Bridget Bishop (Playfer), Salem Witch
|Also Known As:||"Wassellbee Oliver"|
|Death:||Died in Town of Salem, Essex County, Province of Massachusetts, (Present USA)|
|Cause of death:||Hanging|
|Place of Burial:||Salem, Essex County, Massachusetts, United States|
|Managed by:||George Allan Jones|
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About Bridget Bishop, Salem Witch
Bridget Bishop (ca. 1632, England – 10 June 1692 Salem, Massachusetts) was the first person executed for witchcraft during the Salem witch trials of 1692.
In the transcripts there is some indication of confusion between Sarah Bishop, wife of a tavern owner in Salem Village, and Bridget Bishop, not a tavern owner and a resident of Salem Town.
"When Sarah (Bishop's) scandalous behavior was attributed to Bridget, who wore a “red paragon bodice,” and had her own troubles with the law, Bridget was catapulted into the written histories of the witch trials and the popular imagination as the ultimate scarlet woman in Puritan society (Rosenthal, 1993). Sarah and Edward Bishop of the tavern were also arrested for witchcraft, but escaped from jail in September 1692.
Bridget was convicted and sentenced to death mostly on “spectral evidence,” a departure from previous witchcraft trials in New England and England. Rosenthal comments:
“The case against Bridget Bishop would serve as a model in cases where the accused did not confess. First the afflicted would make their accusations, which would be denied even as the accusers claimed that the accused tortured them in the presence of the court. One or more confessors would subsequently validate the claim of witchcraft; then various members of the community, with testimony that had no bearing on the actual indictments, would join in by telling of past witchcraft by the accused. The way to the gallows for Bridget Bishop would be the way for others.” (P. 75)
On April 18, 1692, when a warrant was issued for Bishop's arrest for witchcraft, she was no stranger to the courthouse. In 1680 she had been charged (but cleared) of witchcraft, and on other occasions she had ended up in the courthouse for violent public quarreling with her husband. Bishop had never seen or met any of her accusers until her questioning. While several of the afflicted girls cried out and writhed in the supposed pain she was causing them, John Hathorn and Jonathan Corwin questioned her, although there was little doubt in either of their minds as to her guilt:
Q: Bishop, what do you say? You stand here charged with sundry acts of witchcraft by you done or committed upon the bodies of Mercy Lewis and Ann Putman and others.
A: I am innocent, I know nothing of it, I have done no witchcraft .... I am as innocent as the child unborn. ....
Q: Goody Bishop, what contact have you made with the Devil?
A: I have made no contact with the Devil. I have never seen him before in my life.
When asked by one of her jailers, Bishop claimed that she was not troubled to see the afflicted persons so tormented, and could not tell what to think of them and did not concern herself about them at all. But the afflicted girls were not Bishop's only accusers. Her sister's husband (sic: this does not sound right - she had no known sister) claimed that "she sat up all night conversing with the Devil" and that "the Devil came bodily into her." With a whole town against her, Bishop was charged, tried, and executed within eight days. On June 10, as crowds gathered to watch, she was taken to Gallows Hill and executed by the sheriff, George Corwin. She displayed no remorse and professed her innocence at her execution.
The path along which Bridget was taken in a cart to the gallows went down Essex Street, where the Felt house and business still stand. Starkey (1969, p. 156) describes:
“>On June 10, 1692, High Sheriff George Corwin took [Bridget Bishop] to the top of Gallows Hill and hanged her alone from the branches of a great oak tree. Now the honest men of Salem could sleep in peace, sure that the Shape of Bridget would trouble them no more.”
"Note the irony of the last sentence. The “honest” man who testified that Bridget’s specter bewitched a baby to death confessed on his deathbed that he had lied (Rosenthal, 1993, p 60)."
Perhaps Caroline Upham’s epitaph to Bridget, published in 1891, is the most appropriate:
“This vigorous, practical person, indifferent to public opinion, does not seem to have been planned by nature for a martyr; but circumstances made her so, and her crown maybe just as bright as those worn by her gentler sisters” (Rosenthal,1995,p. 81)
Her parents are not known.
She was married three times.
- her first husband Samuel Wesselbe on April 13, 1660, at St. Mary-in-the-Marsh, Norwich, Norfolk, England.
- second marriage on 26 July 1666  was to Thomas Oliver, a widower and prominent businessman. She was earlier accused of bewitching Thomas Oliver to death, but was acquitted for lack of evidence.
- Her last marriage circa 1687 was to Edward Bishop, a prosperous sawyer, whose family lived in Beverly.
Samuel Wasselbe and Bridget had two children:
- A son named Benjamin, Norwich parish registers list as baptized on October 6, and
- daughter Mary born in Boston, MA. In the listing for Boston births for 1665, there is a listing for "Mary, of Samuel dec. and Bridget Wesselbee late of Norwich England born Jan.10".
It is unknown if Samuel died in England or accompanied Bridget to New England and died there, but her second marriage to Thomas Oliver (also from Norwich England) on July 26, 1666 was a troubled one.
She had one child with Thomas Oliver
- a daughter named Christian. In April 1694 Edward Bishop was made the legal guardian of six-year-old Susanna Mason, Bridget’s granddaughter. Her mother, Christian, had died before November 1, 1693, the date her father, Thomas Mason remarried (Greene, 1981)
- Anderson, Robert Charles. Bridget (Playfer) (Wasselbe) (Oliver) Bishop. American Genealogist (D.L. Jacobus). (Oct 1989), 64:207. "Thomas Oliver himself, Bridget's second husband, was also from Norwich (John C. Hotten, Original Lists of Persons of Quality [New York 1874], p. 295). There is evidence that Thomas Oliver returned to Norwich for a few years, and it may be that he became acquainted with Bridget at that time, resulting in her immigration to New England after the death of her first husband (Savage 3:311; Records of the Quarterly Courts of Essex County, Mass. [salem 1911-75] 3:385)."
