• Matt

GILES & MARTHA COREY

Updated: Sep 4



Giles and Martha Corey were married on April 27, 1690 and the only couple executed during the Salem Witchcraft Trials. At the time of the trials they lived in the southwest corner of Salem Village, in what is now Peabody. Both had a controversial past which may have contributed to their arrest and subsequent deaths.


Martha Corey was born in 1619 or 1620 somewhere within New England. In 1677 she gave birth to an illegitimate mixed-race son she named Benoni (or possibly Benjamin). Benoni was thought to be mulatto and at that time represented living proof of Martha's checkered past.


Giles Corey was a prosperous English-born American farmer. In 1676, at the age of 65, Corey was brought to trial in Essex County, Massachusetts, for allegedly beating to death one of his indentured farm workers with a stick after he was allegedly caught stealing apples. Since corporal punishment was permitted against indentured servants, Giles was exempt from the charge of murder and instead was charged with using unreasonable force. Numerous witnesses and eyewitnesses testified against Giles Corey, as well as the local coroner, and he was found guilty and fined.


As the Witch Trials began, Giles attended some of the pre-trial examinations at the Salem Village Meetinghouse. After a while, Martha began to doubt the validity of them and even tried to persuade her husband from attending any further examinations, even going to the extremes of hiding his riding saddle. These actions made Martha Corey seem suspicious and by mid-March, rumors began to swirl that Martha was a witch.


Martha Corey was arrested for witchcraft on March 19, 1692. The community was surprised to see her accused as she was known for her piety and dedicated church attendance, and had been officially admitted to the Salem Village Church in 1691. She had never shown support for the witch trials, since she did not believe witches or warlocks existed. She publicly denounced the witch trials as well as the judges who were involved in the various cases. She was outspoken in her belief that the accusers were lying, and upon hearing this, two young girls, Ann Putnam Jr. and Mercy Lewis, promptly accused her of witchcraft.



Giles was so swept up by the trials that he initially believed the accusations against his wife, until he himself was arrested based on the same charge on April 18. The following day, they were both examined by the authorities, during which Abigail Hobbs accused Giles of being a wizard.


The records of the Court of Oyer and Terminer on September 9, 1692, contain a deposition by one of the people who accused Giles of witchcraft in Mercy Lewis v. Giles Corey:


I saw the apparition of Giles Corey come and afflict me urging me to write in his book and so he continued most dreadfully to hurt me by times beating me and almost breaking my back till the day of his examination being the 19th April [1692] and then also during the time of his examination he did afflict and torture me most grievously and also several times since urging me vehemently to write in his book and I verily believe in my heart that Giles Corey is a dreadful wizard for since he had been in prison he or his appearance has come and most grievously tormented me.


After being arrested, Giles refused to enter a plea of guilty or not guilty, so according to the law at the time, a person who refused to plead could not be tried. To avoid people cheating justice, the legal remedy for refusing to plead was peine forte et dure (hard and forceful punishment). In this process, prisoners were stripped naked, and heavy boards were laid on their bodies. Rocks or boulders were then laid on the boards of wood. This was the process of being pressed, and this was the only example of such a sanction in American history.


... remanded to the prison from whence he came and put into a low dark chamber, and there be laid on his back on the bare floor, naked, unless when decency forbids; that there be placed upon his body as great a weight as he could bear, and more, that he hath no sustenance, save only on the first day, three morsels of the worst bread, and the second day three draughts of standing water, that should be alternately his daily diet till he died, or, till he answered.



Due to Giles refusal to plead, on September 17, 1692 he was subjected to the procedure by Sheriff George Corwin. It is believed he was led out to a field adjacent to the prison where the pressing took place, in what later became the Howard Street Cemetery. Cory was steadfast throughout and never cried out in pain as the boulders were placed on the boards. Two days passed and Giles was asked three times to enter a plea, but each time he replied, "More weight", in which the sheriff complied, even occasionally standing on top of the boulders himself. Robert Calef, who was a witness along with other townsfolk, later said:


"In the pressing, Giles Corey's tongue was pressed out of his mouth; the Sheriff, with his cane, forced it in again."


Samuel Sewall, one of the nine judges appointed to the court of Oyer and Terminer in Salem, stated in his diary, under the date of Monday, September 19, 1692:


About noon at Salem, Giles Cory was pressed to death for standing mute; much pains was used with him two days, one after another, by the court and Captain Gardner of Nantucket who had been of his acquaintance, but all in vain.


It was unusual for people to refuse to plead, and extremely rare to find reports of people who have been able to endure this painful form of death in silence, Giles was most definitely making a point on his innocence and the mockery of the accusations. Since he refused to plead, he died in full possession of his estate, which would otherwise have been forfeited to the government. It passed on to his two sons-in-law, in accordance to his will.


Three days after Giles Death (September 22, 1692), his wife, Martha Corey was executed with seven others. She was hanged on Proctor’s Ledge at the infamous Gallows Hill and it is unknown what happened to her remains. This was the last execution day of the Salem Witchcraft Trials. The Court of Oyer and Terminer was dissolved in October, and those convicted of witchcraft by a new court the following year were granted reprieves by Governor William Phips.

 

SALEM WITCH TRIALS MEMORIAL

DATE(S) VISITED: AUG 10, 2022
LOCATION: SALEM, MA
MAP

Located in the center of Salem, next to Old Burying Point Cemetery, is a small area which pays tribute to the 20 victims of the witch trials of 1692. Within the four foot high granite walls that surround three sides of the area, you will find granite benches representing each victim, including those of Giles and Martha.



 

WITCH DUNGEON MUSEUM

DATE(S) VISITED: AUG 10, 2022
LOCATION: SALEM, MA
MAP

On the front of this building you can see the plaque that was situated at the original location of The Witch Gaol which housed Giles Corey. This plaque was taken down when in 1956/1957 the building on the location was torn down and turned into an office building, and the new owners had no desire to associate themselves with witches. It wasn't until 2019, when witch tourism had become mainstream, that a new historical plaque was attached to the wall marking the original site.



Downstairs in The Witch Museum there is a beam from the original Salem Witch Dungeon as well as a recreation of what the cells within the original dungeon would have been like.


 

GALLOWS HILL

DATE(S) VISITED: OCTOBER 31, 2016
LOCATION: SALEM, MA
MAP

On visiting Gallows Hill, I (Matt) believe the tree shown below may have been the one where the hangings took place, or possibly nearby at least. This would have been where Martha Cory would have been led to meet her demise along with seven others, on September 22, 1692, and what would be the last executions of the Salem Witch Trials.



On my visit here during Halloween, 2016, I (Matt) stumbled across a Pagan Samhain ceremony taking place at Gallows Hill Park. After watching for a while I was invited to take part, an experience I certainly will never forget. What made this ceremony even more special was the fact that they recognized, and payed respects to all those that were accused of witchcraft and subsequently, tortured and put to death.


 

There are a few more locations we wish to visit that are related to Giles and Martha Cory, so more updates will be posted as and when we do. In the meantime, more photo's from our adventures can be found on our Facebook page.

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