Giles Corey, Salem Witch (c.1621 - 1692) MP

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Nicknames: "Cory or Coree"
Birthplace: Northampton, Northamptonshire, England
Death: Died in Salem, Essex County, Massachusetts
Cause of death: Pressed to death with stones
Managed by: Mark Stephen Freeman
Last Updated:
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Immediate Family

About Giles Corey, Salem Witch

Giles Corey (circa 1621 - 1692) - One of the six men to be executed during the Salem witch trials of 1692. Five were hanged after being convicted of witchcraft, but Giles Corey was pressed to death with stones as a result of refusing to enter a plea so that he could be tried. Giles Cory, son of Giles and Elizabeth Cory, was born before 19 August 1621 in North Hampton, North Hamptonshire, England. He was baptized on 19 August 1621 in St. Sepulcher's Church, Northampton, England. He died on 19 September 1692 in Salem, Essex County, Massachusetts.

Marriages and Children

  1. Margaret Devon (born circa 1624 England - died before 11 April 1664 Massachusetts), married England
    1. Martha Corey (circa 1650 Salem, Essex County, Massachusetts - 1683), married William Cleaves in 1675, three children
    2. Mary Corey (circa 1653 Salem, Essex County, Massachusetts - before February 1697), married John Parker; seven children
    3. Margaret Corey (born circa 1655 Salem, Essex County, Massachusetts), married (1) William Clements on 18 May 1683, five children; (2) Jonathan Biles
    4. Deliverance Corey (born 5 August 1658 Salem, Essex County, Massachusetts), married Henry Crosby on 5 June 1683
    5. Elizabeth Corey (born circa 1660 Salem, Essex County, Massachusetts), married John Moulton
  2. Mary Bright, aka Brite aka Britz (circa 1621 England - 28 August 1684), married 11 April 1664. Buried in the Salem graveyard
  3. Martha, widow of Henry Rich (September 1615 England - 22 September 1692 Salem, Essex County, Massachusetts), married 27 April 1690 . She had a son from her previous marriage, Thomas Rich (born September 1642 England)

Biographical Sketch

Margaret Devon, the first wife of Giles Corey, was the mother of all his known children. They are believed to have been married in England. Giles Corey first appears in Salem Court records on 11 July 1644 as a witness against Obadiah Govis, servant of Thomas Trusler. He was listed as a watchman in 1647. Giles Corey was fined on 28 June 1649 for stealing wheat, powder, soap, flax, tobacco, bacon, pork, butter and knives from Mr. Curwin and Thomas Anthrom. In 1659 he relocated to Salem Farms, just south of Salem Village. On 18 February 1661/2, Giles Corey was granted a small strip of about two acres of land near that which was Roger Morey's meadow, and also a spot or hole of meadow near Henry Phelps' house and near his own meadow, in consideration of some of his land having been made use of for a highway.

Margaret must have died between 1658 and 1664; "Corys of America" lists the date about 1663. On 11 April 1664, Giles Corey married (2) Mary Bright. The marriage of Mary and Giles is recorded in the Salem Vital Records, where Mary's name is spelled "Brite". This is the only instance of this spelling that has been found. It would appear that this is either an old spelling that was changed to Bright in later years or just another misspelling. There are many entries in the Salem and surrounding townships of the name Bright. Mary "was bought out a London ship in Virginia by the father of Caleb More; who testified to this and to her good character when she was accused in 1678".

Corey's next appearance in public records was a deposition given on 17 June 1672, listing his "age about 55 years". Three years later, Corey pummeled and killed a farm worker named Jacob Goodale. He was found guilty of the murder and ordered to pay a substantial fine.

