Read CHAPTER VIII of Dulcibel A Tale of Old Salem , free online book, by Henry Peterson, on

An Examination of Reputed Witches.

Warrants had been duly issued against Sarah Good, Sarah Osburn, and the Indian woman Tituba, and they were now to be tried for the very serious offence of bewitching the “afflicted children.”

One way that the witches of that day were supposed to work, was to make images out of rags, like dolls, which they named for the persons they meant to torment. Then, by sticking pins and needles into the dolls, tightening cords around their throats, and similar doings, the witches caused the same amount of pain as if they had done it to the living objects of their enmity.

In these cases, the officers who executed the warrants of arrest, stated “that they had made diligent search for images and such like, but could find none.”

On the day appointed for the examination of these poor women, the two leading magistrates of the neighborhood, John Hathorne and Jonathan Corwin, rode up the principal street of the village attended by the marshal and constables, in quite an imposing array. The crowd was so great that they had to hold the session in the meeting-house The magistrates belonged to the highest legislative and judicial body in the colony. Hathorne, as the name was then spelt, was the ancestor of the gifted author, Nathaniel Hawthorne the alteration in the spelling of the name probably being made to make it conform more nearly to the pronunciation. Hathorne was a man of force and ability though evidently also as narrow-minded and unfair as only a bigot can be. All through the examination that ensued he took a leading part, and with him, to be accused was to be set down at once as guilty. Never, among either Christian or heathen people, was there a greater travesty of justice than these examinations and trials for witchcraft, conducted by the very foremost men of the Massachusetts colony.

The accounts of the examination of these three women in the manuscript book I have alluded to, are substantially the same as in the official records, which are among those that have been preserved. I will give some quotations to show how the examinations were conducted:

“Sarah Good, what evil spirit are you familiar with?”

She answered sharply, “None!”

“Have you made no contracts with the Devil?”


“Why then do you hurt these children?”

“I do not hurt them. I would scorn to do it.”

“Here the children who were facing her, began to be dreadfully tormented; and then when their torments were over for the time, again accused her, and also Sarah Osburn.

“Sarah Good, why do you not tell us the truth? Why do you thus torment them?”

“I do not torment them.”

“Who then does torment them?”

“It may be that Sarah Osburn does, for I do not.”

“Her answers,” says the official report, “were very quick, sharp and malignant.”

It must be remembered in reading these reports, that the accused were not allowed any counsel, either at the preliminary examinations, or on the trials; that the apparent sufferings of the children were very great, producing almost a frenzied state of feeling in the crowd who looked on; and that they themselves were often as much puzzled as their accusers, to account for what was taking place before their eyes.

In the examination of Sarah Osburn, we have similar questions and similar answers. In addition, however, three witnesses alleged that she had said that very morning, that she was “more like to be bewitched herself.” Mr. Hathorne asked why she said that. She answered that either she saw at one time, or dreamed that she saw, a thing like an Indian, all black, which did pinch her in the neck, and pulled her by the back part of the head to the door of the house. And there was also a lying spirit.

“What lying spirit was this?”

“It was a voice that I thought I heard.”

“What did it say to you?”

“That I should go no more to meeting; but I said I would, and did go the next Sabbath day.”

“Were you ever tempted further?”


“Why did you yield then to the Devil, not to go to meeting for the last three years?”

“Alas! I have been sick all that time, and not able to go.”

Then Tituba was brought in. Tituba was in the “circle” or an attendant and inspirer of the “circle” from the first; and had marvelous things to tell. How it was that the “children” turned against her and accused her, I do not know; but probably she had practised so much upon them in various ways, that she really was guilty of trying to do the things she was charged with.

“Tituba, why do you hurt these children?”

“Tituba does not hurt ’em.”

“Who does hurt them then?”

“The debbil, for all I knows.’

“Did you ever see the Devil?” Tituba gave a low laugh. “Of course I’ve seen the debbil. The debbil came an’ said, ‘Serb me, Tituba.’ But I would not hurt the child’en.”

“Who else have you seen?”

“Four women. Goody Osburn and Sarah Good, and two other women. Dey all hurt de child’en.”

“How does the Devil appear to you?”

“Sometimes he is like a dog, and sometimes like a hog. The black dog always goes with a yellow bird.”

“Has the Devil any other shapes?”

“Yes, he sometimes comes as a red cat, and then a black cat.”

“And they all tell you to hurt the children?”

“Yes, but I said I would not.”

“Did you not pinch Elizabeth Hubbard this morning?”

“The black man brought me to her, and made me pinch her.”

“Why did you go to Thomas Putnam’s last night and hurt his daughter

“He made me go.”

“How did you go?”

“We rode on sticks; we soon got there.”

“Has Sarah Good any familiar?”

“Yes, a yeller bird. It sucks her between her fingers. And Sarah Osburn has a thing with a head like a woman, and it has two wings.”

("Abigail Williams, who lives with her uncle, the Rev. Master Parris, here testified that she did see the same creature, and it turned into the shape of Goody Osburn.”)

“Tituba further said that she had also seen a hairy animal with Goody Osburn, that had only two legs, and walked like a man. And that she saw Sarah Good, last Saturday, set a wolf upon Elizabeth Hubbard.”

("The friends of Elizabeth Hubbard here said that she did complain of being torn by a wolf on that day.”)

“Tituba being asked further to describe her ride to Thomas Putnam’s, for the purpose of tormenting his daughter Ann, said that she rode upon a stick or pole, and Sarah Good and Sarah Osburn behind her, all taking hold of one another. Did not know how it was done, for she saw no trees nor path, but was presently there.”

These examinations were continued for several days, each of the accused being brought at various times before the magistrates, who seem to have taken great interest in the absurd stories with which the “afflicted children” and Tituba regaled them. Finally, all three of the accused were committed to Boston jail, there to await their trial for practising witchcraft; being heavily ironed, as, being witches, it was supposed to be very difficult to keep them from escaping; and as their ability to torment people with their spectres, was considered lessened in proportion to the weight and tightness of the chains with which they were fettered. It is not to be wondered at, that under these inflictions, at the end of two months, the invalid, Sarah Osburn, died. Tituba, however, lay in jail until, finally, at the expiration of a year and a month, she was sold in payment of her jail fees. One account saying that her owner, the Rev. Master Parris, refused to pay her jail fees, unless she would still adhere to what she had testified on her examination, instead of alleging that he whipped and otherwise abused her, to make her confess that she was a witch.