Bridget Bishop - The First to Die in Salem Witch Trials

Salem Witch Museum
The Salem Witch Museum is a popular destination site.

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Bridget Bishop was one of nineteen people executed for witchcraft in Salem, Massachusetts, in 1692. Born some time in the 1630s, Bishop had was on her third marriage by the time the witch craze began. Bridget had one daughter, Christian Oliver, by her second husband in 1667, and married Edward Bishop, a lumber worker, in 1685.

Bridget was well-known in her neighborhood. She publicly fought with all of her husbands, dressed flamboyantly (although for Puritans, that just meant she liked to wear big hats and a red bodice with her black dress), and was the mistress not one but two taverns. She developed a reputation for entertaining into the wee hours of the night, playing forbidden games such as shuffle board, and generally being the target of much speculation and gossip. In other words, Bridget Bishop didn't seem to care what society thought of her — and because of that, she became a likely target when the accusations began. She was, in personality and reputation, the polar opposite of the pious Rebecca Nurse, although they both met a similar end. 

Salem Witch Trial Scene
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In 1692, Salem was a remote frontier settlement divided into two separate parts: Salem Town, a port city full of merchants, and Salem Village, populated mostly by farmers, and clinging to traditional Puritan values. Bridget Bishop was from Salem Town, and had never even visited the Village, which is where she was accused of practicing witchcraft. In other words, she was a literal and figurative outsider to the people of Salem Village.

Sarah Nell Walsh writes at the Salem Witch Trials website that:

"Bridget Bishop was a self-assertive woman who had been accused of witchcraft prior to 1692. Previous experience had taught her to deny allegations of witchcraft at all costs. Unfortunately, in 1692 the situation was different and her only salvation lay in false confession, which she refused to do."

To the magistrates of Salem, Bishop must have seemed an ideal candidate for accusations of witchcraft. Neighbors had some concerns about her activities, especially since the unlicensed farmhouse-turned-tavern became a rendezvous point for young people, and there were often whispers that Bishop was corrupting Salem’s youth.

In April, 1692, a warrant was issued for Bishop's arrest on charges of performing witchcraft and consorting with the devil himself. When she entered the courthouse, a number of the "afflicted" girls, including Mercy Lewis and Ann Putnam, howled that she was causing them pain. Bishop denied any wrongdoing, swearing that she was "innocent as the child unborn," according to Mary Norton's In the Devil's Snare.

"William Stacy claimed he'd been frightened by Bridget Bishop fourteen years before and that she had caused the death of his daughter... A more serious charge against Bishop came when two men she'd hired to work on her cellar testified that they had found "poppits" in the walls: rag dolls with pins in them. While some might consider spectral evidence suspect, such evidence was considered to be even stronger. But the spectral evidence was also offered, including several men testifying that she had visited them — in spectral form — in bed at night."

Bishop's wild ways were used as evidence against her. Certainly the town dyer's claim that she brought him yards of lace to color was proof that she was up to something; after all, no sensible or respectable woman could need that much colored lace. In addition to this damning testimony, and the accusations of the teenage girls, Bishop's own brother-in-law swore he'd seen her "conversing with the Devil" who "came bodily into her." She was executed on June 10.

After Bishop's hanging, eighteen others were executed for the crime of witchcraft, and one man was pressed to death. Several others died in prison. Within months of Bridget Bishop's death, her husband remarried.

Salem Witch House
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Bridget's descendants through Christian Oliver still live in New England today, and her tavern, the Bishop House, still stands.

For more background on the trials, the accusers, and the ultimate outcome of the Salem events, be sure to read The Salem Witch Trials.

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