Martha Corey, whose maiden name was Panon, had a controversial past. In 1677, she gave birth to a mixed-race son she named either Benjamin or Ben-Oni, according to the book The Salem Witch Trials: A Reference Guide:
“Following this event, she lived a reclusive life with her apparently illegitimate child in the home of John Clifford of Salem, who continued to raise the boy to manhood. Benjamin (aka Ben-Oni) was upwards of twenty-two years of age in 1699, and still living in Salem.”
In 1684, Martha’s luck turned when she married Henry Rich of Salem and gave birth to a legitimate son named Thomas Rich. Some sources state Martha Corey lived with her son, Benjamin, in the boarding house, separate from her husband, while other sources state Benjamin lived by himself in the boarding house while Martha lived with her husband and younger son.
After Henry Rich died, sometime between 1684 and 1690, Martha married Giles Corey on April 27, 1690. Martha was Giles Corey’s third wife. Giles Corey was a wealthy farmer who had a troubled past himself ever since standing trial for murdering one of his farmhands in 1676. Although he was found guilty, he only paid a fine for his crime. Many residents of Salem believed Corey paid a bribe for his freedom and his reputation in Salem was forever tarnished.
When the Salem Witch Trials began in the spring of 1692, Martha and Giles Corey were some of the first people to attend the examinations but Martha soon expressed her doubts about the legitimacy of the claims.
When Giles Corey tried to attend another examination, Martha Corey tried to persuade him not to and even hid Giles’ saddle so he couldn’t ride his horse to the examination. This apparently made her look suspicious to others, as if she were working with the witches to stop or impede the trials.
Shortly after this incident, Ann Putnam, Jr., claimed Martha Corey’s spirit had attacked her. It was a shocking accusation at the time because Martha Corey was a respectable woman, despite her troubled past, and was a member of the local church. No one of her social status had been accused before.
Before any formal accusation was filed, two local men, Edward Putnam and Ezekial Cheever, decided to personally investigate the accusation. On March 12, 1692, they tried to see if they could corroborate Ann Putnam, Jr.,’s story by stopping by the Putnam house first and asking Ann Putnam, Jr., what Martha Corey’s spirit was wearing at the time of the attack and then planned to visit Martha Corey to see if she was wearing the same clothes.
When asked though, Ann Putnam, Jr., claimed Martha’s spirit had temporarily blinded her so she couldn’t see what she was wearing. The men decided to go ahead anyway and pay Martha Corey a visit, according to the book Legal Executions in New England:
“Even before greetings could be exchanged Martha Corey astounded her guests by surmising their purpose. ‘I know what ye are coming for,” said she. ‘Ye are come to talk with me about being a witch.’ Her tone was annoyingly smug. Rather abashed, the men admitted that such was so. Then they spoke of what Ann Putnam had said that day. Then Martha Corey delivered another bombshell: ‘But does she tell you what clothes I have on?’ This time her tone was an intolerable blend of smugness, contempt and mockery. As far as Putnam and Cheever were concerned, this incident clinched the case against Martha Corey. Not only was she guilty in their eyes but impudent as well. Before that day was out the details of the interview were upon every tongue and few were they who dissented from Putnam or Cheever’s opinion. No one stopped to consider that Martha had been tipped off in advance about what had gone before. The only explanation that seemed reasonable was that the woman had come to such knowledge by illegal and supernatural means.”
Animosity against the defiant Martha Corey began to build during the week that followed Putnam and Cheever’s interview with her. No one came to Martha Corey’s defense and, in fact, the other afflicted girls joined in on accusing Martha Corey of bewitching them.
Martha Corey kept a brave face throughout all this, even after a warrant was issued for her arrest on Saturday, March 19, 1692. Fortunately for Martha, when the warrant was issued, there wasn’t enough time left in the day to arrest her. It was also illegal to serve warrants on a Sunday. Therefore, Martha was free until Monday and she decided to take advantage of the opportunity, according to the book Legal Executions in New England:
“Salem would long remember the events of Sunday, March 20, 1692. On that day the townsfolk gawked in disbelief as they entered the meetinghouse and there saw Martha Corey – the reputed witch – seated among the pious. Such effrontery was unparalleled. There was the nemesis of the community dressed in her Sunday best, taking part in divine worship. And there was nothing anyone could do about it. Martha was still a de facto member of the church and fully entitled to all of its privileges as long as her arrest warrant went unserved. Neither parishioners, ministers nor the governor himself could legally eject her under such circumstances. Martha knew that and she used the occasion to publicly defy her enemies.”
