At the end of the day, a lot can be said about Martha Corey.  Her steadfast defiance of an unjust system should be lauded.  Not many people were willing to call out the Salem justice system, and her decision to do so is very significant.

It might have also made things a lot worse.

Now, it can be argued that she might have been accused anyway, even if she had kept her mouth shut.  It could also be argued that if she hadn’t spoken out, someone else would have.  However, the fact remains that Martha’s accusation set a precedent for many other unsuspecting people to be condemned.  By speaking out, she became a victim, and because of that, many people suffered.

But really, we just don’t know.

Martha Corey might not have had a wholly positive influence on history, but her influence is still there.  She set an example as a strong woman that stood by her beliefs, even in the face of opposition.  It was fascinating to learn about her these ten weeks

Discussing Gender Roles

We’ve already established that Martha Corey did not fit the usual victim pool of Salem Witches, because of her righteous nature.  It is interesting to note, however, that while I could and probably will prop Martha up as a icon in women’s history, she didn’t do much in the way of challenging traditional gender roles.

This is a subject we’ve covered in class a lot — whether the women we discuss defied or reinforced the gender roles of the time.  In Martha’s case, I think it is the latter.  The thing that makes her so unique in the Trials — her piety — is a testament to that.  Martha lived her life like any good Puritan woman should, tending the house, going to church every Sunday.  She didn’t go out drinking, or dress inappropriately.

(Save for the mixed race child she might have had out of wedlock.  However, that is more indicative of a bit of a wild youth, not a dismantling of established norms)

The only gender role she really challenged was the idea that women should be “seen and not heard”.  She definitely let her opinions be heard.  Of course, this is a big deal, especially given the time period.  But she only broke this norm in the last months of her life, when the world around her was going crazy anyway.  Beyond her criticism of the Witch Trials, Martha lived her life how any Puritan would be expected to live and rarely stepped out of her box.  She might not have done anything to reinforce gender roles, per se, but she did not necessarily challenge them, either.



When I first started this project, I noted that I’d only encountered the name “Martha Corey” once, in an eleventh grade reading of The Crucible.  She didn’t make much of an impression then, and throughout my academic career, I heard nothing about her.  Why was such a bright, outspoken woman left in obscurity after her death?

The reason could be simple.  Martha Corey was a strong woman with an opinion, and historically, strong women with opinions often found themselves being silenced.  Martha certainly was, in the most literal sense.  What’s strange is that Martha’s opinion is not particularly radical.  At least in modern times.  Today, anyone you ask will probably agree that accusing people of Witchcraft is bad, immoral, atrocious, any adjective you can think of.  And if they don’t, that’s cause for concern.

My point is that Martha was saying things people today have no trouble believing.  Her words should be common knowledge.  It could be assumed that the people of Salem are to blame, then.  During the Trials, they did their best to shut Martha up. Perhaps that is why her legacy does not persist into modern times, if they did their best to erase the existence of someone that challenged their beliefs. However, that doesn’t quite fit either.  After Martha and Giles were killed, and after the Witch Trials officially ended, the people of Salem started to admit that they might’ve overreacted just a smidgen.  January 15th, 1697, five years after Martha’s death, the town held the Day of Official Humiliation.  The purpose of this was to fast and pray for forgiveness for what had transpired years before.  And in 1702, Reverend Green of Salem and the congregation voted to repeal the excommunication of Martha Corey.

You cannot blame those in the past for Martha’s obscurity.  Well, okay, you could, and you wouldn’t be totally wrong.  However, the majority of the responsibility must be given to those of us in modern times.  We have records of her life and death.  It is up to us to talk about her, teach students about her and what she stood for.  The records are there.  We can bring Martha, and countless other women like her, out of obscurity.

Information taken from:

University of Virginia: Salem Village Church Record Book:

Avoiding Responsibility With Murder

Why did Salem turn against Martha as they did?  I’ve covered her history already.  We know she had a questionable past, and she was an outspoken critic of the Witch Trials. Were those reasons alone enough to damn her?  Why was the general population okay with this?

I believe that her public condemnation of the Trials was the biggest reason for her untimely fate.  By the time her trial came around, paranoia had thoroughly seized the town.   Martha was one of the few people willing to speak against it, which made her dangerous.

