Bridget Bishop: Witch or Easy Target?

Bridget Bishop was the first victim to be hanged during the Salem Witch Trials of 1692.

Bishop, whose maiden name was Playfer, was born sometime between 1632 and 1635 in England. In 1660, she married her first husband, Samuel Wasselby, in England and moved to the Massachusetts Bay Colony around the same time.

After Wasselby died in 1664, Bridget married her second husband in 1666, a widower named Thomas Oliver who already had children from his previous marriage. Bridget and Thomas Oliver had one child together, a daughter named Christian who was born in Salem on May 8, 1667.

Bridget and Thomas Oliver had a troubled relationship. The couple quarreled often and were even brought to court for fighting in 1670, during which their neighbor, Mary Ropes, testified that Bridget’s face was bloodied and bruised on a number of occasions, according to the book Salem-Village Witchcraft: A Documentary Record of Local Conflict in Colonial New England:

“Mary Ropes, aged about fifty years, deposed that she had several times been called to her neighbor Thomas Oliver’s, by himself, but mostly by his wife, to hear their complaints one of the other, and they both acknowledged that they had been fighting together. Further she saw Goodwife Oliver’s face at one time bloody and at other times black and blue, and the said Oliver complained that his wife had given him several blows.”

Bridget and Thomas Oliver were fined and ordered to be whipped if they did not pay their fine on time.

Illustration of the hanging of Bridget Bishop

Illustration of the hanging of Bridget Bishop

In 1678, Bridget was brought to court for using foul language against her husband, as described in the book Salem-Village Witchcraft:

“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 died of an illness in 1679, Bridget inherited his estate, which consisted of a house worth £45, ten acres of land worth £25, a variety of household goods and two pigs. Oliver’s two sons and the couple’s daughter only received twenty shillings each.

Just three months after receiving her inheritance in November, Bridget’s stepchildren accused her of bewitching Oliver to death. A lack of evidence prevented the case from going to trial and it was speculated that the stepchildren’s accusation was an attempt to get their hands on the property she inherited from their father.

In 1687, Bridget was then accused of stealing brass from a local mill by the mill owner, Thomas Stacy, and arrested. Bridget claimed she didn’t steal the brass, but found it on her property and had no idea how it got there.

She also stated that she sent her daughter into town with the brass to discover what it was, not to sell it, as Thomas Stacy accused her of doing. Unfortunately, there are no surviving records indicating the outcome of this trial.

After Oliver’s death, Bridget Bishop married Edward Bishop, a well-respected sawyer (woodcutter). Bridget Bishop’s life at this time is sometimes difficult to trace because many historians, including Charles Upham in his 1867 book Salem Witchcraft, have confused her with Sarah Bishop, who was also accused of witchcraft and was married to Bridget Bishop’s step-son, who was also named Edward Bishop, according to the book Salem Story:

“As the first person to be executed in the Salem Witch Trials, Bridget Bishop has received plenty of attention from Salem’s historians, amateur and professional. She has served as a paradigm of the executed person as social deviant, the outsider who falls prey to a community devouring the eccentric on its margin. This is a version of Salem’s story codified in 1867 by Charles Upham, who in his Salem Witchcraft told the story of Bridget Bishop as a singular character, not easily described. ‘She kept a house of refreshment for travellers, and a shovel-board for the entertainment of her guests, and generally seems to have countenanced amusements and gayeties to an extent that exposed her to some scandal. She is described as wearing ‘a black cap and black hat, and a red paragon bodice,’ bordered and looped with different colors. This would appear to have been a rather showy costume for the times. Her freedom from the austerity of Puritan manners, and disregard of conventional decorum in her conversation and conduct, brought her into disrepute; and the tongue of gossip was generally loosened against her.’ Upham had made a mistake. Although he correctly identified Bridget Bishop as a woman who previously been charged with witchcraft, he conflated two people into one, inaccurately identifying her as living just outside of Salem Village, rather than in Salem [town] where she did live, and of being a rather colorful tavern keeper, which she was not. Upham’s mistake was understandable, since the confusion as to her identity actually goes back to 1692, and only some brilliant detective work by David L. Greene in 1981 brought clarity to the matter; still, some scholars have continued to make the misidentification.”