A firsthand account of that day in the meetinghouse was later published by Reverend Deodat Lawson, the previous Salem minister who had returned to Salem that March to find out more about the suspicious activities in the village. Lawson was preaching that day in the meetinghouse and published his account of the events in his book, A Brief and True Narrative of Some Remarkable Passages Relating to Sundry Persons Afflicted by Witchcraft, at Salem Village:
“On Lords day, the Twentieth of March, there were sundry of the afflicted persons at meeting, as Mrs. Pope, and Goodwife Bibber, Abigail Williams, Mary Walcut [sic], Mary Lewes [sic], and Doctor Grigg’s maid. There was also at meeting, Goodwife C. [Corey] (who was afterward examined on suspicion of being a witch.) They had several sore fits in the time of public worship, which did something interrupt me in my first prayer, being so unusual…In sermon time, when Goodwife C. was present in the meeting-house, Ab. W. [Abigail Williams] called out, Look where Goodwife C. sits on the beam suckling her yellow bird betwixt her fingers! Ann Putnam, another afflicted girl, said, There was a yellow bird sat on my hat as it hang on the pin in the pulpit; but those that were by, restrained her from speaking aloud about it.”
The following day, Martha Corey was arrested and brought to the Salem Village meetinghouse to be examined by Judge John Hathorne. Hathorne badgered Martha throughout the examination and accused her of lying to the court multiple times. Almost immediately after the examination started, Hathorne demanded to know more about the day Putnam and Cheever visited her house, according to court records:
[Hathorne]: Why did you ask if the child told what clothes you wore?
[Corey]: My husband told me the others told
[Hathorne]: Who told you about the clothes? Why did you ask that question?
[Corey]: Because I heard the children told what clothes the other wore.
[Hathorne to Giles Corey]: Corey, did you tell her?
The old man denied that he told her so.
[Hathorne to Martha Corey]: Did you not say that your husband told you so? Who hurt these children? Now look upon them.
[Corey]: I cannot help it.
[Hathorne]: Did you not say you would tell the truth? Why you ask that question? How come you to the knowledge?
[Corey]: I did but ask
[Hathorne]: You dare thus lie in all this assembly? You are now before authority. I expect the truth, you promised it. Speak now and tell who told you what clothes?
[Hathorne]: How came you to know that the children would be examined what clothes you wore?
[Corey]: Because I thought the child was wiser, than anybody if she knew
[Hathorne]: Give an answer you said your husband told you
[Corey]: He told me the children said I afflicted them
[Hathorne]: How do you know what they came for, answer me this truly. Will you say how you came to know what they came for?
[Corey]: I heard speech that the children said I troubled them & thought that they might come to examine.
[Hathorne]: But how did you know it?
[Corey]: I thought they did
[Hathorne]: Did not you say you would tell the truth? Who told you what they came for?
[Hathorne]: How did you know?
[Corey]: I did think so
[Hathorne]: But you said you knew so
[One of the afflicted girls in the courtroom]: There is a man whispering in her ear
[Hathorne]: What did he say to you?
[Corey]: We must not believe all that these distracted children say
[Hathorne]: Cannot you tell me what the man whispered?
[Corey]: I saw nobody
[Hathorne]: But did not you hear?
Hathorne then urged Martha Corey to find God’s mercy by confessing, but she refused. He also asked her why she hid Giles Corey’s saddle when he tried to attend a previous examination. Corey responded: “I did not know that it would be to any benefit…” to which someone in the court shouted that she didn’t want to help find witches.
Several other questions Hathorne asked her included: did she believe there were witches in the colony, who was her God and how long has she been serving the Devil. Corey laughed at all of these questions and continued to deny any wrongdoing, stating: “I am an innocent person. I never had to do with witchcraft since I was born. I am a gospel woman.”
Although it is not mentioned in the court records, according to Rev. Lawson’s account of the examination, the afflicted girls had a particular response to Corey’s gospel woman statement:
“She said, she had no familiarity with any such thing she was a gospel woman: which title she called herself by; and the afflicted persons told her, Ah! She was a gospel witch!”
The afflicted girls also contributed to the chaos of Martha Corey’s examination by having fits every time Martha moved or turned her head.
They also claimed to see things such as a yellow bird flying above her head and a man whispering in her ear.
