Eyewitness testimony at the Salem witch trials

“Why would they lie?” is the usual response when revisionists cast doubt on eyewitness testimony of the holocaust (even when that testimony relates how multiple corpses could be burned in a crematory oven in 15 minutes). It’s a question that came to mind as I’m reading a book about the Salem witch trials of the late 17th century, trials which were also accompanied by much eyewitness testimony. I thought the members might find some of the following exerpts from the book to have a certain familiarity about them…

Nevins, Winfield S. The Witches of Salem, Longmeadow Press, 1994 (reprint of original 1892 edition)

Page 59, excerpt from the account of the examination of accused witch Sarah Good by John Hathorne:

“The above named children, all being present, positively accused her of hurting them sundry times within this two months, and also that morning. Sarah Good denied that she had been at their houses in said time or near them or had done them any hurt. All the above said children then present accused her face to face.”

The children go into convulsions. Hathorne presses Good to tell who did hurt the children, if not her. At first she says she doesn’t know who it could be, then under further questioning she incriminates a fellow-accused:

She then answered, and said it was Sarah Osburn, and Sarah Osburn was then under custody, and not in the house, and the children, being quickly after recovered out of their fit(!), said that it was Sarah Good and also Sarah Osburn that then did hurt and torment or afflict them…

Then, as in 1945, attempting to deflect the inevitable by incriminating a colleague merely doubled the number of accused…

It wasn’t just the children coming up with this kind of testimony:
Page 61:

Johanna Chilburn testified that “the apparition of Sarah Good and her last child appeared to deponent and told her that its mother murdered it;” that Good said she did it because she could not attend it; that the child told its mother she was a witch, and then “Sarah Good said she did give it to the devil”.

Page 62:

Susanna Sheldon said she had been most grievously tortured by the apparition of Sarah Good “biting, pricking, pinching and almost choking me to death.” On June 26, 1692, Good most violently pulled her down behind a chest and tied her hands together with a wheel band and choked her, and William Battis and Thomas Buffinton were forced to cut the band from her hands, for they could not untie it.

Page 63:

Sarah Vibber, a woman 36 years of age, testified that Good tortured Mercy Lewis on April 11, and herself on May 2, by pressing her breath almost out, and also afflicted her infant so that she and Vibber could not hold it.

Page 64:
Not everyone involved proved to be a stranger to common sense, however:

During this trial one of the witnesses who sat in the room cried out that Good had stabbed her, and had broken the knife-blade in so doing. The point of the blade was taken from her clothes where she said she was stabbed. Thereupon a young man arose in the court and stated that he broke that very knife the previous day and threw away the point. He produced the remaining part of the knife. It was then apparent that the girl had picked up the point which he threw away and put it in the bosom of her dress, whence she drew it to corroborate her statement that someone had stabbed her. She had deliberately falsified, and used the knife-point to reinforce the falsehood.

Sarah Good was sentenced to be hanged. Page 65:

“Reverend Mr Noyes, who was present, told her as she stood on the scaffold, “You are a witch, and you know you are a witch.” “You are a liar,” was her indignant reply; “I am no more a witch than you are a wizzard, and if you take my life, God will give you blood to drink.”

Well, if Christianity does turn out to be true, one doesn’t envy the Rev. Noyes his arrival in the afterlife…



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