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Bridget Bishop (ca. 1632, England – 10 June 1692 Salem, Massachusetts) was the first person executed for witchcraft during the Salem witchcraft trials of 1692.

Contents

Recent historical interpretation: "A resident of Salem Town"

Bridget Bishop was a resident of Salem Town, not Salem Village, where the allegations started. Previously confused with another alleged witch, Sarah Bishop of Salem Village, it was thought that Bridget Bishop was accused because she owned one or more taverns, played shuffleboard, dressed in provocative clothing, and was outspoken.[1] Recent historical studies have shown that this was not the case.[2]

The historical record suggests that she was a resident of Salem Town and thus not the tavern owner. As a resident of Salem Town,, she did not know her accusers. In his deposition in Salem Village before the authorities she stated "I never saw these persons before, nor I never was in this place before."[3]. The indictments against her clearly note that she was from "Salem"[4] which meant Salem Town, as other indictments against residents of Salem Village specified their locations as such.[5]

In the transcripts there is some indication of confusion between Sarah Bishop, wife of a tavern owner in Salem Village, and Bridget Bishop, not a tavern owner and a resident of Salem Town.

Family

Various sources give her maiden name as Playfer (or perhaps Playford). She was married three times:

Her first marriage was around 1660 to Capt. Samuel Wasselbe. Her second marriage was on 26 July 1666 to Thomas Oliver, a widower and prominent businessman. She was earlier accused of bewitching Thomas Oliver to death, but was acquitted for lack of evidence. They had one daughter, Christian (born 8 May 1667), who married Thomas Mason.

Her last marriage circa 1687 was to Edward Bishop, a prosperous sawyer, whose family lived in Beverly. Her stepson Edward Bishop III and daughter-in-law (Sarah Bishop) were also jailed on charges of witchcraft (see Upham).

Nature of allegations

Bishop was charged with and executed for bewitching five young women, Abigail Williams, Ann Putnam, Jr., Mercy Lewis, Mary Walcoot, and Elizabeth Hubbard, on the date of her examination by the authorities, 19 April 1692. However, while this case was spectral in nature, there were more substantial allegations against Bishop.

William Stacy, a middle aged man in Salem Town, testified that Bishop had previously made statements to him that other people in the town considered her to be a witch. And when he confronted her with allegation that she was using witchcraft to torment him, she refused to deny it.

Another local man, Samuel Shattuck, accused Bishop of bewitching his child and also of striking his son with a spade. He also testified that Bishop asked him to dye lace, which apparently was too small to be used on anything but a poppet, or primitive voo-doo doll.

John and William Bly, father and son, testified about finding poppets in Bishop's house and also about their pig that appeared to be bewitched, or poisoned, after a dispute with Bishop.

There were also allegations that Bishop's specter appeared in the rooms of several men while they slept and attacked them. This, along with the fact that she had worn red outfits, has been used to suggest that the good Puritan men of Salem feared Bishop's sexual prowess. However, as has been noted red was not an unusual color for Puritan women to wear, Bishop would have been about 60 years old at the time of her trial and was not likely the most attractive woman in town. These incidents bear more of the hallmarks of sleep paralysis where the victims likely did imagine that Bishop really was there and was attacking them.[6]

All of this together with Bishop's conflicting statements and spiteful attitude during her examination made the case against her appear to be very strong to the jurors and judges.

Further reading

  • The Salem Witchcraft Papers on Bridget Bishop
  • Wilson, Jennifer M. (2005). Witch. ISBN 1-4208-2109-1. 
  • Boyer, Paul S.; Stephen Nissenbaum (1976). Salem Possessed; The Social Origins of Witchcraft. Boston: Harvard University Press. 
  • Hill, Francis (2000). The Salem Witch Trials Reader. Da Capo Press. 
  • Karlsen, Carol F. (1998). The Devil in the Shape of a Woman. WW Norton & Company. 
  • Cooke, William H. (2009). Justice at Salem. Undertaker Press. 
  • Rosenthal, Bernard (1993). Salem Story: reading the witch trials of 1692. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 
  • Upham, Charles (1980). Salem Witchcraft: Volume II. New York: Frederick Ungar Publishing Co.. 

References

Bridget Bishop

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