Bushop the wife of Edward Bushop of Salem

To Morrow about Eight of the Clock in the forenoone, at the house

of Lt Nathaniell Ingersalls in Salem Village in order to theire Ex-

amination Relateing to the premises aboves'd and here of you are not

to faile Dated Salem April 18'th 1692

To George Herrick Marshall of the County of Essex --

*John Hathorne

*Jonathan.Corwin {

Assis'ts

( Essex County Archives, Salem -- Witchcraft Vol. 1. Page 29 )



Her Accusers

Bridget was accused by the "afflicted girls", Abigail Williams, Ann Putnam Jr, Mercy Lewis, Mary Walcott, and Elizabeth Hubbard. Bridget claimed that she had never met any of the girls.

William Stacy was another man who accused Bridget of being a witch. Interestingly enough she had helped to heal his child earlier in time.

John and William Bly, a father and son testified against Bridget claiming that when they were hired to work on her house they found poppets in her basement. Poppets are small dolls, they are supposedly similar to vodoo dolls.

Samuel Shattuck, a local tanner, testified against her that she had asked him to die small pieces of clothing, like what would be used on a doll.

Richard Conan testified that Bridget Bishop kept appearing to him at night in spectral form.



The Trial

Bridget was charged, tried and executed in eight days. On June 10, 1692, Bridget was hung on Gallows hill in Salem. She was the first of nineteen people to be executed for witchcraft during this time. On the day of her hanging she did not show remorse and continued to proclaim her innocence.


The Aftermath

Many were disturbed by her trial and the outcome of her trial. After her death the court took a recess and there were no more executions until a month after her death. One of the judges, Nathaniel Salstonstall resigned after her death.


Edward Bishop Jr and Sarah Bishop

Edward Bishop Jr (son of Bridgette's husband) and his wife Sarah Bishop were accused of witchcraft in the summer of 1692. They escaped from jail in Boston in September.

Proclaimed Innocent

In 1992, The Danvers Tercentennial Committee persuaded the Massachusetts House of Representatives to issue a resolution honoring those who had died. After much convincing and hard work by Salem school teacher Paula Keene, Representatives J. Michael Ruane and Paul Tirone and others, the names of all those not previously listed as exonerated were added to this resolution. It was finally signed on October 31, 2001, by Governor Jane Swift, more than 300 years later, Bridget Bishop and all involved were proclaimed innocent.



My intent with this article was not to rehash the Salem witch trials as I think everyone is familiar. I wanted to paint a clearer portrait of one woman who was involved in the trials. A strong independent woman who was ahead of her times. A woman not afraid to stand up for herself and voice her opinion.
I've seen debate on the possibility if Bridget may have been a witch. I do believe she was a witch in that she was a healer. I have read several accounts of her working with herbs and trying to heal people around her. When the people were sick, Bridget was called on quite often. She is one of the few that went to trial that I have intuitively felt was a witch. However, not the definition of a witch in their time as one that worshiped the devil. One that worked with the earth, and the elements and herbs to try to help others around her. Regardless of if she was or wasn't she didn't deserve to die for it, and she certainly didn't fit the definition of "witch" that they had at that time.

I am always interested in learning more so if anyone has any additional information about her, I would love to hear them. :)))) I found a lot of conflicting information and I must confess I spent quite a few hours trying to wade through it and sort out what really happened.

Love and Blessings,

Jasmeine Moonsong

6 comments:

  1. Just finished a book you might enjoy. "The physick book of Deliverance Dane." By Katherine Howe.

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  2. Awesome. Very well written. I tend to find a lot of Witch Trails articles a bit over the top, but this one I really enjoyed :) Makes me interested to learn more about the individuals rather than the overviews of the time periods.

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  3. Another wonderful blog!
    I am inspired by Bridget Bishop...it must have taken tremendous courage to stay true to yourself in those days.
    The Salem witch trials have always fascinated me and travelling there to see and feel the city is on my "bucket list".
    Thanks again for another great post!

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  4. Bridget Bishop is a featured character in my award-winning speculative historical novel of the Salem Witch Hunt: THE AFFLICTED GIRLS by Suzy Witten. (2010 IPPY Silver Medal for Historical Fiction) (Note: mature and sometimes disturbing content makes this adult fiction for ages 17 & older.) "Something terrible happened in Salem Village in 1692 ... but it isn't what you think!" I hope those who love and respect Bridget Bishop, and/or who have a fascination with or puzzlement over the Salem witch hunt and witch trials will take a look. Thanks!

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  5. Everytime I read about the Salem trials - I think of all the women and those people who are different who always suffer. I can only hope for a day - when we celebrate our diversities and gifts as a whole human community - with song in time to the rest of creation.

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  6. Bridget Bishop is also mentioned and history are an influence in a Novel from deborah Harkness- The Discovery of Witches.. very very good book.. I am currently reading her second novel as well Shadow of Night.

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Thank you for stopping by :))) Love and Blessings, Jasmeine Moonsong

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