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

Burn Me, or Hang Me, I Will Stand in the Truth of Christ.

After the trial and conviction of Bridget Bishop, the Special Court of seven Judges a majority of whom were leading citizens of Boston, the Deputy Governor of the Province, acting as Chief-Justice decided to take further counsel in this wonderful and important matter of the fathers of the church. So the Court took a recess, while it consulted the ministers of Boston and other places, respecting its duty in the case. The response of the ministers, while urging in general terms the importance of caution and circumspection, recommended the earnest and vigorous carrying on of the war against Satan and his disciples.

Among the new victims, one of the most striking cases was that of George Jacobs and his grand-daughter Margaret. The former was a venerable-looking man, very tall, with long, thin white hair, who was compelled by his infirmities to support himself in walking with two staffs. Sarah Churchill, a chief witness, against him, was a servant in his family; and probably was feeding in this way some old grudge.

“You accuse me of being a wizard,” said the old man on his examination; “you might as well charge me with being a buzzard.”

They asked the accused to repeat the Lord’s prayer. And Master Parris, the minister, who acted as a reporter, said “he could not repeat it right after many trials.”

“Well,” said the brave old man finally, after they had badgered him with all kinds of nonsensical questions, “Well, burn me, or hang me, I will stand in the truth of Christ!”

As his manly bearing was evidently producing an effect, the “afflicted girls” came out in full force the next day at the adjourned session. When he was brought in, they fell at once into the most grievous fits and screechings.

“Who hurts you?” was asked, after they had recovered somewhat.

“This man,” said Abigail Williams, going off into another fit.

“This is the man,” averred Ann Putnam; “he hurts me, and wants me to write in the red book; and promises if I will do so, to make me as well as his grand-daughter.”

“Yes, this is the man,” cried Mercy Lewis, “he almost kills me.”

“It is the one who used to come to me. I know him by his two staffs, with one of which he used to beat the life out of me,” said Mary Walcott.

Mercy Lewis for her part walked towards him; but as soon as she got near, fell into great fits.

Then Ann Putnam and Abigail Williams “had each of them a pin stuck in their hands and they said it was done by this old Jacobs.”

The Magistrates took all this wicked acting in sober earnest; and asked the prisoner, “what he had to say to it?”

“Only that it is false,” he replied. “I know no more of it than the child that was born last night.”

But the honest old man’s denial went of course, for nothing. Neither did Sarah Ingersoll’s deposition made a short time afterwards; in which she testified that “Sarah Churchill came to her after giving her evidence, crying and wringing her hands, and saying that she has belied herself and others in saying she had set her hand to the Devil’s book.” She said that “they had threatened her that if she did not say it, they would put her in the dungeon along with Master Burroughs.”

And that, “if she told Master Noyes, the minister, but once that she had set her hand to the book, he would believe her; but if she told him the truth a hundred times, he would not believe her.”

The truth no doubt is that Master Noyes, Master Parris, Cotton Mather, and all the other ministers, with one or two exceptions, having committed themselves fully to the prosecution of the witches, would listen to nothing that tended to prove that the principal witnesses were deliberate and malicious liars; and that, so far as the other witnesses were concerned, they were grossly superstitious and deluded persons.

No charity that is fairly clear-sighted, can cover over the evidence of the “afflicted circle” with the mantle of self-delusion. Self-delusion does not conceal pins, stick them into its own body, and charge the accused person with doing it, knowing that the accusation may be the prisoner’s death. This was done repeatedly by Mistress Ann Putnam, and her Satanic brood of false accusers.

Sarah Churchill was no worse than the others, judging by her remorse after she had helped to murder with her lying tongue her venerable master and we have in the deposition of Sarah Ingersoll, undoubted proof that she testified falsely.

When Ann Putnam, Mercy Lewis and Mary Walcott all united in charging little Dorcas Good five years old! with biting, pinching and almost choking them; “showing the marks of her little teeth on their arms, and the pins sticking in their bodies, where they had averred she was piercing them” can any sane, clear-minded man or woman suppose it was an innocent delusion, and not a piece of horribly wicked lying?

When in open court some of the “afflicted” came out of their fits with “their wrists bound together, by invisible means,” with “a real cord” so that “it could hardly be taken off without cutting,” was there not only deception, but undeniable collusion of two or more in deception?

When an iron spindle was used by an alleged “spectre” to torture a “sufferer,” the said iron spindle not being discernible by the by-standers until it became visible by being snatched by the sufferer from the spectre’s hand, was there any self-delusion there? Was it not merely wicked imposture and cunning knavery?

I defy any person possessing in the least a judicial and accurate mind, to investigate the records of this witchcraft delusion without coming to the conclusion that the “afflicted girls,” who led off in this matter, and were the principal witnesses, continually testified to what they knew to be utterly false. There is no possible excuse for them on the ground of “delusion.” However much we may recoil from the sad belief that they testified in the large majority of cases to what they knew to be entirely false, the facts of the case compel us with an irresistible force to such an unhappy conclusion. When we are positively certain that a witness, in a case of life or death, has testified falsely against the prisoner again and again, is it possible that we can give him or her the benefit of even a doubt as to the animus of the testimony? The falsehoods I have referred to were cases of palpable, unmistakable and deliberate lying. And the only escape from considering it wilful lying, is to make a supposition not much in accord with the temper of the present times, that, having tampered with evil spirits, and invoked the Devil continually during the long evenings of the preceding winter, the prince of powers of the air had at last come at their call, and ordered a legion of his creatures to take possession of the minds and bodies that they had so freely offered to him. For certainly there is no way of explaining the conduct of the “afflicted circle” of girls and women, than by supposing either that they were guilty of the most enormous wickedness, or else that they were “possessed with devils.”