No one wants to be proven wrong, and the population of Salem was no different.  They’d already killed people in the name of righteous punishment.  In order for their actions to be justified, they had to believe in Witches, and believe wholeheartedly that they were doing what was necessary.  Now, when a well respected, intelligent woman starts saying that you’re wrong, that’s no good.  That makes you a murderer, responsible for the deaths of innocent people.  If you listen to Martha and believe what she’s saying, then the judges and accusers in Salem have to take responsibility for their actions.

It’s far easier to just silence the naysayer and continue hunting Witches than admit that you’ve committed an atrocity.

Of Fickle Husbands

Giles Corey is a strange figure in this story.  At first, he seemed to be against Martha.  He brought forth evidence against her that would land her in prison, and eventually the hangman’s noose.  However, after an abrupt change of heart, he ended up suffering an even more horrific death.

The girls of Salem called him a “dreadful wizard,” and yet Giles refused to testify against Martha, and in fact refused to stand trial at all.  The punishment for such an act was death by pressing.  Pressing is a less gruesome word for “crushed to death by stones” and is also referred to as torture.  

This is a man who earlier claimed his wife was stopping his prayers and killing his oxen.  Why the sudden change?  Perhaps it was guilt.  Perhaps once Martha was arrested and carted off to Boston, the eighty year old man was left alone in his house to stew in the consequences of his actions.  Anyone capable of rational thought can come to the conclusion that Martha was innocent.  It is possible that once the hysteria died down a bit, he was able to think for a moment.

Whatever his reason for betraying her in the first place, Giles must have loved his wife.  He underwent an incredibly painful death for her, after all.  Then again, it might not have had anything to do with his opinion of Martha.  The Salem legal system is not something I’m overly familiar with, but according to my sources, Giles had left his farm to his two son-in-laws in his will.  By refusing to stand trial, his land would not become property of the state and instead go to those he willed it to.

So did Martha even have the loyalty of her husband in the end?  I want to believe that Giles cared about his wife more than his property.  It is impossible to say for certain, though.  While all records of the Salem trials hail Martha and Giles as martyrs of reason, they left little behind to hint at their motivations.

Information from:

Why does it matter?

So why does all of this matter?  What makes Martha Corey so important?

Historically, Corey’s biggest influence is what she represented in the Salem Witch Trials.  She was a completely different kind of victim.  Her piety and the acceptance of her community made her stand out from those accused before her.  Before, only pariahs and social misfits were accused of witchcraft.  By accusing Corey, they opened the floodgates.  No one was safe anymore.  Witch Paranoia had officially taken over.

More important than that, however, is what Corey represents as a woman.  When the trials began, she was one of the few active critics of the whole thing.  She did not believe in damning innocent women, and she let her voice be heard.  Although this gained her no favors, and in fact made her a bigger target, she stood by her beliefs.  When she was accused herself, she never wavered.  She proudly professed her innocence throughout the whole process.  She never allowed the judges to force a confession from her.

Martha Corey was an important figure during the Witch Trials because of her calm, rational, skeptic mindset.  If more in Salem had followed her advice, many lives might have been saved.  Yet there is almost no mention of her in any media, and she is only a footnote in the history of this time.  She deserves to be remembered

Memorial to Martha Corey, Accused Witch

Trial and Execution

Martha Corey was brought before Judge John Hawthorne to be examined.  Keeping with the theme of every other Witch Trial in Salem, Corey was presented with a barrage of questions that had no right answer.  As with them all, there was no way for her to properly defend herself.  That did not stop her from trying.  Throughout the entire investigation, Corey professed her innocence.  She even went so far as to laugh at the notion of Witchcraft in general.  As a note to anyone planning on defending themselves in court anytime soon, laughing in the face of your accuser is a good way to not get yourself acquitted.  It did not help her case that the “afflicted” girls kept swooning and panicking every time Corey looked in their direction.

It should surprise no one that Corey was found guilty of two accounts of Witchcraft.  She was placed in the Salem jail for a while, until overcrowding forced them to transfer her to Boston.  She stayed there from March until September, when they finally had her trial.  What were they doing in the meantime?  Desperately gathering evidence to use against her, probably.  corey-2

Giles Corey, her husband, was no help in this matter.  He was, in fact, the opposite of help.  He provided testimony against her, claiming that he could not pray while his wife was around, that one of his oxen had fallen mysteriously ill, that Martha had tried to get him to kill a cat, and he felt a general sense of anxiety.  However, he changed his tune when he was accused of Witchcraft himself in April.  He refused to testify any more against his wife, and tried to go back on what he had said before.  By refusing to cooperate, he was found guilty as well.

