On 10 June, it will be the 324th anniversary marking the illegal hanging of Bridget Oliver Bishop; the first person to be hanged during the Salem Witch Trials fiasco. Back in 1692 the death penalty was considered normal, however, the manner of the trial itself was flawed, biased, and during a time when colonial power was in its infancy, laws were disregarded (who was going to enforce them, as England was over 3000 miles away) and the Governor was away fighting the Native Indians.
Bridget’s death (or sacrifice) highlights the necessity of guidelines and restrictions on power when it comes to matters of law and punishment. A total of 20 people died at the hands of those who abused the powers they had assumed, and more than a hundred had been accused and suffered, either with their property seized or threats made to their persons, escaping or going into exile.
Born in England (believed to be Norwich) around 1632, Bridget was one of the first settlers in the New World. Married three times (Wasalbee, Oliver, and Bishop) , she was a lively character who was not a Puritan, and spoke her mind. While that did get her into trouble, she wasn’t the only person to do so. Puritanism had factions, and their ideal of coming to a New World to practice their religion resulted into many, such as Anne Hutchinson and Roger Williams, moving to other areas and setting up their own colonies. Being outspoken and a woman had happened before, but usually did not end well as Hutchinson was exiled and Bishop hanged.
It is a travesty that the death penalty still exists in parts of America, and that innocent people are put to death and then exonerated later. Surely the world has learned from Bridget Bishop’s sacrifice, as her own exoneration came in 2001, 309 years after her unlawful death. How can justice be seen to be fair or to have evolved if it takes three centuries to admit that the judicial system had failed, and still does to this day? It appears that people are quick to judge, and are affected by public opinion and mass hysteria still. Since DNA testing was introduced it has allowed more innocent people to appeal and to be exonerated, but is the death penalty necessary? There is funding for prisons and rehabilitation programs, surely this is a better way than to kill off people that some deemed unfit to be in society?
Bridget and the others could have saved themselves by admitting to witchcraft, but they knew they were innocent and it was up to the state to prove it. The state did not, but still decided the hearsay of others was evidence enough to give a sentence of death. If we consider these people stood up for their rights, and justice failed them, lessons from this historical event should have taught subsequent generations not to make the same mistakes.
The death of Bridget Bishop and the other victims of the Salem Witch Trial hysteria should remind humanity that people should not judge others in haste. However, humanity still has not learned. Richard Glossip sits on death row for a crime he did not commit, but was convicted on the evidence of the actual murderer who claimed Glossip paid him to do it. There is no evidence he committed the crime or that he planned it except for the testimony of a convicted murderer who wanted a lighter sentence and to avoid the death penalty. How is this justice? Humanity has not learned, despite campaigns and protests for the courts to see logical sense.
Justice is a right for all beings, Bridget Bishop’s death and sacrifice should remind others that the death penalty is not only wrong, but people should not be convicted when there is no evidence. Whether any of the accused were witches is irrelevant, as their deaths occurred because others wanted their land, and those in power abused their authority, and succumbed to public pressure to silence those who did not agree with them. I am sure they are still repaying their karmic debt as their descendants are too, but how can a civilized society, and one so advanced and prosperous still put people to death without any evidence?
R.I.P. Victims of the Salem Witch Trials ~ Humanity needs to learn from their sacrifices
Bridget Bishop (née Playfer; executed June 10, 1692)
Rebecca Nurse (née Towne; July 19, 1692)
Sarah Good (formerly Poole, née Solart; July 19, 1692)
Elizabeth Howe (née Jackson; July 19, 1692)
Susannah Martin (née North; July 19, 1692)
Sarah Wildes (née Averill; July 19, 1692)
George Burroughs (August 19, 1692)
George Jacobs, Sr. (August 19, 1692)
Martha Carrier (née Allen; August 19, 1692)
John Proctor (August 19, 1692)
John Willard (August 19, 1692)
Giles Corey (September 19, 1692; pressed to death when he refused to enter a plea)
Mary Eastey (née Towne; September 22, 1692)
Mary Parker (née Ayer; September 22, 1692)
Alice Parker (September 22, 1692)
Ann Pudeator (September 22, 1692)
Wilmot Redd (September 22, 1692)
Margaret Scott (September 22, 1692)
Samuel Wardwell, Sr. (September 22, 1692)