Giles Corey: A Man Accused and Executed in the Salem Witch Trials Amber Hauck Dr. Meija WRA 140, Women in America February 23, 2009 Giles Corey: A Man Accused and Executed in the Salem Witch Trials Dated back to ancient times to the early civilization of Mesopotamia, witchcraft was seen as a serious crime. Hammurabi’s Code (better known as an eye for an eye) mentions the crime and the penalty of death that goes along with it (LeBeau 46). The Bible also refers to witchcraft in ancient times in the passage of King Saul of the Israelites. In brief, God punishes King Saul and his kin with death for seeking the aid of a witch. The Hebrews viewed anyone who could see or predict the future as a witch, for only God could have this power. Those who believed in God and followed him in conformity were called Christians. “Conversely, those that voluntarily associated themselves with the forces of spiritual darkness by calling upon satanic powers to harm others or predict the future were regarded as ‘witches’ and spiritual enemies of the church” (Goss 2). The Puritans, an English denomination of Christians, believed in the old statements the Bible made about witchcraft, and that death should be the only penalty for these witches. The Puritans brought these beliefs with them to the American colonies. The Salem Witch Trials were a series of accusations, examinations, and executions of the residents of Salem, Massachusetts; which ran from February of 1692 to May of 1693. These trials were off the ludicrous belief that anything outside of the Puritan norm was evil. The epidemic all began when Tituba, a slave of the Proctor family in Salem, was accused by a group of young women from the Salem church whom she would entertain in the afternoons with stories of folk magic from her native home of Barbados. These “afflicted children” as they were known to be, then began accusing numerous people of witchcraft, including Giles Corey. Giles was possibly one of the most interesting cases in the Salem Witch Trials, being never formerly executed but still killed by the accusations set against him. Giles Corey was one of the few men who was accused, tried, and killed for witchcraft. Giles Corey was born in 1612 in England. He travelled across the sea to the American colonies sometime before the 1660’s with his first wife, Margaret, with whom he had four daughters with (Hoffer 125). In 1664, Margaret died and Mary Britt became Giles Corey’s second wife. Mary died in 1684 (Hoffer 126). A year later, he took yet a third wife, Martha Rich. Martha was twenty five years younger than Giles, but had previously been married, but became a widow at the death of her husband. Both Giles and Martha were said to be strong, stubborn personalities. “She was pious where he scoffed, and picky where he was ornery” (Hoffer 121). Giles was also said to be a very prosperous farmer in Salem and well respected by the community. But in March of 1692, Giles’ wife Martha was accused of witchcraft by the “afflicted children”, who claimed that the ghost of Mary, Giles’ second wife, came to them and told them she was murdered by Giles and only Martha’s abilities as a witch were what saved her from the same fate (Goss 18). Just a month later, Giles was accused of witchcraft by the “afflicted children” as well. When asked to testify at Martha’s trial, Giles publicly criticized the influence of the “afflicted children” on the court, which incriminated both Martha and him (Goss 22). When Giles himself was brought to trial in September 1692, he stood mute when asked to plead guilty or innocent. According to English law, no trial could be held without a plea (Hoffer 131). Giles exact reason for standing mute was never officially recorded, but many sources predict it was in protection of his estate. If Giles could never be proven guilty, his estate would rightfully go to those written in his will instead of to the Salem government, who took the monetary and land estates of the condemned witches. In order to force Giles to plead, “Chief Justice Stoughton instructed Sherrif George Carwin to subject the eighty-year-old Corey to the ancient torture of peine forte et dure, commonly called ‘pressing’” (Goss 32). Giles was staked upon the ground, face up, and a heavy beam was placed upon his chest. Large boulders were then gradually piled onto the beam. The torture was meant to make him reconsider his muteness and finally give a plea. However, Giles remained taciturn, and it had been recorded that during the end of his ordeal, after two long days, he began begging the officers around him to add more weight onto his beam to give him a quicker death. Giles finally died on September 19, 1693; three days before the final execution of condemned witches of the Salem Witch Trials, which included his wife, Martha. Giles was said to be “a hard man, he died in the hardest way of all of them” (Le Beau 239). The life, accusation, examination, and death of Giles Corey show how corrupted the Salem Witch Trials had become towards the end of the epidemic. Giles Corey condemned himself to a torturous death so that his estate would not be taken away from his family. Living a long and hard life, Giles was one of the first to come to New England. He took many wives, dying three days before his third wife Martha. His accusation of witchcraft was by the “afflicted children” shortly after his wife’s. At his wife’s trial, he criticized the “afflicted children’s” influence on the court, in effect incriminating himself along with Martha. At his own trial Giles stood mute, putting himself to the penalty of pressing. He was laid on the ground and heavy boulders were placed on his chest, slowly crushing Giles to death. Giles, above all, remained mute, never proving himself innocent or guilty when he died. A hard man who lived a hard life, Giles could not have died a harder death, with no other victim bearing more weight. Works Cited Goss, David K. The Salem Witch Trials: A Reference Guide. Westport: Greenwood, 2008. Hoffer, Peter Charles. The Salem Witchcraft Trials: A Legal History. Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 1997. Le Beau, Bryan F. The Story of The Salem Witch Trials: “We Walked Through Clouds and Could Not See Our Way”. Upper Saddle River: Prentice-Hall, 1998.