At the end of the examination, Martha Corey was indicted on two counts of witchcraft against Elizabeth Hubbard and Mercy Lewis.
After the pre-trial examination, she was sent to the jail in Salem and later, due to overcrowding, transferred to the jail in Boston.
Not only did Giles Corey refuse to help his wife by corroborating the fact he was the one who told her about Putnam and Cheever’s visit, he also provided testimony against Martha on March 24, according to court records:
“The evidence of Giles Corey testifieth & saith that last Saturday in the evening. sitting by the fire my wife asked me to go to bed. I told I would go to prayer. & when I went to prayer I could not utter my desires with any sense, not open my mouth to speak. My wife did perceive it & came towards me and said she was coming to me. After this in a little space I did according to my measure attend the duty. Sometime last weak I fetched an ox well out the woods. about noon, and he laying down in the yard I went to raise him to yoke him but he could not rise but dragged his hinder parts as if he had been hip shot, but after did rise. I had a cat sometimes last week strangely taken on the sudden and did make me think she would have died presently. But my wife bid me knock her in the head. But I did not and since she is well. Another time going to duties I was interrupted for a space but afterward I was helped according to my poor measure. My wife hath been wont to sit up after I went to bed and I have perceived her to kneel down to the harth. as if she were at prayer, but heard nothing.”
From his actions, it appeared that Giles Corey, who was reportedly swept up in the mass hysteria, actually believed the accusations against his wife. But when Giles himself was accused of witchcraft and arrested in mid-April, it seemed he wasn’t cooperating with the court anymore.
During Giles Corey’s examination at the Salem Village meetinghouse on April 19, the court asked him about his previous testimony against his wife but he refused to provide anymore incriminating evidence, according to the book The Salem Witch Trials: A Day-by-Day Chronicle of the Salem Witch Trials:
“The magistrates produced the testimony that Giles had given about his wife on the day of Rebecca Nurse’s examination, and asked about the time he was stopped in prayer.
‘What stopped you?’
‘I cannot tell. My wife came towards me and found fault with me for saying ‘living to God and dying to sin’ (The Gospel woman had presumably corrected a quotation from the Westminster Catechism, where God’s grace enables its recipient ‘to die unto sin, and live unto righteousness.’)
‘What was it frightened you in the barn?’
‘I know nothing that frightened me there.’
‘Why, here are three witnesses that heard you say so today.’
‘I do not remember it.’
Thomas Gould testified that Corey said ‘he knew enough against his wife to do her business,’ and the court wanted to know just what that knowledge was.
‘Why, that of living to God and dying to sin,’ said Corey.
Marshal George Herrick and Bibber’s daughter corroborated Gould’s claim, but Corey snapped, ‘I have said what I can say to that.’
‘What was that about your ox?’ asked the court, referring to the deposition about the lame ox.
‘I thought he was hipped.’
‘What ointment was that your wife had when she was seized? You said it was ointment she made by Major Gedney’s direction.’ Corey denied this and said it came from Goody Bibber.”
After Giles Corey’s examination he was indicted and brought to the jail in Salem, on the corner or Federal and St. Peter Street, to await trial.
Although Martha Corey was arrested in March, the court seemed to be delaying her trial. It’s believed that the court officials knew the case against her would be hard to win so they delayed it while they figured out how to build a strong case against her.
In the meantime, a handful of people provided testimony against Martha Corey in April and May. Then, when her case went to trial in September, a summons for more witnesses was called and more witnesses testified.
Most of the afflicted girls testimony consisted of more stories about spectral visions of Martha Corey pinching, choking and biting them and visions of yellow birds nursing from a spot between Corey’s fingers.
