By Puritan standards, Bridget Bishop was a very bad girl indeed. Although she was a covenanted church member in the Beverly parish of John Hale, her behavior generally suggested strongly that she wasn’t particularly interested in godliness. For one thing, by 1692, the year of the later-to-be-infamous Salem witchcraft panic, Bridget was on her third husband. The first two had died and some wondered whether Bridget had had anything to do with their demise. Now the wife of Edward Bishop, Bridget ran a tavern outside of Salem proper. And her management left a lot to be desired in the opinion of her neighbors. There was the matter of her dress. Bridget sashayed around in a black cap, black hat, and a red bodice with multicolored trim. She was always having bits of ribbon and lace colored by the dyer. Then there was the way she flouted the laws governing tavern hours. Bridget stayed open till the middle of the night, allowing her customers, some only in their teens, to drink and play “shovelboard”, carousing loudly enough to disturb the neighbors’ peaceful sleep. Bridget had been suspected of witchcraft before. One night in 1686, Christine Trask, a neighbor, stormed into the tavern and threw the shovelboard pieces into the fire. Shortly after relating what she had done to Mr. Hale, she fell into “a distracted state of mind” that persisted for months, save for a brief recurrence of sanity during which she apologized to and befriended the Bishops. Within a few hours, Goody Trask had a relapse, and committed suicide. Bridget was formally accusd of murdering her, and only the intervention of her respected minister, the Reverend Hale, saved her from trial. But she did land in court several other times for violent public quarreling with her husband.
Always a prime target for gossip, Bridget’s reputation was undoubtedly widespread by 1692. And it made her the first victim of the witch terror that was soon to overcome the region. Although she had never visited Salem Village, and she had never seen or met her accusers, Mercy Lewis and Ann Putnam, on April 19 they cried out against her as a witch. A jury of women searched Goody Bishop for witch marks just before her trial, sticking pins into any place on her body that looked out of the ordinary, and discovered the “witch’s tet” in her private parts. Three hours later, it had withered to dry skin, probably, they believed, because the devil removed his mark to protect his minion.
The trial was, of course, spectacular, the testimony lurid. Goody Bishop had been busy. She bewitched her first two husbands and several local to death, caused a beam in the meeting house to crash down by looking at it, and appeared to many in the dead of night, sometimes choking or striking them. She sold the Blys a sow and then made it sick and ornery. Bridget administered sacraments at witches’ sabbaths, hobnobbed with a black man in a tall hat, a snake, and other suspected witches, and tried to force innocent people to sign the devil’s book. All spectral evidence. But the clincher was real enough: a claim that several little rag “poppets” stuck with pins had been found in the cellar of the house where Bridget had lived with a former husband.
Bridget Bishop never uttered a word in her own defense during her two-day inquisition. The court condemned her to death by hanging, but the sentence could not be executed until a technicality was corrected, the reinstatement of an old law making witch craft a capital offense. On June 10, she died unrepentant on Gallows Hill, the first of nineteen victims.
The Bishop house still stands today on Conant Street. There are some who believe that it is possible that Goody Bishop may actually have dabbled in witch craft. Those dolls…….