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Giles Corey

Salem Witch Trials - Key People

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Trial of Giles Corey

Trial of Giles Corey

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Giles Corey Facts

Known for: pressed to death when he refused to enter a plea in the 1692 Salem witch trials
Occupation: farmer
Age at time of Salem witch trials: 70s or 80s
Dates: about 1611 - September 19, 1692
Also known as: Giles Coree, Giles Cory, Giles Choree

Three marriages:

  1. Margaret Corey - married in England, mother of his daughters
  2. Mary Bright Corey - married 1664, died 1684
  3. Martha Corey - married April 27, 1690 to Martha Corey, who had a son named Thomas

Giles Corey Before the Salem Witch Trials

In 1692, Giles Corey was a successful farmer of Salem Village and full member of the church. A reference in the county records shows that in 1676, he was arrested and fined for beating a farmhand who died of blood clots associated with the beating.

He married Martha in 1690, a woman who also had a questionable past. In 1677, married to Henry Rich with whom she had a son Thomas, Martha gave birth to a mulatto son. For ten years, she lived apart from her husband and son Thomas as she raised this son, Ben. Both Martha Corey and Giles Corey were members of the church by 1692, though their bickering was widely known.

Giles Corey and the Salem Witch Trials

In March of 1692, Giles Corey insisted on attending one of the examinations at Nathaniel Ingersoll's tavern. Martha Corey tried to stop him, and Giles told others about the incident. A few days later, some of the afflicted girls reported that they had seen Martha's specter.

At the Sunday worship service on March 20, in the middle of the service at Salem Village Church, Abigail Williams interrupted the visiting minister, Rev. Deodat Lawson, claiming she saw Martha Corey's spirit separate from her body. Martha Corey was arrested and examined the next day. There were so many spectators that the examination was moved to the church building instead.

On April 14, Mercy Lewis claimed that Giles Corey had appeared to her as a specter and forced her to sign the devil's book.

Giles Corey was arrested on April 18 by George Herrick, the same day as Bridget Bishop, Abigail Hobbs, and Mary Warren were arrested. Abigail Hobbs and Mercy Lewis named Corey as a witch during the examination the next day before magistrates Jonathan Corwin and John Hathorne.

Before the Court of Oyer and Terminer, on September 9, Giles Corey was accused of witchcraft by Ann Putnam Jr., Mercy Lewis, and Abigail Williams, based on spectral evidence (that his specter or ghost visited them and attacked them). Mercy Lewis accused him of appearing to her (as a specter) on April 14th, beating her and trying to force her to write her name in the devil's book. Ann Putnam Jr. testified that a ghost had appeared to her and said that Corey had murdered him. Giles was formally indicted on the charge of witchcraft. Corey refused to enter any plea, innocent or guilty, simply remaining silent. He probably expected that, if tried, he would be found guilty. and that under the law, if he did not plead, he could not be tried. He may have believed that if he were not tried and found guilty, the considerable property he had recently deeded to his sons-in-law would be less in danger

To force him to plead, beginning September 17 , Corey was "pressed" -- he was forced to lie down, naked, with heavy stones added to a board placed on his body, and he was deprived of most food and water. Over two days, his response to the requests to enter a plea was to call for "more weight." Judge Samuel Sewall wrote in his diary that "Giles Cory" died after two days of this treatment. Judge Jonathan Corwin ordered his burial in an unmarked grave.

The legal term used for such pressing torture was "peine forte et dure." The practice had been discontinued in British law by 1692, though the judges of the Salem witchcraft trials may not have known that.

Because he died without trial, his land was not subject to seizure. Before his death, he signed over his land to two sons-in-law, William Cleaves and Jonathan Moulton. Sheriff George Corwin managed to get Moulton to pay a fine, threatening to take the land if he did not.

His wife, Martha Corey, was convicted of witchcraft on September 9, though she had pled innocent, and was hanged on September 22.

Because of Corey's previous conviction for beating a man to death, and his and his wife's disagreeable reputations, he might be considered one of the "easy targets" of the accusers, though they were also full members of the church, a measure of community respect. He might also fall into the category of those who had property that might be in question if he were to be convicted of witchcraft, giving a powerful motivation to accuse him -- though his refusal to plead made such a motivation futile.

After the Trials

In 1711, an act of the Massachusetts legislature restored the civil rights of many of the victims, including Giles Corey, and gave compensation to some of their heirs. In 1712, Salem Village church reversed the excommunication of Giles Corey and Rebecca Nurse.

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Longfellow put the following words into the mouth of Giles Corey:

I will not plead
If I deny, I am condemned already,
In courts where ghosts appear as witnesses
And swear men's lives away. If I confess,
Then I confess a lie, to buy a life,
Which is not life, but only death in life.

Giles Corey in The Crucible

In the fictional work of Arthur Miller's The Crucible, the character of Giles Corey was executed for refusing to name a witness. Giles Corey's character in the dramatic work is a fictional character, only loosely based on the real Giles Corey.

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