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  • 9/19/2010

This Day in History:

Giles Corey Pressed to Death during Salem Witch Trials (1692)


Giles Corey (also spelled Cory or Coree, c. 1621 – 19 September 1692) was a farmer in early colonial America who died under judicial torture during the Salem witch trials.

 Charged with witchcraft by Ann Putnam, Jr., Mercy Lewis, and Abigail Williams, Corey refused to enter a plea, and was crushed to death by stone weights, in an attempt to force him to do so.



Giles Corey was married three times. He is believed to have married his first wife, Margaret, in England. Margaret was the mother of his daughters and he had no sons. His second wife was Mary Bright; they were married on 11 April 1664. Mary Bright died aged 63 on 27 August 1684, according to her gravestone in Salem graveyard. His final marriage was on 27 April 1690, to Martha Penoyer.

Martha was admitted to the church at Salem Village (now Danvers), where Giles lived. Martha "was bought out a London ship in Virginia by the father of Caleb More; who testified to this and to her good character when she was accused in 1678". Martha had a son named Thomas; he showed up as a petitioner for loss and damages resulting from his mother being hanged illegally during the witch trials. He was awarded £50 on 29 June 1723.

Giles and Martha lived in what is now Peabody about ten rods (50 m) west of the West Peabody Junction railroad station, adjoining the south side of the location of the Salem and Lowell railroad.


Arrest, examination, and refusal to plead

Giles Corey was arrested on April 18, 1692, along with Mary Warren, Abigail Hobbs, and Bridget Bishop. The following day, they were examined by the authorities, during which Abigail Hobbs confessed to Giles being a wizard.

The court ordered Corey's hands to be tied, and they asked him if it were not enough to "act witchcraft at other times, but must you do it now in face of authority?" He replied, "I am a poor creature and cannot help it." Again, a magistrate exclaimed, "Why do you tell such wicked lies against witnesses?" One of his hands was loosed and the girls were afflicted. He held his head on side, and the heads of the afflicted were held on one side. He drew in his cheeks, and the cheeks of the afflicted were sucked in.

Corey refused to plead (guilty or not guilty), was committed to jail and subsequently arraigned at the September sitting of the court.

The records of the Court of Oyer and Terminer, September 9, 1692, contain a deposition by one of the girls who accused Giles of witchcraft.

Mercy Lewis v. Giles Corey: The Deposition of Mercy Lewis aged about 19 years who testified and said that on the 14th of April 1692 "I saw the Apparition of Giles Corey come and afflict me urging me to write in his book and so he continued most dreadfully to hurt me by times beating me & almost breaking my back tell the day of his examination being the 19th of April and then also during the time of his examination he did affect and tortor me most greviously: and also several times sense urging me vehemently to write in his book and I veryly believe in my heart that Giles Corey is a dreadful wizard for sense he had been in prison he or his appearance has come and most greviously tormented me. Mercy Lewis affirmed to the jury of Inquest. that the above written evidence: is the truth upon the oath: she has formerly taken in court of Oyer & Terminer: Septr 9: 1692

(property of the Supreme Judicial Court, Division of Archives and Records Preservation, on deposit at the Essex Institute)

Again, in this court, Corey refused to plead.


Pressed to death

According to the law at the time, a person who refused to plead could not be tried. To avoid persons cheating justice, their legal remedy for refusing to plead was "peine forte et dure". In this process the prisoner is

... remanded to the prison from whence he came and put into a low dark chamber, and there be laid on his back on the bare floor, naked, unless when decency forbids; that there be placed upon his body as great a weight as he could bear, and more, that he hath no sustenance, save only on the first day, three morsels of the worst bread, and the second day three droughts of standing water, that should be alternately his daily diet till he died, or, till he answered.

This process was applicable to all who refused to plead, not just those charged relating to witchcraft.

