Ever heard of Giles Cory? Back in the 1600s, he was living his best life as a successful farmer until his family was put on trial for witchcraft. Once arrested, he was subjected to one of the most torturous trials in American history and perished mere days later as a result. Read on to learn more about the twisted tale of Giles Cory’s Salem witch trial.
Born in Northampton, England in August 1611, Cory received a customary baptism at the Holy Sepulchre church. Not much is known about his early life, but historians believed that he had moved to America, married his first wife Margeret, and relocated to Salem Town by 1640. When he was living in Massachusetts, he acquired land and became a wealthy farmer. He and his wife eventually had four children together. After his first wife passed away, he married fellow British ex-pat Mary Bright on April 11, 1664. The two conceived another child together.
By 1676, Cory was already in hot water with the local authorities. The 65-year-old faced his first court trial for the violent death of his indentured servant, Jacob Goodale. Several witnesses testified that Corey had beat his farmworker to death with a stick after catching him plucking apples from his brother-in-law’s property. Although the angry farmer had sent poor Goodale to the doctor ten days after his beating, he was pronounced dead soon afterward. Apparently, “corporal punishment” against servants was totally legal at this time, but the judge did charge Cory for “unreasonable” force. He received was a small fine and a slap on the wrist for what modern-day courts would call manslaughter.
From then on, it appeared that Cory’s bad karma continued to haunt him. His second wife, Mary Bright, passed away in 1684, and he met his match with his third wife Martha Rich. The two were devout members of the Salem Village church. They lived in marital bliss until they were both accused of practicing witchcraft at their home. Cory was already 80 years old at this point.
Ironically, Cory and his wife Martha were one of the first people to be present at the Salem Witch Trials. Held at Salem Village Meetinghouse, they avidly attended the pre-trial witch examinations. However, Martha soon lost her faith in the witchhunts and encouraged Giles to quit attending them by misplacing his riding saddle. Yet, these actions made Martha appear shady, and she was accused of practicing witchcraft herself. She was arrested for suspicions of witchcraft on March 21, 1692. At first, her husband actually believed that she really was a witch. He even testified against her in court several days later, saying that he often found in prayer near the fireplace but didn’t hear her utter anything aloud.
Cory’s own luck took a turn for the worst on April 18, 1692, when he was also accused of witchcraft along with a few others. Following his arrest and examination, he seemed to take back his beliefs about the validity of the witch trials. The next day, he was called a “wizard” by his co-defendant, sealing his fate. Although he refused to enter an innocent or guilty plea, he was detained in prison and sentenced to appear in court in September.
On September 9, 1692, Cory once again faced trial at the Court of Oyer and Terminer. During the court case, an unnamed witness accused him of practicing witchcraft, saying that “I verily believe in my heart that Giles Corey is a dreadful wizard for since he had been in prison he or his appearance has come and most grievously tormented me.” Cory repeatedly refused to plead innocent or guilty at this time.
By refusing to enter a plea, Cory had gotten himself into a world of trouble. The courts had no other option but to apply their archaic “peine forte et dure” law, which is French for “strong and harsh punishment.” During this legal procedure, the inmate was robbed of his clothing and forced to lay on the ground with a wooden plank on top of him. Then, extremely heavy rocks were placed on top of the plank, effectively “pressing” the convict. It was also instructed, “that he hath no sustenance, save only on the first day, three morsels of the worst bread, and the second day three draughts of standing water, that should be alternately his daily diet till he died, or, till he answered.”
It was September 17, 1692, when Cory was made the victim of this cruel and unusual punishment. He became the first person to endure the dreadful “peine forte et dure” procedure. Under Sherriff George Corwin’s guidance, Cory was stripped naked and the board of heavy rocks was laid upon him. Apparently, the steadfast man didn’t even whimper as the weight of rocks began to crush his chest. Instead, he simply insisted upon “more weight.” The eager sheriff even stood upon the rocks on Cory’s body. Eyewitness Robert Calef ominously stated that “In the pressing, Giles Corey’s tongue was pressed out of his mouth; the Sheriff, with his cane, forced it in again.” Two days later, the old man succumbed to his injuries, but not before uttering his last words, which were reportedly “more weight,” “more rocks,” or “I curse you and Salem!” It is said that the town of Salem and its sheriff’s department have been cursed ever since.
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