Thursday, October 20, 2011

Sarah Good: Accused Witch

Engraving of the Salem Witch Trials
Sarah Good was one of the first women to be accused of witchcraft during the Salem Witch Trials of 1692. A homeless, and pregnant, beggar who would often wander door to door asking for handouts while her husband worked as a day laborer, Good was a prime target for the accusation of witchcraft in the small Puritan-run town where nonconformity was frowned upon.

Good was accused of the crime in February of 1692 when two girls, Abigail Williams and Betty Parris, began behaving strangely and having fits. When questioned by adults about who was causing these fits, the girls accused Sarah Good along with Tituba and Sarah Osburn, according to the book "Salem Witchcraft”:

It must be borne in mind, that it was then an established doctrine in theology, philosophy, and law, that the Devil could not operate upon mortals, or mortal affairs, except through the intermediate instrumentality of human beings in confederacy with him, that is, witches or wizards. The question, of course, in all minds and on all tongues, was, "Who are the agents of the Devil in afflicting these girls? There must be some among us thus acting, and who are they?" For some time the girls held back from mentioning names; or, if they did, it was prevented from being divulged to the public. In the mean time, the excitement spread and deepened. At length the people had become so thoroughly prepared for the work, that it was concluded to begin operations in earnest. The continued pressure upon the "afflicted children," the earnest and importunate inquiry, on all sides, "Who is it that bewitches you?" opened their lips in response, and[ii.11] they began to select and bring forward their victims. One after another, they cried out "Good," "Osburn," "Tituba." On the 29th of February, 1692, warrants were duly issued against those persons. It is observable, that the complainants who procured the warrants in these cases were Joseph Hutchinson, Edward Putnam, Thomas Putnam, and Thomas Preston. This fact shows how nearly unanimous, at this time, was the conviction that the sufferings of the girls were the result of witchcraft.”

Illustration of Tituba, circa 1902
The three women were examined in March and denied any wrongdoings with the devil until Tituba, a slave owned by Reverend Parris, admitted that they had all met with the devil and agreed to do his bidding. It is not known why Tituba confessed to the crime but it is believed that since she was not a Puritan and already held a low status in the village, she was more concerned with escaping the gallows than with the consequences of confessing to witchcraft, something Puritans believed would damn one's soul to an eternity in hell and result in being cast out of the community.

Later that month, Ann Putnam accused Good's five-year-old daughter, Dorcas, of witchcraft as well. Confused and scared, young Dorcas also admitted to being a witch and explained that a red spot on her finger was a bite from a snake her mother had given her.

Written testimony of Ann Putnam
Sarah Good wasn't tried until June of 1692. No actual evidence of the crime was ever presented during the trial and one of the young accusers was even caught in a lie when she claimed Good's spirit stabbed her with a knife. Courtroom officials momentarily believed the young girl after she was examined and a broken knife was found in her clothes but a witness promptly came forward with the other half of the knife and explained he had broken and discarded it the day before in the presence of the girl. The girl was warned not to lie in the courtroom and the case continued. Good never confessed to being a witch but she did break down during Judge John Hathorne's questioning and accused Sarah Osburn of witchcraft, possibly to divert attention from herself. Good was ultimately convicted but her execution was pushed back until the birth of her child.

Good's infant died in prison shortly after its birth and local officials brought Good to Gallows hill on July 19th along with Rebecca Nurse, Susannah Martin, Elizabeth Howe, and Sarah Wildes.

As Sarah Good stood on the platform with the other women, Reverend Nicolas Noyes called Good a witch and urged her to confess. Good replied:

You are a liar. I am no more a witch than you are a wizard, and if you take away my life God will give you blood to drink!”

The five women were hanged and the bodies were temporarily buried near the execution site. It is not known where Good's body is currently buried since convicted witches were not allowed to be buried in consecrated ground.

Twenty-five years later, in 1717, Reverend Noyes suffered an internal hemorrhage and died choking on his own blood.

Sarah Good's marker at the Salem Witch Trials Memorial

The Salem Witch Trials: A Day-By-Day Chronicle of a Community Under Siege; Marilynne K. Roach

Life; October 1949

Salem Witchcraft; Charles W. Upham; 1876

Discovery: Salem Witch Trials

University of Virginia: Sarah Good

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