During her trial in September, Edward Putnam gave his testimony, which mostly consisted of a retelling of his visit with Cheever to Martha Corey’s house on March 12, 1692:
“The deposition of Edward Putnam aged about 36 years and Ezekiel Cheever aged about 37 years testifieth and sayeth that we being often complained unto by Ann Putnam that Goody Corey did often appear to her and torture her by pinching and other ways thought it our duty to go to her and see what she would say to this com-plaint she being in church covenant with us. and accordingly upon the 12’th day of march about ten of the clock we appointed to go about the middle afternoon, and we desired Ann Putnam to take good notice of what clothes Goody Corey came in that so we might see whither she was not mistaken in the person, and accordingly we went to the house of Thomas Putnam before we went to Goody Corey to see what Ann could say about her clothes and she told us that presently after we had #[spoken] told her that we would go and talk with Goody Corey she came and blinded her but told her that her name was Corey and that she should see her no more before it was night because she should not tell us what clothes she had on and then she would come again and pay her off. then wee went both of us away from the house of Thomas Putnam to the house of Giles Corey where we found go the above said Corey all alone in her house and as soon as we came in, a smiling manner she sayeth ‘I know what you are come for you are come to talk with me about being a witch but I am none I cannot help peoples talking of me.’ Edward Putnam answered her that it was the afflicted person that did complain of her that was the occasion of our coming to her. She presently replied ‘but does she tell you what clothes I have on?’ We made her no answer to this at her first asking where upon she asked us again with very great eagerness ‘but does she tell you what clothes I have on?’ at which questions with that eagerness of mind. With which she did ask made us to think of what Ann Putnam had told us before we went to her. #[to which] and we told her ‘no she did not for she told us that you came and blinded her and told her that she should see you no more before it was night that so she might not tell us what clothes you had on.’ She made but little answer to this but seemed to smile at it as if she had showed us a pretty trick. We had a great deal of talk with her about the complaint that was of her and how greatly the name of God and religion and the church was dishonored by this means but she seemed to be no way concerned for any thing about it but only to stop the mouths of people that they might not say thus of her. She told us that she did not think that they were accused for she said if they were we could not blame the devil for making witches of them for they were idle slothfull persons and minded nothing that was good. But we had no reason to think so of her for she had made a profession of Christ and rejoiced to go and hear the word of god and the like. But we told her it was not her making an outward profession that would clear her from being a witch for it had often been so in the world that witches had crept into the churches. Much more discourse we had with her but she made her profession a cloak to cover all she further told us that the devil was come down amongst us in great rage and that God had forsaken the earth. And after much discourse with her being to much here to be related we returned to the house of the above said Thomas Putnam..”
The rest of Edward Putnam’s testimony is about witnessing the afflicted girls claims of Martha Corey’s specter mysteriously biting and pinching on their bodies.
After hearing all of the testimonies and weighing the evidence, Martha Corey was found guilty on September 8, 1692 and sentenced to death.
After her conviction, on September 11, Martha Corey was excommunicated from the First Church of Salem by Reverend Samuel Parris. Parris visited Corey in jail to tell her about the excommunication in person and described the meeting in the Salem Village church book:
“September 11. Lords day
Sister Martha Corey, taken into the church 27 April 1690, was after examination upon suspicion of witchcraft, 21 March.1691-2, committed to prison for that fact, & was condemned to the fallows for the same yesterday : And was this day in public by a general consent voted to be excommunicated out of the church; & Lft. Nathanael Putnam, & the 2 Deacons chosen to signify to her, with the pastor the mind of the Church herein. Accordingly this 14. Septr. 1692. The 3. aforcsd brethren went with the pastor to her in Salem Prison, whom we found very obdurate justifying her self, & condemning all that had done any thing to her just discovery, or condemnation. Whereupon after a little discourse (for her imperiousness would not suffer much) & after Prayer, (which she was willing to decline) the dreadful sentence of excommunication was pronounced against her.”
About a week later, on September 19, Giles Corey was tortured to death, in a field near the Salem jail, for refusing to enter a plea during his trial.
On September 22, 1692, Martha Corey was brought to the execution site at or near Gallows Hill in a cart, along with seven other convicted witches: Mary Easty, Alice Parker, Ann Pudeator, Margaret Scott, Wilmot Redd, Samuel Wardwell, and Mary Parker. Before being hanged, Corey prayed one last time, according to Robert Calef, who personally witnessed the Salem Witch Trials hangings and wrote about it in his book More Wonders of the Invisible World:
“The cart, going to the hill with these eight to execution, was for some time at a set [standstill]; the afflicted and others said, that the devil hindered it; & c. Martha Corey, wife to Giles Corey, protesting her innocency, concluded her life with an eminent prayer upon the ladder.”
These were the last hangings of the Salem Witch Trials. Shortly after, the court banned spectral evidence, making most of the witchcraft accusations baseless, and the trials began to die down until they officially came to and end when the last prisoners were released in May of 1693.
Almost immediately after the trials, the residents of Salem began to feel guilty about what occurred and tried to correct their mistakes anyway they could.