November of 1675 Testimony by Mrs. Mary Cory

"About the last of November, 1675, as Mrs. Mary Corey testified, Elizabeth, wife of Zachariah Goodale, told her that the latter's brother Jacob Goodale had been to Zachariah's house and got into the cellar and took some apples. Zachariah was then coming in with a log of wood, and laying it down, he took a stick and "pade (pade - this is the Old English word, paid, meaning to chastise or beat.) hem to som porpos." About ten days later, in the beginning of December, Giles Corey unreasonably beat Jacob with a stick of about an inch in diameter nearly a hundred blows in the presence of Elisha Kebee, who told Corey that he would knock him down if he did not forbear. About ten days later, Corey went to the house of Zachariah Goodale, and told him that his brother Jacob Goodale had had a fall. He was afraid that he had broken his arm, and desired him to take Jacob to Mrs. Mole's in the town. Jacob was then thirty-four years of age, and up to that time he had been lusty. Now, Jacob went "very ravel (ravel - as though confused)" and stooping, and he was very pale and his eyes sunken. Thereupon, Zachariah went to Corey's house, and saw Jacob, who was there. The roads were slippery, and Corey said that his horse was not caulked, so he could not go with him. Jacob went so badly, Zachariah asked him if he had any other hurt than his arm, but he would not tell. Zachariah then requested that some one might go with him; whereupon Goody Corey went with him."

Jacob died a few days later, and inquest was held. The jury consisted of Nathaniel Felton, Francis Nurse, Anthony Buxton, Michael Shafilin, Jeremiah Meacham, John Traske, Thomas Small, Samuel Very, Thomas Preston, John Cooke, Joshua Rea and Eleazer Giles, and they made the following report: "we find several wrongs he hath had in his body as upon his left arm and upon his right thigh a great bruise which is very much swold and upon the reins of his back in color differing from the other parts of his body we caused an incision to be made much bruised and run with a jelly and the skin broke upon the outside of each buttock." For his abuse Corey was fined.

In July of 1678, Giles Cory is once again the subject of a court action. "The History of Salem" says that a small house belonging to John Procter, which stood on the northerly side of Lowell Street, about one hundred and fifty rods easterly from the Georgetown branch of the Boston and Maine Railroad, was partially burned in July 1678. The roof and that part of the walls above two feet upward from the upper floor was burned away. This occurred about two hours before day, and but for the timely appearance and strenuous efforts of John Phelps and Thomas Fuller, who passing, it would have been wholly destroyed. Procter suspected that Giles Corey set the fire. A warrant was issued on the twenty-fourth for his appearance in court, as he had done so many ill things to his neighbors - threatened and suggested fires, etc. He proved that he was at home and abed all the night of the fire, and was discharged.

Mary Bright Corey died 28 August 1684, at the age of sixty-three. She was buried in Salem Graveyard. On 27 April 1690 Giles Corey married (3) Martha Penoyer, who was then admitted to the church in Salem Village [now Danvers]. Martha Penoyer, widow of Henry Rich, was born in September 1615 in England. She was a victim of the terrible witchcraft delusion in Salem, and was arrested in March 1692, and hung on Thursday, 22 September 1692.

Although Giles Corey had become a full member of the Village church and had close ties with the powerful Porter family in the Village, his reputation as one who had led a "scandalous life" and lacked consideration for others probably had a significant impact on his being accused as a witch. He was arrested and imprisoned in April. He was moved from one jail to another, going to Boston and back again to Salem, until the date of his trial on 16 September 1692. He refused to enter a plea, stating that he was not willing to submit himself to a trial by jury that he believed had already determined his guilt. It had become clear that there was no chance of being acquitted, and that a conviction would be inevitable.

Because Corey stood mute, he was given the dreaded sentence of peine forte et dure (known colloquially as 'pressing') even though this procedure had been determined to be illegal by the government of Massachusetts. It was illegal for two reasons: there was no law permitting pressing, and it violated the Puritan provisions of the Body of Liberties regarding the end of barbarous punishment. In the entire history of the United States, Giles Corey is the only person ever to be pressed to death by order of a court.

