Monday, October 10, 2011

Bridget Bishop: Witch or Easy Target?

The hanging of Bridget Bishop on June 10, 1692
Bridget Bishop, one of the first victims of the Salem Witch Trials, had been accused of witchcraft by more people than any other victim. Since Bishop had a bad reputation around town, wore a flashy red bodice instead of modest puritan clothing, ran a tavern and quarreled often with her previous husband and neighbors, it came as no surprise to the townspeople of Salem when she was accused of being a witch...again.

Bishop was accused of witchcraft twice before the Salem witch hysteria began in 1692. The first time was in the winter of 1679-1680 when her stepchildren from her marriage to Thomas Oliver, accused her of witching Oliver to death. A lack of circumstantial evidence prevented the case from going to trial and it was speculated that the children's accusation were an attempt to get their hands on the property she inherited from their father.

Bridget and her late husband had a stormy relationship. On a number of occasions Bridget was seen with a bloody, bruised face. The couple were even brought to court for fighting in 1670. They were fined and ordered to be whipped if they did not pay their fine on time. In 1678, Bridget Bishop was brought to court for using foul language against her husband, as described in the book “Salem-Village Witchcraft”:

Bridget Bishop's name on the Salem witchcraft memorial
Bridget, wife of Thomas Oliver, presented for calling her husband many opprobrious names, as old rogue and old devil, on Lord's day, was ordered to stand with her husband, back to back, on a lecture day in the public market place, both gagged, for about an hour, with a paper fastened to each others foreheads upon which their offense should be fairly written.”

After Oliver's death, Bridget married Edward Bishop, a well-respected sawyer (woodcutter). Bridget was accused of witchcraft again in 1687 after a neighbor fell into a fit of insanity during which she accused Bishop of bewitching her. When the woman recovered she recanted her accusation. Shortly after, her fits returned and she killed herself. Charges were brought up against Bridget and the case went to court. Bridget was eventually acquitted of all charges.

Written testimony of Mary Warren against Bishop in 1692
With her bad reputation and unpuritan-like behavior, it was just a matter of time before the charges would be brought up against her again. Bridget was not the first victim accused during the Salem Witch Trials of 1692, but officials chose to hear her case first because they believed, given her prior history and reputation, it would be an easy win. They were right and a string of other convictions and executions followed hers before the hysteria came to an end in 1693.


Salem-Village Witchcraft”; Paul S. Boyer; Stephen Niseenabaum; 1972

"Salem Witchcraft";  Charles W. Upham; 1867

Witchcraft and Society in England and America, 1550-1750”; Marion Gibson; 2003

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