The Salem Journal: The People
The Death of Giles Corey
By Elbert D
Giles Corey was pressed to death on September 19, 1692 in Salem Village for refusing to go to trial. Pressing is a brutal form of torture where the victim is stripped of his/her clothes, had a board put on his/her body, and then heavy rocks were slowly placed on the board. On April 19th of the same year, he was examined and pleaded innocent. However, the judges didn"t believe him, as the girls were moaning and groaning, and accusing him of torturing them with his specter.
In 1675, Corey pummeled a farm worker, Jacob Goodell to death for stealing apples from Zechariah's cellar. Zechariah was Jacob Goodell's brother, and Giles Corey claimed that Goodell fell off his horse and broke his arm. He was found guilty and ordered to pay a substantial fee, and this murder provoked some suspicion of his guilt. However, he was a prosperous farmer who owned a large plot of land as well as being a full member of the church. Some people may see him as one who redeems past failures with current successes in life.
For a long time afterwards, Giles Corey had a bad reputation, for he had stolen things twice, and the convictions earned him quite the reputation such as when Proctor's house burned down, Proctor assumed Corey had done it. However, he had not committed any crimes since marrying Martha, and applied for a church membership in 1691. The Salem church record notes a remarkable change in Corey: "Giles Corey a man of 80 years of age having been a scandalous person in his former time, and God having in his later time awakened him unto repentance he stood propounded a month, making a confession of such evils as had been observed in him before. He was received into the Church with consent of the brethren." Truly, people now saw Giles as one who regretted his former sins, and managed to change.
Before Giles was accused, his wife Martha Corey was accused of witchcraft. She as well was a woman dedicated to the church, and not aware of the level of paranoia, denied calmly in such a way that the judges misunderstood her gesture for one of someone who has an evil plan that is successful so far. She attempted to go to Ann Putnam's place, and as a result, Ann Putnam and her mother both started acting as if Martha was torturing them giving 'solid evidence" against her. By acting like so, they had even more spectral evidence against Martha who had no way of defending herself against them. Then, the girls began mimicking Martha's movements as if she was controlling them, which convinced the jury of her guilt. Giles Corey tried to defend her, and was accused shortly afterwards.
Another reason why Martha was a strange woman to accuse is that some thought she was responsible for the change in Giles, for Mr. Corey had not committed a single crime after marrying Martha. She could be given credit for his remarkable change in character, and yet she was still accused.
Corey was originally accused for defending his wife, and because his family was closely associated with the Porter faction of the village church who was opposing the Putnam faction and Ann Putnam was one of the leading accusers. Also, he was a hard, stubborn man who may have expressed criticism of the witchcraft accusations.
Corey was accused with evidence that he was seen at a witches" sacrament, he was torturing the girls and forcing them to write in his book, and he had killed people before, which was the only true fact, but in legal procedures, the past can"t be used to determine guilt, but there was no real evidence. All the evidence held against him was about the past, spectral evidence, or simply unproven statements. Giles knew that if he went to the trial, he would be convicted because the jury had already determined his guilt, and the girls were flaunting around the fact that Corey was a "dreadful wizard." Giles knew there was no chance of being found innocent, and decided not to go to trial at all. Giles was ruled as standing mute and given peine forte et dure, death by pressing, a procedure deemed illegal by the government for two reasons: there was no law permitting pressing, and the Puritans considered it barbarous punishment. It is unsure why this was the chosen punishment for Giles Corey, but it was a form of punishment commonly used by the Europeans. This brutal, illegal form of punishment convinced even more people that the accused might actually be innocent.
While Giles and Martha Corey were in prison, they switched from jail to jail, and their family had to pay for it. The fees added up, and were hard on their family as well as many others. After Giles" execution, Sheriff Corwin went to their home and charged them eleven pounds and six shillings to keep their belongings. The two sons-in-law complied.
Corey was pressed to death with all his neighbors watching in an open pit. When the sheriff told him to plead, all Giles would say is, "more weight" to try and quicken his death. "More weight" is also one of his famous quotes, and it showed his willing sacrifice, which demonstrated that Corey was, in fact, not likely to be a witch. Corey was seen as a martyr who fought back with fortitude and courage, and inspired many. Like the others executed, he was buried in an unmarked grave on Gallows Hill.
Many people may have thought Corey was insane, maybe even foolish. Some may have thought he did not go to trial simply so he could will his property to his sons-in-law, but, the law stated that landowners retained the right to give their land to their heirs rather than forfeit it because of a conviction, and apparently Corey knew it. Thus it does not seem likely that Corey refused to go on trial to save his property, which adds even more to his righteousness and the belief that he was a falsely accused man.
Giles Corey had been a prosperous farmer and full member of the church, and he was 80 years old. Many people were affected by Giles" death, for he did not seem like a witch, and he did not die as a murdering servant of the Devil would. Many had seen Giles as one who lacked consideration for others in the community, but he had not done much harm recently as well as having a virtuous, heroic death. People may have seen Corey as a sinner redeemed himself with bold, selfless acts of kindness.
Giles Corey withstood two days of the pressing before he finally died. He was not tried, and was not convicted either, but yet he was still buried in an unmarked grave with all the convicted witches. His courage, reputation, and heroic death built public opposition to the witchcraft trials, for Giles Corey, an old Puritan man who became so much of a better person that some believed it was a change influenced by god, was brutally tortured to death, by an illegal procedure, with the evidence being purely spectral.