Bridget Bishop

Topics: Salem witch trials, Witchcraft, Witch-hunt Pages: 14 (6102 words) Published: August 22, 2013
“The blackest chapter in the history of Witchcraft lies not in the malevolence of Witches but in the deliberate, gloating cruelty of their prosecutors.” When Theda Kenyon made this observation she was thinking about the atrocious behavior and actions that took place in Salem in 1692. During this tragic event neighbors were turned against one another and no bond was sacred. The men and women of Salem faced accusations from all directions and often the accusers were their close friends, business partners, and even their spouses. Panic filled Salem village and suddenly the slightest discrepancy in behavior became a reason to name someone as a witch. One of the greatest examples of how the hysteria brought upon lethal allegations for some of Salem’s citizen is the case of Bridget Bishop, the first person to be tried and executed for witchcraft in Salem. The story of Bridget Bishop is a sad yet enlightening account on the events that took place throughout the course of the witch hunt. Bishop’s case involves every dynamic thought likely by historians to have aided in the severity and length of the trials. Her life before the trials, her checkered past with neighbors, and, of course, her behavior during the trials aided in her guilty verdict, but there is still more to be explored. Her story also encompasses the political, cultural, social, and psychological dynamics at play in the community as well. By taking a closer look at the life and trial of Bridget Bishop, historians can get an accurate and insightful look at the trials as a whole. What people often fail to recognize about witch hunting is that it had occurred in Europe on a much larger scale for a longer period of time before Salem was even granted its first charter. It is estimated that the Great European Witch-hunt was responsible for anywhere from 60,000 to 100,000 executions. Witches were often held responsible for many unfortunate events that befell communities and individuals and many guidelines and rules were set up for discovering witches among the population. Several works appeared centuries before the Great European Witch-hunt such as the 744 “List of Superstitions” in the Canon Episcopi written by Regino of Prum in 900. In it he laid the framework for how a witch was defined. However possibly the most influential piece of literature that influenced witch hunts in Europe and the New England colonies was the Malleus Maleficarum. Published in 1486 by Kramer and Sprenger it proved “the reality of witchcraft by defining and explaining its nature.” By setting up the basis that witches would be tried upon, Kramer and Sprenger’s work was the foundation for the hearings and trials of the Salem citizens. Every great event in history has a beginning, and the start of the Salem Witch Trials can be found in the actions of a group of five young girls. In January of 1692 Betty Parris, the daughter of the village minister Samuel Parris, and Abigail Williams began to act strangely after it was rumored they participated in witchcraft practices with the slave woman Tituba. Shortly after this account several others girls who were friends with Betty and Abigail became afflicted and soon the hysteria and witch hunt would follow. To this day the girls’ motives are uncertain to historians but several theories have been presented ranging anywhere from boredom to the side effects of ergot poisoning. While the causes of their actions are uncertain, the effects are immediately apparent to any researcher as the events that followed are well documented. One of the first people to experience the severity of the girls’ accusations was Bridget Bishop. While others had been summoned to a hearing at the Court of Oyer and Terminer, Bishop was the first one indicted and tried for witchcraft. Although Bridget was unfamiliar with the Court and the girls, she was all too familiar with charges of witchcraft being brought upon her. In 1680 she had been accused of bewitching...

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