- Vital Records of the Town of Salem, Volume 1, Births,Salem, MA: Essex Institute. 1916.
- Vital Records of the Town of Salem.. Salem, MA: Essex Institute. 1924.
- http://roundtable.menloschool.org/Issue7/5_Mei_MS_Roundtable7_Fall_2010.pdf "Bernard Rosenthal, with the help of David Greene, corrected this mistake in "Salem Story," concluding that Bishop was convicted because of her wealth after her first (Sic: do they mean 2nd?) husband died."
From "History of the town of Leeds, Androscoggin County, Maine, from its settlement June 10, 1780" (Lewiston Journal Co. 1906) at 63:
His son, Edward second [Bishop], married Hannah, lived in Beverly, but subsequently moved to Salem where he died in the year 1705. Among the historic events in Salem are recorded the drastic crimes committed by that unholy man of God, Cotton Mather, and his associate rulers, in their false accusations of the poor, innocent victims of their hatred who dared to assert diametrical religious views. Imprisonment and various inhuman methods of punishment were instituted for witch-craft, or casting out devils, and finally death upon the gallows was the penalty they suffered for the freedom of their faith. A blot will ever remain on the pages of history of that municipality. The first victim of that tyrant power was Bridget Bishop, the second wife of Edward second [Bishop], which occurred June 10, 1692.
Posted by Heather Wilkinson Rojo at: [http://boards.ancestry.com/topics.salem-20-witch-20-trials/3.25/mb.ashx] I am also a descendant of the witchcraft trial victim Bridget Bishop through her daughter Christian Oliver. Bridget's maiden name was Playfer. She was married to Samuel Wasselbee in 1660 at St. Mary in the Marsh, Norwich, Norfolk County, England, and had two children who apparently died young, but were baptized at the same church. She married Thomas Oliver about 1664, probably in Salem, and daughter Christian was born 08 May 1667. Thomas died in 1678. She married Edward Bishop in 1685 in Salem.
In their book, "Salem Possessed," Paul Boyer and Stephen Nissenbaum have this to say about Bridget Bishop. In 1685 Bridget Oliver of Salem Town married her third husband - old Edward Bishop, one of the founders of the Beverly Church - and moved from the center of town to his house on the Ipswich Road in Salem Villiage. (The Bishops retained the title to Bridget's house in the town, however, and derived income from it as a rental property.) Having already built up a long reputation for aggressive behavior in petty commercial transactions, Bridget soon turned the Bishop house into a place of late-night conviviality where she sold cider manufactured from apples grown in her private orchard. As one witness put it, Bridget "did entertain people in her house at unseasonal hours in the night to keep drinking and playing at suffleboard, whereby discord did arise in other families, and young people were in danger to be corrupted.
In 1678, Thomas Oliver died under circumstances which gave the townsfolk leave, (in their minds at least), to start whispering the dreaded word "witchcraft!" in connection with her. Oliver had left her a bit of land with house, but his creditors took every cent that came her way. Bridget ended up being forced to petition the town for relief... an act which we can well imagine she had no taste for!
Apparently Bridget was suspicious because she was merely an assertive female!
Also, two townspeople, John Bly and his son,(also relatives of mine) found some "Poppets" hidden in Bridget's cellar. These were dolls or figures used for magic, and had pins stuck in them. Whether she really practiced magic or not has never been proven. At her trial her last husband testified against her. She was hung. He re-married very soon after her execution.
The Bishop house, which was a tavern, still stands.
Bridget Oliver Bishop was arrested in Salem Town on April 18, 1692. She was executed June 10,1692, only fifty-two days later. The court relied heavily on the validity of 'spectral evidence.' For example: In the testimony of William Stacy against Bridget Bishop on May 30, 1692, he said that after he refused to perform a milling service for Bishop the wheel of his wagon, "plumped or sunk down into a hole upon plain ground." He claimed when he went back later, there was no hole to be found. He also testified that Bishop appeared to him in his bedchamber dressed in a black cape and hat and hopped about his bed and room ). This testimony, combined with other similar supernatural appearances attributed to the accused, was enough to convict. English common law (and Biblical Law) required two witnesses.
The court was disbanded on October 29, and Phips granted pardons to the accused witches in May 1693. In 1711 the Massachusetts colonial government passed legislation legally and formally clearing the names of the accused and offering restitution to the families. Bridget Bishop's family did not come forward to accept the settlement. Her daughter Christian Oliver Mason died in January 1693, survived by a husband and daughter. Bridget's third (?) husband Edward died in 1695.
Bridget Bishop, Salem Witch's Timeline
Norwich, Norfolk, England, (Present UK)
October 6, 1663
Norwich, Norfolk, England
Town of Salem, Essex County, Massachusetts Bay Colony, (Present USA)
January 10, 1665
Boston, Suffolk, Massachusetts
May 8, 1667
Salem, Essex, Massachusetts
Salem, Essex, Massachusetts
June 10, 1692
Town of Salem, Essex County, Province of Massachusetts, (Present USA)
Salem, Essex County, Massachusetts, United States