Thanks to Author Brandon Marie Miller for guest posting here this week, filling in while I recover from my six-day research trip to Washington D.C.
Brandon is an award-winning author of nine titles on U.S. history topics. Her story about a woman accused of witchcraft and hanged, touches on an experience I've been thinking a lot about lately.
Being completely helpless at the whim of people who want to kill you.
My research turned up a letter to President Roosevelt from a woman whose son is set to be hanged by the U.S. Army. Just thinking of this kind of helplessness makes me short of breath.
You've probably heard the name of Eddie Slovak, the white soldier executed for deserting in WWII. They even made a movie about him. Seen any movies about a black soldier executed?
Out of 70 soldiers court-martialed and executed in Europe during the war years, 55 of the men were black. Blacks made of 10 percent of the army.
A number of these men were hanged on extremely flimsy testamony. There's some evidence black soldiers were scapegoated for the crime of rape to save the reputation of the US Army during WWII.
In her new book, Women of Colonial America, Brandon Marie Miller writes about a woman facing similar circumstances.
The Courage of Martha Corey
She says, "to be accused of a crime-- with your life hanging in the balance-- and have no way to defend yourself, is terrifying. "
Brandon knew the ending to Martha Corey's story before she started her research. Martha's name appears on the list of those executed for practicing witchcraft in Salem Village in 1692.
Brandon's challenge was to make Martha more than just a name and get readers to care about her. So, how'd you answer that challenge, Brandon?
The answer lay in the 300-year-old record of Martha's examination and court depositions.
She at first briskly denied the accusations. But as the "afflicted" girls took over the courtroom with their hysterics, I felt her shift to bewilderment, to panic, to despair.
My heart ached for Martha, so alone against so many. I felt anger toward the accusers. Only one of the girls later publicly apologized for her role, saying she'd been deluded by the devil.
Martha remained true to herself through months of imprisonment. She never attempted to save herself by confessing or accusing others. And in the face of mass hysteria, that took real courage.
Three women had already been accused of witchcraft when a constable arrived at the home of Giles and Martha Corey in March 1692. The man carried a warrant for Martha’s arrest, charging she’d “committed sundry acts of Witchcraft.”
Since January, witch hysteria had swept Salem Village. A handful of preteen girls and teenage servants made the accusations. Normally, society would scarcely notice these girls.
Now, people recorded their every sentence, every move. Older and poorer women proved easy targets. Martha’s arrest shocked people; she was a prosperous farmer’s wife and an elected church member.
Twelve-year-old Ann Putnam had first told her parents that Martha appeared to her and tortured her with pinching “and other ways.” When Martha visited the Putnam house Ann fell into a choking fit, her body twisted in agony.
A servant in the household claimed Martha’s apparition beat her with an iron rod. Other girlish voices chimed in over the next few weeks-- Martha hurt them and consorted with the devil.
Two days after her arrest Martha appeared before Magistrate John Hathorne in Salem’s packed meeting house. Hathorne’s first words accused her: “You are now in the hands of Authority tell me now why you hurt these persons.”
Martha denied she hurt anyone. “I am an innocent person: I never had to do with Witchcraft since I was born,” she answered. “I am a Gospel Woman.”
Hathorne soon lost control of the court when “the afflicted” interrupted the proceedings. Abigail Williams pointed toward Martha—“There is a man whispering in her ear.”
“We must not believe all that these distracted children say,” Martha told Hathorne. “I saw no body.”
Then the accusers fell to the floor, shrieking in pain. Martha must have looked on, helpless and horrified. The judge urged her to confess, adding, “Do you think to find mercy by aggravating your sins?”
Martha simply replied, “But I cannot confess.” Martha continued to proclaim her innocence. “What can I do? Many rise up against me.”
Nineteen people were hanged after being convicted in the Salem Witch Trials.
Thank you, Brandon! I'm looking forward to reading your new book!
When I visited the Salem Witch Trial Museum several years ago, they had a wonderful exhibit showing how the accusations of witchcraft fit into a pattern of scapegoating and violence down through the centuries.
Of course, a prime example is the the Holocaust, which just so happens to be another topic I've been researching lately.
I can't help feeling great gratitude that I get to sleep at night without worrying I'll be targeted by violence. And I can't help thinking about other groups of people here in America and around the world that don't have that luxury.
Read about Martha and 13 more courageous Colonial Women here.
Check out Brandon's website here...
I'm fascinated to discover little-known stories from history. Stories of people and events that provide a new perspective on why and how things happened, new voices that haven't been heard, insight into how the past brought us here today, and how it might guide us to a better future.
I also post here about my books and feature other authors and their books on compelling and important historical topics.
Occasionally, I share what makes me happy, pictures of my garden, recipes I've made, events I've attended, people I've met. I'm always happy to hear from readers, in the blog comments, by email or social media.