Corey, Martha

Martha Corey(d. 1692) The fourth person to be accused of witchcraft in the Salem Witches hysteria of 1692-93, who was tried and executed.

Martha Corey was the wife of Giles Corey, who also was executed. The Coreys were well-to-do, pious residents of Salem Town. Martha’s age at the time of the trials is not known. Presumably, she was beyond child-bearing years. She was Giles’ third wife; the couple had no children of their own.

Corey was renowned for her piety, but she became a target after the slave Tituba confessed to witchcraft. Tituba said that four women were hurting the afflicted girls, but named only two — Sarah Good and Sarah Os- borne. The afflicted girls came up with no names. Then gossip circulated that the girls were talking about others as witches, including Martha Corey. Thirteen-year-old Ann Putnam broke the silence in March 1692 by naming Corey next as one of the four who was tormenting them. Corey, she said, appeared in spectral form and pinched and tormented her.

One of the girls’ tricks was to claim that they could identify their tormentors, who came in spectral form, by their clothing, which they could see. Two representatives, Thomas Putnam (Ann’s uncle) and Ezekiel Cheever, were chosen to visit Corey to ask her questions about the allegations of the girls. First, they asked Putnam to describe the clothing that Corey would be wearing when they arrived. But Putnam dodged the matter, claiming that Corey had struck her blind so that she could not see the clothing.

When Putnam and Cheever arrived at the Corey residence, Martha confidently denied any knowledge or role in the girls’ afflictions. When told she had been cried out against by Putnam, she asked if Putnam had identified her clothing. Apparently, Corey was wise to the trick and thought she would expose it. Instead, her answer was tak- en as a sign of witchcraft, for how else would she know?

Corey was arrested on March 19 and taken to the Sa- lem Town meetinghouse for examination by the magistrates. She seemed to be convinced that common sense would prevail. She denied being a witch and said she did not know if there were any witches in New England. She laughed at some of the questions. She said the magistrates were blind to the truth, and she could make them see it, but then declined to do so.

Days later, Putnam was sent for and, when in the presence of Corey, went into fits. If Corey bit her lip, the girl said she was being bitten. If Corey clenched her hands, she said she was being pinched.

Corey was sent to jail and tried in September. She continued to think that it would be impossible for a person such as herself to be found guilty of witchcraft. What could she do, she said, if others were against her? Unfortunately, her husband Giles contributed to the case against her. Giles had bought completely into the hysteria and said that Martha acted in strange ways “like the Devil was in her.” He testified that some of their animals had been mysteriously hurt or sick, implying that Martha may have been responsible. Corey was condemned to death. She was excommunicated from the church in Salem Town on September 11. On September 22, she was hanged with seven others. She ended her life with prayer.

As Corey and the others swung at the ends of their ropes, Reverend Nicholas Noyes said, “What a sad thing it is to see eight firebrands of hell hanging there.”

Corey’s excommunication was reversed on February 14, 1703. In its statement, the brethren of the church said that “we were at that dark day under the power of those errors which then prevailed in the land” and that Corey’s execution “was not according to the mind of God.”

Further Reading:

  • Hansen, Chadwick. Witchcraft at Salem. New York: New American Library, 1969.
  • Karlsen, Carol E The Devil in the Shape of a Woman: Witchcraft in Colonial New England. New York: WW. Norton & Co, 1987.
  • Upham, Charles. History of Witchcraft and Salem Village. Boston: Wiggin and Lunt, 1867.

The Encyclopedia of Witches, Witchcraft and Wicca written by Rosemary Ellen Guiley – Copyright © 1989, 1999, 2008 by Visionary Living, Inc.

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