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

Dulcibel’s Life in Prison.

Dulcibel’s life in prison was of course a very monotonous one. She did not suffer however as did many other women of equally gentle nature. In the jails of Ipswich, Boston and Cambridge, there were keepers who conformed in most cases strictly to the law. In many instances delicate and weakly women, often of advanced years, were chained, hands and feet, with heavy irons, night and day.

But Robert Foster and his son, who assisted him as under-keeper, while indulging before the marshal and the constables in the utmost violence and severity of language, and who were supposed to be strict enforcers of all the instructions received from the magistrates, were as we have seen, at heart, very liberal and kind-hearted men. And the only fear the prisoners had, was that they would throw up their positions some day in disgust. Uncle Robie often declared to Dulcibel that he would, when she was once fairly out of the clutches of her enemies.

Every now and then instructions would come to jailer Foster from one of the magistrates generally Squire Hathorne to put heavier irons on some one of the prisoners, whose spectre was still tormenting the “afflicted girls.” It being generally held that the more heavily you chained a witch, the less able she was to afflict her victims. And at these times Master Foster would get out his heaviest irons, parade them before the eyes of the constables, declare in a fierce tone what he was about to do, get the constable off on one pretext or another and do nothing.

It was thought best and wisest for neither Master Joseph Putnam nor Master Raymond to seek many interviews with Dulcibel; the means of intercourse between the two lovers being restricted to little notes, which goodwife Buckley, who frequently visited the maiden, transmitted from one to the other through the agency of either her husband or of Joseph Putnam. This kept them both in heart; and Dulcibel being sustained by the frequent assurances of her lover’s devotion, and by the hope of escape, kept the roses of her cheeks in marvelous bloom during her close confinement.

One of the constables, who managed to get sight of her one day through the half-opened door of her cell, expressed surprise to the jailer that she should still look so blooming, considering the weight of the heavy chains to which she was continually subjected.

“And why should not the young witch look so?” replied the jailer. “Is not her spectre riding around on that devil’s mare half the night, and having a good time of it?”

The constable assented to this view of the case; and his suspicions, if he had any, were quieted. In fact even Squire Hathorne himself probably would have been perfectly satisfied with an explanation of so undeniable a character.

Of course it was not considered prudent by Uncle Robie, that the furniture or general appearance of Dulcibel’s cell should be changed in the least for the better. Not even a bunch of flowers that Goodwife Buckley once brought to Dulcibel, could be allowed to remain there. While in a corner of the cell, lay the heavy chains which, if the marshal or one of the magistrates, should insist upon seeing the prisoner, could be slipped on her wrists and ankles in a few minutes. Fortunately, however, for Dulcibel, the interest of all these was now centered upon the trials that were in progress, the contumacious obstinacy of Giles Corey, the host of new accusations at Ipswich and other neighboring places, and the preparations for the execution of those already condemned to death.

If they had a passing thought of the young witch Dulcibel Burton, it was that her time would come rapidly around in its turn, when speedy justice no doubt would be done to her.

As to Antipas, her faithful servitor, he had relapsed again into his old staidness and sobriety in the comparative quietude of the prison. Only on the day of Giles Corey’s execution had the prevailing excitement attending that event, and which naturally affected the constables and jailers, made him raging. To pass the constable’s inspection, as well as for his own safety, the jailer had chained him; but his voice could be heard ringing through the closed door of his cell at intervals from morning till evening.

The burden of his thoughts seemed to be a blending of denunciation and exultation. The predictions of the four Quakers executed many years before on Boston common, and those of men and women who had been whipped at the cart’s tail through the towns of the colony, evidently seemed to him in progress of fulfillment:

“They have torn the righteous to pieces; now the judgment is upon them, and they are tearing each other! Woe to the bloody towns of Boston and Salem and Ipswich! Satan is let loose by the Lord upon them! They have slain the saints, they have supped full of innocent blood; now the blood of their own sons, their own daughters, is filling the cup of God’s vengeance! They have tortured the innocent women, the innocent children and banished them and sold them to the Philistines as slaves. But the Lord will avenge His own elect! They are given up to believe a lie! The persecutors are persecuting each other! They are pressing each other to death beneath heavy stones! They are hanging each other on the gallows of Haman! Where they hung the innocent, they are hanging themselves! Oh, God! avenge now the blood of thy Saints! As they have done, let it be done unto them! Whip and kill! Whip and kill! Ha! ha! ha!” and with a blood-curdling laugh that rang through the narrow passages of the prison, the insane old man would fall down for a time on his bed exhausted.

That was an awful day, both outside and inside the prison for all the prisoners knew what a savage death old Giles Corey was meeting. It seemed to Dulcibel afterwards, that if she had not been sustained by the power of love, and a hopeful looking forward to other scenes, she must have herself gone crazy during that and the other evil days that were upon them. To some of the prisoners, the most fragile and sensitive ones, even the hour of their execution seemed to come as a relief. Anything, to get outside of those close dark cells and to make an end of it!