As a result of his refusal to plead, on September 17, Sheriff Jonathan Corwin led Corey to a pit in the open field beside the jail and in accordance with the above process, before the Court and witnesses, stripped Giles of his clothing, laid him on the ground in the pit, and placed boards on his chest. Six men then lifted heavy stones, placing them one by one, on his stomach and chest. Giles Corey did not cry out, let alone make a plea.

After two days, Giles was asked three times to plead innocent or guilty to witchcraft. Each time he replied "more weight." More and more rocks were piled onto him, and the Sheriff, from time to time, would stand on the boulders staring down at Corey's bulging eyes. Robert Calef, who was a witness along with other townsfolk, later said, "in the pressing, Giles Corey's tongue was pressed out of his mouth; the Sheriff, with his cane, forced it in again."

Three mouthfuls of bread and water were fed to the old man during his many hours of pain. Finally, Giles Corey cried out at Sheriff Corwin, "More weight" and died.


Memorial marker in Salem, Massachusetts

Samuel Sewall's diary states, under date of Monday, September 19, 1692:

About noon at Salem, Giles Cory was pressed to death for standing mute; much pains was used with him two days, one after another, by the court and Captain Gardner of Nantucket who had been of his acquaintance, but all in vain.

It is unusual for persons to refuse to plead, and extremely rare to find reports of persons who have been able to endure this painful form of death in silence. The pressing of Giles Corey is unique in New England.

The reason for Corey's refusal to plead it is based on his conviction about not having a fair trial and therefore, his unavoidable death. Being this the case, a further motive for his behaviour can be found in law, and it relates to the fate of his property.

Except in the cases of treason, conviction could not be obtained on a prisoner who stood mute. Without conviction, his property could not be confiscated by the crown or provincial government. As a result of being pressed to death, rather than being executed for crimes committed, his estate was not forfeited to the Crown or government and it went to his two sons-in-law in accordance with his will.

The sons-in-law inherited all Corey's property, real and personal including stock, lands and meadow, house, bedding, money, and all movable estate.

The will, "written on the twenty forth day of April anno dom one thousand six hundred ninety two, by Gyles Coree (his mark and seale). Personally appeared and did acknowledge this instrument to bee his act and voluntary deed. Signed sealed and delivered Ipswch July Ye 25th 1692."

The will so states:

In consideration of which and for ye fatherly Love and Affection wch I have & doe beare unto my beloved so?e in Law William Cleeves of Ye town of Beaverly. in ye aboves county and to my so?e in Law John Moulton of ye town of Salem in sd county both yeomen.

Influence on folklore and fictionAccording to legend, Corey's ghost appears the night before a catastrophe in Salem. Some even say that the old man who was seen in a graveyard before the Great Salem Fire of 1914 was Giles Corey.


Peine forte et dure

He is a character in Arthur Miller's play The Crucible, in which he is portrayed as a hot-tempered but honorable man, giving evidence critical to the witch trials. His wife Martha (executed on September 22, 1692) was one of the nineteen people hanged during the hysteria. In The Crucible, Giles felt guilty about the accusation of his wife because he had told a minister that Martha had been reading strange books, which was discouraged in that society.

He was also the subject of a Henry Wadsworth Longfellow play entitled Giles Corey of the Salem Farms, an 1893 play Giles Corey, Yeoman by Mary Eleanor Wilkins Freeman, and a 2006 play Giles and the Salem community by Tristan Ellul.

The Boston metalcore band Unearth have a song entitled "Giles" about Corey, which was the first single from their 2006 album III: In the Eyes of Fire.

Swedish progressive metal outfit Evergrey have a song entitled "The Corey Curse" about Corey from their 1999 album, "Solitude, Dominance, Tragedy"

Boston-based rock band Slide (band) have a song titled "Giles Corey" on their 1997 album, Whipdang!

The University of Louisville occasionally publishes a journal of student-written literary and artistic works under the title, "The Giles Corey Press".

Source: encyclopedia.thefreedictionary.com

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