Bartholomew Gedney: Salem Witch Judge

Bartholomew Gedney was one of the judges during the Salem Witch Trials. Gedney was also a physician, town selectman, ship carpenter, merchant and a colonel in the Essex County militia.

Gedney was born to John Gedney in Salem on June 14, 1640. Gedney married Hannah Clark in 1662 and had eleven children (Durand 35, Perley 441):

Bartholomew Gedney, born April 4, 1664, died August 12, 1664

Jonathan Gedney, born June 14, 1665, died August 14, 1665

Bartholomew Gedney, born August 2, 1666, died September 22, 1666

Hannah Gedney, born August 19, 1667

Lydia Gedney, born March 9, 1669 (married Captain George Corwin)

Bethiah Gedney, born May 27, 1672

Deborah Gedney, born January 3, 1673, died December 9, 1674

Samuel Gedney, born November 2, 1675

Deborah Gedney, baptized November 25, 1677 (twin)

Martha Gedney, baptize November 25, 1677 (twin)

Priscilla Gedney, baptized May 1, 1681

Gedney began life as a ship carpenter and later went into public service working as a magistrate for the courts.

In 1674, Gedney purchased around 100,000 acres of land in Westcustugo from Thomas Stevens and was later granted a house lot in Falmouth, Maine after King Philip’s War ended.

In 1678, Gedney was elected as a deputy to the General Court and served on the court of assistants from 1680 to 1683.

In 1684, the Massachusetts General Court awarded Gedney another 500 acres in Maine as a thank you for his expedition to Casco Bay in 1679 during which he helped reestablish the English settlements that had been abandoned during King Philip’s War.

Gedney was then appointed to Governor Andros’ council after the Dominion of New England was established in 1686.

In 1689, Gedney served on the Council for Safety in Boston along with John Hathorne.

In 1690, Gedney served on the organizing committee for the invasion of Port Royal in Acadia and was even offered command of it, but he declined it.

The following year he was appointed to Governor Dudley’s council and then became the first judge of probate for Essex County in 1692.

Bartholomew Gedney in the Salem Witch Trials:

On May 27, 1692, the Court of Oyer and Terminer was established by Governor Phips to hear the witchcraft cases and Gedney was appointed as one of its judges.

"Court Trial of Witches," illustration by unknown artist, published in "Witchcraft Illustrated" by Henrietta D Kimball, circa 1892
“Court Trial of Witches,” illustration by unknown artist, published in “Witchcraft Illustrated” by Henrietta D Kimball, circa 1892

On May 31, 1692, Gedney presided over the examination of Captain John Alden, whom Gedney knew personally. Gedney urged Alden to confess but Alden refused and said if anyone ever suspected him of being an evil person they should say so.

Gedney stated that he had known Alden for years and had even been to sea with him and always thought of him as an honest man but now he was not so sure.

Each time Alden looked at his accusers in the room they convulsed and fell down. Alden then asked Gedney why he didn’t fall down when he looked at him but Gedney didn’t answer.

The accusers were then brought to Alden and were allowed to touch him, which they said cured them of their affliction. Alden responded by stating that it was strange that god would allow “those creatures to accuse innocent persons” and also told Gedney that his accusers had “a lying spirit in them, for I can assure you that there is not a word of truth in all these say of me.”

Alden was taken into custody by Marshal George Herrick at the end of the examination. No bail was accepted and Alden was brought to the Boston prison, which he escaped a few months later.

On June 6, 1692, Gedney, John Hathorne and Jonathan Corwin presided over Mary Ireson’s and Ann Dolliver’s examinations at Beadle’s Tavern in Salem town and the following day, Gedney, Hawthorne and Corwin questioned Job Tookey in Salem town.

On July 4, Gedney and Hathorne seemed to have engaged in witchcraft themselves while they were questioning a slave named Candy.

After the magistrates asked her if she was a witch, Candy replied yes and offered to demonstrate how she afflicted her victims. The judges agreed and allowed her to retrieve some items from her lodgings, which included a handkerchief knotted around a piece of cheese and a piece of grass and two rags tied with knots.

Upon sight of the items, the afflicted girls in the room began convulsing and cried out that the specter of the Devil, Candy and her master Mrs. Hawkes were hurting them by pinching the rags.

The magistrates ordered that the knots in the rags be untied but it brought no relief to the afflicted girls. They then ordered Candy to eat the blade of grass but nothing happened.