At the end of Corey’s trial on September 8th, 1692, she was found guilty of Witchcraft and sentenced to death.  On September 11th, she was excommunicated from the church, just to rub salt into the wound.

On September 19th, days before Martha Corey’s execution, Giles was tortured to death via pressing for his refusing to testify against his wife.  On September 22th, she was hanged along with seven other convicted witches.  According to eyewitness reports, her last act was to pray as she walked up the gallows stairs.



Information taken from:


Robert Calef’s “More Wonders of the Invisible World”

Accusation and Arrest

Martha Corey was vehemently against the Witch Trials, doubting the legitimacy of the accusations, and even the existence of witches at all.  She did not keep this opinion to herself, either.  Her unpopular opinion was known throughout the community.

Corey was accused of Witchcraft on March 11, 1962 by Ann Putnam Jr, who claimed her spirit had attacked her.  Corey, of course, denied this, and every other accusation thrown at her.  Even when other “afflicted” girls began coming forward, corroborating Putnam’s story, Corey remained steadfast in her innocence.  She claimed  “I am an innocent person. I never had to do with witchcraft since I was born. I am a gospel woman.”

On Saturday, March 19 of the same year, the court issued a warrant for Corey’s arrest.  However, it was too late in the day for an arrest to be made, and according to Puritan law, no arrests could be made on Sunday.  This meant Corey was a free woman until that Monday.  Corey, being the righteous and sassy woman she was, took full advantage of that convenient loophole.  That Sunday, March 20, Martha Corey, accused Witch went to church with the rest of the faithful.  Since she was still technically a member of the church, there was nothing anyone could do.  She used this opportunity to spite her enemies, knowing full well that she’d be arrested for a crime she didn’t commit the next day.

Information taken from the following sources:

Legal Executions in New England: A Comprehensive Reference, 1623-1960; Daniel Allen Hearn

A Troubled and Unclear Past


Martha Corey was known by her community as a good, godly woman, yet by September of 1692, that same community was willing to hang her as a witch.  Why were they so willing to turn against such a woman?

Besides the obvious explanation of mass hysteria and biased court system, Corey had a less-than-godly past.  Her history of  illegitimate children and dead husbands probably did nothing to win Salem’s favor.

Reports are sketchy at best, but it is recorded that in 1677, Corey bore a mixed-race son named Benjamin, or Benoni, out of wedlock.  This child was hardly a secret from the village.  Corey lived with Benjamin in Salem for most of his life, into adulthood.  They lived with a man named John Clifford.  Clifford’s relationship with the two is unclear.  Whether he is the father of Benjamin or just a charitable soul, my sources did not indicate.

Eventually, in 1684, Corey married a Mister Henry Rich of Salem.  They lived an unassuming life and bore a legitimate child named Thomas Rich.  Or at least, she might have.  Here’s where things get confusing.  Many people believe Martha Corey was known as Martha Pennoyer before her marriage to Giles Corey.  Pennoyer definitely did marry Henry Rich, and she might have become Martha Corey.  Or she might have been a completely unrelated woman.  The truth of this matter is not overly important to the big picture.  What matters is that Henry Rich died and in 1690, Giles Corey married Martha.

Giles Corey might not have been the best choice for someone wanting a model husband.  Mr Corey had troubled past as well.  In 1676, he was found guilty of murdering one of his farmhands (and only had to pay a fine for it, which speaks volumes about Salem’s legal system).

Although she lived a pious, good life after marrying, Corey’s checkered past, and the past of her husband, definitely played a part in her being convicted of witchcraft.

(information taken from and The Salem Witch Trials:  A Reference Guide by K. David Goss)

Who was Martha Corey?

I’d encountered the name “Martha Corey” a grand total of one time before choosing her name for a class history project.  That was in a high school English class, while reading Arthur Miller’s The Crucible.  Even then, she had only a handful of lines, spoken off-stage.  Suffice it to say she did not leave a lasting impression on me.

As it turns out, Martha Corey was actually an important figure in the Salem Witch Trials.  One might even say pivotal.  Before her accusation, she was known as a good, God fearing, gospel woman.  Unlike the women accused of witchcraft before her, she was not a social outcast or pariah.

So why did this happen?  What happened to tarnish Corey’s reputation so?  Was she a witch?