The mistake originates from Reverend John Hale‘s testimony against Sarah Bishop on May 22, which many historians have misidentified as testimony against Bridget Bishop because during the testimony Hale merely refers to the accused as “Goodwife Bishop…wife of Edward Bishop Jun’r.”

Since Bridget and Sarah Bishop were both accused of witchcraft and were both married to men named Edward Bishop, it’s easy to see how the two became mixed up over time.

Bridget Bishop's Memorial Marker, Salem Witch Trials Memorial, Salem Mass, November 2015. Photo Credit: Rebecca Brooks

Bridget Bishop’s Memorial Marker, Salem Witch Trials Memorial, Salem Mass, November 2015. Photo Credit: Rebecca Brooks

What historians do know about Bridget Bishop is that around the time of the Salem Witch Trials, she lived in what is now downtown Salem. She owned an apple orchard, which was located at what is now 43 Church Street (where the Salem Lyceum Society building was later built), where she also kept chickens. Bishop also lived in a house somewhere near the orchard, according to court records.

Bridget Bishop was arrested on charges of witchcraft on April 18, 1692, after she was accused by Mercy Lewis, Abigail Williams, Elizabeth Hubbard and Ann Putnam, Jr.

Bishop was examined the next day in Salem Village by Judge John Hathorne and Judge Jonathan Corwin. Hathorne wasted no time bringing up Bishop’s prior accusation of witchcraft, according to court records:

“[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.”

That same day, Bridget Bishop was indicted and arraigned on five separate charges of witchcraft. The amount of evidence against Bishop was overwhelming. Over the course of the next few months, over 10 witnesses gave long, detailed testimonies about how Bridget Bishop bewitched them, their family and/or their animals.

Once such witness was John Louder who testified that eight years before, when he was staying with Bridget Bishop’s neighbor, John Gedney, Gedney would often quarrel with Bishop about letting her chickens wandering into his apple orchard. Shortly after, Louder claimed Bishop’s spirit would attack him at night in his bed and when he complained to Bishop about it, she threatened him and sent black pigs and a talking deformed monkey to torment him, according to court records:

“Susannah Gedney was in our orchard and I was then with her and said Bridget Bishop being then in her orchard which was next adjoining to ours my mistress told said Bridget that I said or affirmed that she came one night & sat upon my breast as aforesaid which she denied and I affirmed to her face to be true and that I did plainly see her, upon which discourse with her she threatened me. And some time after that I being not very well stayed at home on a Lords day and on the afternoon of said day the doors being shut I did see a black pig in the room coming towards me so I went towards it to kick it and it vanished away. Immediately after I sat down in an narrow bar and did see a black thing jump into the window and came & stood just before my face, upon the bar the body of it looked like a monkey only the feet ware like a cocks feet with claws and the face somewhat more like a mans than a monkey and I being greatly affrighted not being able to speak or help myself by reason of fear I suppose, so the thing spake to me and said ‘I am a Messenger sent to you for I understand you are troubled in mind, and if you will be ruled by me you shall want for nothing in this world’ upon which I endeavored to clap my hands upon it, and said ‘You devil I will kill you,’ but could feel no substance and it jumped out of the window again and immediately came in by the porch although the doors were shut and said ‘You had better take my council,’ where upon I strook at it with a stick but strook the ground sill and broke the stick, but felt no substance, and that arm with which I strook was presently disenabled, then it vanished away and I opened the back door and went out and going towards the house end I espied said Bridget Bishop in her orchard going towards her house, and seeing her had no power to set one foot forward but returned in again and going to shut the door…”

Louder claimed to see the monkey on another occasion flying in the apple orchard and said he knew that it was real because it knocked apples off the trees as it flew over them.