To see if the rags contained the same power when Candy wasn’t holding them, the magistrates took them from her and experimented with them. First they burned them, which caused the afflicted girls to feel as if they were being burned, and then they dunked them in water, which made the girls start choking as if they were being drowned.

In the face of all of this, Candy’s owner, Mrs. Hawkes, confessed to being a witch and both her and Candy were held for trial. Later that night in jail, Candy complained that her throat burned as if it were scorched by the grass she swallowed.

Not every court case Gedney presided over during this time was a witchcraft cases. Regular court proceedings still continued, such as the court proceeding Gedney presided over on July 26 which was about the illegal selling of ale and the proper licensing of inn holders Walter Philips, Nathaniel Ingersoll, Mary Gedney Samuel, Thomas Beadle and Samuel Shattuck.

The witch trials seemed to dominate most of Gedney’s time during the summer and fall of 1692.

On July 21, Gedney presided over the examination of Mary Lacey Sr., on July 23, he presided over the examination of Martha Emerson and on July 30, he presided over the examination of Hannah Bromage.

In August, Gedney presided over the examination of Sarah Carrier on August 11, the examination of Susannah Post on August 25, and the examinations of William Barker Sr, his 13-year-old niece Mary Barker and Mary Marston of Andover on August 29.

The Barkers and Mary Marston all first denied the charges but soon confessed after being repeatedly questioned by the magistrates.

At that same court session that day, Samuel Martin and Moses Tyler filed a complaint with Gedney, Hathorne, and Higginson against Elizabeth Johnson and her daughter Abigail for afflicting Martha Sprague and Abigail Martin.

On September 2, Gedney, presided over the examination of Mary Parker of Andover

On September 21, 1692, Gedney received a petition from Reverend John Hale, Reverend Nicholas Noyes, John Emerson Jr and Daniel Epes asking for a temporary stay of execution for Dorcas Hoar of Beverly due to her confession, which Gedney granted.

The witchcraft cases spilled over into Gedney’s regular court proceedings too such as on October 3, 1692, when Gedney served as a probate judge in the case of Thomas Penny’s will but the chief heir of the will, Joan Penny, was still in prison on charges of witchcraft and was unable to deal with the estate, which created a legal mess.

The court of Oyer and Terminer was officially disbanded on October 29, 1692, bringing an end to Gedney’s role in the witchcraft cases.

Gedney After the Salem Witch Trials:

On December 7, 1692, Gedney, Hathorne and Corwin were appointed to the Inferior Court of Common Pleas for Essex County.

Despite the general public’s discontent with the way the Salem Witch Trials were handled, on May 31, 1693, Gedney, William Stoughton, Thomas Danforth, John Richards, Wait-Still Winthrop, John Hathorne and Samuel Sewall were reelected to the governor’s council by the townspeople.

On January 6, 1695-6, Gedney’s wife Hannah died and he married the widow Anne Stewart.

In August of 1696, the Siege of Pemaquid took place in Maine during King William’s War and Colonel Gedney was sent by William Stoughton to strengthen the garrisons in Maine with soldiers while Hathorne and Major Benjamin Church were sent to attack the French headquarters at St. John.

Not long after, on February 28, 1697, Bartholomew Gedney died and was buried in the Old Burying Point Cemetery on Charter Street.

Sources:
Baker, Emerson. A Storm of Witchcraft: The Salem Witch Trials and the American Experience. Oxford University Press, 2015.
Davis, William T. Bench and Bar of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts in Two Volumes. Vol. I, Boston History Company, 1895
Nevins, Winfield S. Witchcraft in Salem Village. North Shore Publishing Company, 1892.
Baker, Emerson W. A Storm of Witchcraft: The Salem Witch Trials and the American Experience. Oxford University Press, 2015.
Waters, Henry Fitzgilbert. The Gedney and Clarke Families of Salem, Mass. Salem Press, 1860.
Perley, Sidney. The History of Salem, Massachusetts, Vol. 1, 1626 – 1637. Sidney Perley, 1924.
Durand, Hortense Funsten. The Ancestors and Descendants of Colonel David Funsten and His Wife Susan Everard Meade. The Knickerbocker Press, 1926.
Perley, Sidney. The Essex Institute Historical Collections , Vol. LI – 1915. Essex Institute, 1915.
Roach, Marilynne. The Salem Witch Trials: A Day-By-Day Chronicle of a Community Siege. Taylor Trade Publishing, 2004.

About Rebecca Beatrice Brooks

Rebecca Beatrice Brooks is the author and publisher of the History of Massachusetts Blog. Rebecca is a freelance journalist 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.

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