Writing Out Loud / George Stahl

Seventeen-year-old Elizabeth Hubbard was sitting in the parlor of Dr. Grigg’s home office in Andover, Massachusetts. She was fidgeting as she was listening to strange noises coming from Grigg’s examination room.

Shortly afterwards, Abigail Williams exited the exam room in tears. She glanced at Elizabeth. “Elizabeth. Please, come in,” Dr. Griggs said. Elizabeth watched Abigail leave the house, as she followed her uncle, Dr. Griggs, into the examination room.

Later that night, Elizabeth was confronted by her uncle. “Elizabeth? Where have you been this afternoon and what have you been doing?” he asked. She passed him and went to her room. Her aunt came in and sat on the bed next to her niece. “My sweet, what is it?” she asked touching her hand. Elizabeth withdrew and turned away.

There was a knock at the front door, and the two women could hear muffled voice in the other room. “No!” Elizabeth’s uncle yelled. He came storming into Elizabeth’s room. Griggs pulled his wife aside, and sat by his niece and cradling her in his arms, sobbing.

Elizabeth had been orphaned at a young age, and her aunt and uncle raised her, although she was looked at as more of a servant than a member of the household. Until that night. The next day, Dr. Griggs made an astounding announcement to the town of Salem. “My niece Elizabeth, Abigail Williams, and seven other young girls have been put under a spell by the darkness that has invaded our town. They have come under the influences of witches among us! I know this because I have examined all of them. I have found evidence of witchcraft done to them! These nine innocents know who the evil ones are. Starting with my brave niece, they are willing to stand up against them, and name them to you all,” Dr. Griggs announced in all sincerity and confidence in his findings. The town justices as well as the general population were quick to join Griggs in his conviction. Elizabeth and her friends were ordered by the court to appear and testify against the witches. It seems that all it took was an accusation, a few well placed words, a few tears, a fit now and then, some contortions, and the accused soon became the guilty.

Elizabeth and her co-conspirators testified almost daily, against neighbors, former friends, and even members of their congregations. They did so with precise eyewitness accounts and corroboration. The witch trials soon became a thing to attend but, to stay clear of if you were not well liked. You could easily become a target, and before you knew it you were either in stocks, being mocked in the town square, thrown into jail, or worse, hanged.

One evening, Elizabeth and some of her friends were walking down the street through town when a man named John Bradstreet crossed in front of them. As he did, a stray dog, stopped and barked at him. Bradstreet stared the dog down. The frightened dog turned away and ran off.

Elizabeth and her friends, began screaming and yelled out that John Bradstreet was a witch because of how the dog reacted to his stare. Knowing their reputation and fearing for his life, Bradstreet fled to New York. In his absence, a trial was held, and on the testimony of Elizabeth and her friends, mostly on Elizabeth’s, Bradstreet, who was the brother of the Justice of the Peace in Andover, Dudley Bradstreet, was found guilty of witchcraft. If he ever returned to Andover, he would be hanged. In the meantime, the dog that barked at him was tracked down. It was hanged for being a witch himself.

Over a 15-month period, the 17-year-old orphaned girl in Andover, Massachusetts and her eight companions accused 40 people of being witches. Elizabeth alone testified 32 times. As a result of her testimony, and apparent eye witness recollection, 17 men and women were arrested, 13 of them were hanged, and two died in jail. Elizabeth’s career as a witch accuser ended on January 7, 1693, when she testified, under oath, for the last time that the accused was into the dark arts and was using that to control people’s minds, and to influence their actions.

During the trials the accused were given the opportunity to confess to their life of witchcraft. They were encouraged by the courts to ‘tell the truth.’ As long as that truth corroborated Elizabeth’s and the others testimony, it would be accepted. Chances are the accused would still be punished in some horrific way. After all, they were witches, right? However, when the accused witch professed innocence, this only enraged the court. All of the investigation, testimony and pleading on the behalf of the witch wasn’t going to change people’s minds. By the time the trial reached that stage, it was just a matter of how the accused was going to meet their end. Hanging or being pressed to death. Usually, hanging won out.

In all, between February, 1692 and May, 1693, more than 200 people were accused of witchcraft, 19 were found guilty and hanged. Fourteen of them were women and five were men in at least five different towns and providences in the colonies. It has been labeled the deadliest witch hunt in United States history, and all that was needed to set the fire against someone was an accusation and a credible witness willing to lie their story to the court.

Thank God our judicial system doesn’t work like that anymore.