Other witnesses, such as Samuel Gray, testified that Bishop bewitched his child to death 14 years before when her spirit suddenly appeared at his house one night, according to court records:

“Samuel Gray of Salem Aged about 42 years testifieth and sayth that about fourteen years ago he going to bed well one Lords Day at night, and after he had been asleep some time, he awakened & looking up, saw the house light as if a candle or candles were lighted in it and the door locked & that little fire there, was raked up he did then see a woman standing between the cradle in the room and the bed side…and the child in the cradle gave a great screech out as if it was greatly hurt and she disappeared and taking the child up could not quiet it in some hours from which time, the child that before was a very likely thriving child did pine away and was never well, although it lived some months after, yet in a sad condition and so died, some time after within a week or less he did see the same woman in the same garb and clothes, that appeared to him as aforesaid, and although he knew not her, nor her name before, yet both by her countenance & garb doth testify that it was the same woman that they now call Bridget Bishop alias Oliver of Salem.”

One of the afflicted girls, Susannah Sheldon also testified that she saw the spirit of Thomas Green’s twin boys who told her that Bridget Bishop had bewitched them to death. She also said Bridget Bishop’s spirit told her she had killed four women, two of them were “the Foster’s wives,” one was John Trask’s wife and she didn’t name the other.

Two other witnesses, Samuel and Sarah Shuttuck gave a long, rambling testimony about how Bridget Bishop first asked them to dye a small piece of lace that they believed couldn’t be used for anything other than a poppet (a type of doll used in witchcraft), then bewitched their eldest child and physically attacked the child in person when she was confronted about bewitching him.

John Bly and his wife Rebecca also testified that Bridget Bishop sold them a bewitched pig. John Bly and William Bly also testified that they were hired by Bishop to do some construction work on her home and found poppets hidden in the walls of her cellar, according to court records:

“June 2’th 1692 John Blye Senior aged about 57 years & William Blye aged about 15 years both of Salem testifieth and sayth that being employed by Bridget Bishop alias Oliver of Salem to help take down the cellar wall of the old house she formerly lived in we the said deponants in holes of the said old wall belonging to the said cellar found several poppets made up of rags and hog bristles with headless pins in them with the points outward & this was about seven years last past.”

At about 10 a.m. on June 2, Bridget Bishop, Elizabeth Proctor, Rebecca Nurse, Alice Parker, Susannah Martin and Sarah Good underwent a humiliating physical examination by nine local women and a doctor named Barton, after which these examiners reported finding unnatural growths in strange places on some of the accused, including Bishop:

“The first three, namely: Bishop, Nurse and Proctor, by diligent search have discovered a preternatural excrescence of flesh between the pudendum [genitals] and anus much like to teats & not usual in women & much unlike to the other three that hath been searched by us & that they were in all the three women near the same place.”

The women were all examined again about six hours later, after which the examiners reported that Bridget Bishop and Elizabeth Proctor were clear of any mark and that as far as the other women were concerned, the unusual bit of flesh only appeared to be dry skin.

Bridget Bishop’s trial began and ended that same day, according to the book Legal Executions in 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.”

The jury found Bridget Bishop guilty of witchcraft and issued her death warrant on June 8, 1692.

On Friday, June 10, 1692, sometime between 8am and noon, Bridget Bishop was taken to the execution site at or near Gallows Hill in Salem and hanged. As a convicted witch, she wasn’t allowed to be buried in consecrated ground so she was buried at the execution site, according to the book Witch Hill: A History of Salem Witchcraft:

“Sheriff Corwin, in his official return in the case of Bridget Bishop, which has been preserved, after stating the fact of having hanged her, adds, ‘and buried her on the spot,’ but drew his pen across the words, as if the statement were not necessary to the return.”

Bridget Bishop was not the first victim accused during the Salem Witch Trials of 1692, but it is believed that officials chose to hear her case first because they felt, 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.

In 1711, the Massachusetts legislature passed a bill clearing the names of some of the accused and granted restitution to their families. Bishop’s family, and several others, did not come forward to accept the restitution nor to be named in the bill and, therefore, their names were not cleared.

In 1957, the Massachusetts legislature officially apologized for the Salem Witch Trials and cleared the names of “One Ann Pudeator and certain other persons” but failed to mention the remaining victims by name.

