Monday, September 19, 2011

Witch Trial History, Giles Corey rememberd 319 years later

Today is the day that Giles Corey succumbed to being pressed to death, a torture inflicted upon him because he refused to stand trial.  He refused to enter a plea, and in the 17th Century, a person who refused a plea could not be tried.

Giles Corey refused to plea because in those days, you were damned if you did (plea innocence) and damned if you didn't (and plead guilty).  Either way, you would lose all of your worldly possessions, which was less appealing to Giles Corey than death.  The Salem Witch Museum Miscellany suggests that Corey "was a stubborn old man who perhaps did not understand fully the results of his actions."

His refusal to stand trial, and agonizing death, has made Corey a bit of a folk hero from the Witch Trials.  I'm not sure the status is warranted, though, as most accounts I have read paint him as a bit of a curmudgeon.  Corey testified in the Witch Trials against his third wife, Martha Corey, who was hanged on September 22nd, and was found guilty of murdering a farm worker in 1675.

His motivations aside, Corey deserves a moment of remembrance for the horrible, torturous death he endured, and for the conviction to stand up to the Court of Oyer and Terminer.

You can learn more about Giles Corey on the University of Virginia's Salem Witch Trials Documentary Archive and Transcription Project web site.  We don't know for sure where Giles Corey was pressed to death, but respects can always be paid at the Witch Trials Memorial on Liberty Street between Charter Street and Derby Street, behind the Old Burying Point.