On January 15, 1697, the colony held a day of prayer and fasting, known as the Day of Official Humiliation, in honor of the witch trial victims. The colony had been suffering from natural disasters since the trials ended and, fearing they had angered God by putting innocent people to death, hoped the day of prayer would be please him.
In December of 1702, Reverend Green, who replaced Samuel Parris as the Salem Village minister, told his congregation about how he found the record of Martha Corey’s excommunication in the church-book and, at the urging of Corey’s friends, “propose to the church whether it not be our duty to recall that sentence, that so it may stand against her all generations…”
Since Green did not know Corey personally, he left the matter up to the congregation, who took a vote and decided to repeal Corey’s excommunication. The record in the church-book states:
“Feb. 14, 1703 – The major part of the brethren consented to the following: ‘Whereas this church passed a vote, Sept. 11, 1692, for the excommunication of Martha Corey, and that sentence was pronounced against her Sept. 14, by Mr. Samuel Parris, formerly the pastor of this church; she being; before her excommunication, condemned, afterwards executed, for supposed witchcraft; and there being a record of this in our church-book, page 12, we being moved hereunto, do freely consent and heartily desire that the same sentence may be revoked, and that it may no longer stand against her; for we are, through God’s mercy to us, convinced that we were at that dark day under the power of those errors which then prevailed in the land; and we are sensible that we had not sufficient grounds to think her guilty of that crime for which she was condemned and executed; and that her excommunication was not according to the mind of God, and therefore we desire that this may be entered in our church-book, to take-off that odium that is cast on her name, and that so God may forgive our sin, and may be atoned for the land; and we humbly pray that God will not leave us any more to such errors and sins, but will teach and enable us always to do that which is right in his sight.’ There was a major part voted, and six or seven dissented. J. GR., Pr”
On October 17, 1711, the Massachusetts Legislature passed a bill clearing the names of most of the Salem Witch Trials victims. Giles and Martha Corey were named in the bill and their family was awarded restitution for their deaths.
In 1953, Martha Corey appeared as a minor character in Arthur Miller’s play The Crucible. In the play, Martha Corey is suspected of being a witch by her husband when he tells Reverend John Hale that she stays up late at night reading strange books. Her character is officially accused of witchcraft after she sells a pig to a neighbor and then the pig mysteriously dies.
Martha Corey’s memorial marker is located at the Salem Witch Trials Memorial in Salem, Mass. Giles and Martha Corey also have two memorial markers located near their former farm by Crystal Lake in Peabody, Mass.
Martha Corey Historical Sites:
Salem Witch Trials Memorial
Address: Liberty Street, Salem, Mass
Admission Price: Free
Site of the Salem Witch Trials Executions
Address: Proctor’s Ledge, wooded area between Proctor Street and Pope Street, Salem, Mass
Former Site of the Salem Courthouse
Address: Washington Street (about 100 feet south of Lynde Street), opposite the Masonic Temple, Salem, Mass. Memorial plaque located on Masonic Temple.
Site of Giles Corey’s death
Address: Howard Street Cemetery, Howard Street, Salem, Mass
Former Site of the Salem Village Meetinghouse
Address: Near corner of Hobart and Forest Street, Danvers, Mass. Historical marker on site.
Giles and Martha Corey Memorial Markers
Address: off of Lowell Street, near Crystal Lake in Peabody, Mass
Admission Price: Free
The Wonders of the Invisible World: Being an Account of the Tryals of Several Witches Lately Executed in New-England; Cotton Mather; 1692
A Brief and True Narrative of Some Remarkable Passages Relating to Sundry Persons Afflicted by Witchcraft, at Salem Village: Which happened from the Nineteenth of March, to the Fifth of April, 1692; Deodat Lawson; 1692
More Wonders of the Invisible World, Robert Calef, 1700
Legal Executions in New England: A Comprehensive Reference, 1623-1960; Daniel Allen Hearn
The Salem Witch Trials: A Reference Guide; K. David Goss: 2008
The Salem Witch Trials: A Day-by-Day Chronicle of a Community Under Siege; Marilynne K. Roach; 2002
Historical Sketch of Salem, 1626-1879; Charles Stuart Osgood; Henry Morrill Batchelder; 1879
University of Virginia: Salem Village Church Record Book: http://salem.lib.virginia.edu/villgchurchrcrd.html
University of Virginia: The Salem Witchcraft Papers: Martha Corey Case File: http://salem.lib.virginia.edu/texts/tei/BoySal1R?div_id=n38