In 2001, the Massachusetts Legislature amended the 1957 apology and finally cleared the names of the remaining victims: Bridget Bishop, Susannah Martin, Alice Parker, Wilmot Redd and Margaret Scott.

Bridget Bishop’s memorial marker is located at the Salem Witch Trials Memorial in Salem, Mass.

Bridget Bishop Historical Sites:

Salem Witch Trials Memorial
Address: Liberty Street, Salem, Mass
Admission Price: Free

Former site of Bridget Bishop’s orchard and house
Address: 43 Church Street, Salem, Mass
Admission Price: No admission price. Site currently occupied by Turner’s seafood restaurant

Site of the Salem Witch Trials Executions
Address: Proctor’s Ledge, wooded area between Proctor Street and Pope Street, Salem, Mass

Essex Institute Historical Collections, Volume 2; 1860
Salem Witches I: Bridget Bishop; American Genealogist; David L. Green; July 1981
Salem Story: Reading the Witch Trials of 1692; Bernard Rosenthal; 1995
Salem-village Witchcraft: A Documentary Record of Local Conflict in Colonial New England; Paul S. Boyer; Stephen Nissenabaum; 1972
Salem Witchcraft; Charles W. Upham; 1867
Witchcraft and Society in England and America, 1550-1750; Marion Gibson; 2003
Witch Hill: A History of Salem Witchcraft; Zachariah Atwell Mudgel; 1870
Legal Executions in New England: A Comprehensive Reference, 1623-1960; Daniel Allen Hearn; 1999
The Salem Witch Trials: A Reference Guide; K. David Goss; 2008
University of Virginia: The Salem Witchcraft Papers:

About Rebecca Beatrice Brooks

Rebecca Beatrice Brooks is the owner and operator of this website and all the articles are written and researched by her. Rebecca is a freelance writer and history lover who got her start in journalism working for small-town newspapers in Massachusetts and New Hampshire after she graduated from the University of New Hampshire with a B.A. in journalism. Visit this site's About page to find out more about Rebecca.

8 thoughts on “Bridget Bishop: Witch or Easy Target?

  1. Nora Fleming

    I just read your post of October 10, 2011 on Bridget Bishop. Thanks for posting this well-researched and documented article. I’m a descendant of Edward Bishop and Sarah Wildes of Salem Village. I’ve been researching these Bishop’s, mostly from on-line sources – but also from some microfilmed records rented from the FHL in Salt Lake City. I’ve searched deeds, tax records, court records and every other kind of record I can find and had reached the same conclusions you present in your post regarding the mis-identifying of both Bridget Bishop with Sarah Bishop and of Edward Bishop (the sawyer) with one or more of the Edward Bishop’s in Salem Village. The deeds and tax records have been very helpful in sorting out this confusion. Looking at deeds in which any Edward Bishop was a grantor in Salem (town or village) has been the most probative. Edward Bishop (c. 1620-1695) of Salem Village used a mark “EB” to sign off on his deeds. Edward Bishop (1648-1711) signed with his full name and his wife Sarah signed with her mark. Edward Bishop (c. 1670-1747) also signed with his full name, with his wife Susannah using a distinguishing ‘mark’. None of them used an “X” or a cross as a mark. However, Edward Bishop, the sawyer, of the town of Salem – did use an “X” as his mark on two 1694 documents regarding property and guardianship moneys.
    I’m trying to get a copy of David L. Greene’s article on Bridget Bishop. I can get a copy through the collection of periodicals held at Allen County Library in Fort Wayne, Indiana; but I’m looking for some source where I could get it more quickly. They state that it can take 6 weeks to get copies from their collection. Any ideas where I could access this article?
    Thanks again for your excellent article and I definitely will follow your blog now that I’ve found it!

    1. Rebecca Beatrice Brooks

      Thank you for your comment, Nora. I’m really into genealogy so I love hearing from descendants of the Salem Witch Trial victims. I too wish I could get a copy of David L. Greene’s article. I’ve been scouring the web looking for it since I started doing research for this article and haven’t been able to find it anywhere online yet. Sorry I couldn’t be more help.


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