There is a strong tradition that Giles Corey refused trial in order to avoid a conviction that would result in the forfeiture of his property to the government. Although Massachusetts had been without a charter for several years, and consequently the legal system was muddled at best, English and Massachusetts law seem to be fairly clear that conviction could not result in the forfeiture of an estate. Landowners retained the right to give their land to their heirs rather than forfeit it because of a conviction, and apparently Corey knew it. However, the sheriff of Essex County had been illegally seizing the property of those arrested for witchcraft. This appears to be why Giles Corey endured the horrific process of being pressed to death, which was not intended to be a method of execution, but to elicit a confession. Since Corey refused to confess, his estate remained safely within his family's possession.

About 18 September 1692, Giles Corey was excommunicated and then slowly pressed to death in the field next to the jail in an attempt to force him to confess to witchcraft. For two days, more stones were gradually added to the pile on his chest. His famous last words, "more weight" were uttered as a final attempt to expedite his death.

On 21 September 1692, Martha Corey was executed by hanging on Gallows Hill. .

The Curse of Giles Corey

It was later said that, as stones continued to be placed atop the wooden door covering Giles Corey, that all he would say is “more weight.” While this is unlikely to be literally true, what witnesses claim to have actually been said is far more damning in retrospect. With his dying breath, Giles Corey addressed Sheriff Corwin, “Damn you, Sheriff, I curse you and Salem!”

Local Salem historian and former High Sheriff of Essex County Robert Ellis Cahill discovered some years ago that the curse of Giles Corey may have borne fruit. He notes that each and every sheriff beginning with George Corwin himself died while in office or had been forced out of his post as the result of a heart or blood ailment. Corwin died in 1696 of a heart attack.

The Curse of Giles Corey was not just leveled at the sheriff but at “all of Salem.” It is said that Giles Corey's ghost has been sighted just prior to every major tragedy in Salem, such as the great fire that nearly destroyed the town. Could the words spoken by this tragic victim have left an imprint that is still at work in Salem today?

Discussion

There is no direct evidence that Giles Corey had any male children. Some sources, however, feel that Jonathan and Thomas Corey, mentioned as having been at Chelmsford at an early period, were probably his sons. Those who believe he had no male heirs seem to be basing this on his will, which may be insufficient justification to make that statement.

Sources

  • David C. Brown, "The Case of Giles Cory," Essex Institute Historical Collections. Vol. 121, No. 1985: 282-299.
  • Robert Ellis Cahill, "Haunted Happenings".
  • Frances Hill, "A Delusion of Satan: The Full Story of the Salem Witch Trials".
  • Heather Snyder, "Giles Corey". Salem Witch Trials in History and Literature, An Undergraduate Course, University of Virginia, Spring Semester 2001.
  • Cory Family Society
  • "Cory Family Newsletter", Volume 7, number 3, Sep 1992
  • "Mayflower Families", Volume III, page 134, mentions that Martha Penoyer married Henry Rich at Stanford in December 1680 and later married Giles Cory of Salem.
  • "Genealogical and Family History of the State of New Hampshire". Incorrectly lists Martha Corey's date of execution as March 1692.
  • The History of Salem, Vol. II, page 193 footnote:

Giles Corey was born about 1619; married, first Margaret ______; second, Mary Brite April 11, 1673 [this is in error, the correct year 1664]; third, >>Martha ______; pressed to death Sept. 19, 1692; wife Martha was hung as a witch Sept. 22, 1692; Children: 1. Deliverance, born in Salem Aug. 5, 1658; married Henry Crosby June 5, 1683; 2. Margaret; married William Cleaves [spelled Clements in the Vital Statics of both Marblehead and Beverly] of Beverly; 3. Elizabeth; married John Moulton of Salem.

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Giles Corey, Salem Witch's Timeline

1621
August 19, 1621
Northampton, Northamptonshire, England
1621
Northampton, Northamptonshire, England
1649
1649
Age 28
England
1650
1650
Age 29
Salem, Essex County, Massachusetts
1653
1653
Age 32
Salem, Essex County, Massachusetts, USA
1655
1655
Age 34
Salem, Essex County, Massachusetts
1656
1656
Age 35
Salem,Essex,Massachusetts
1658
August 5, 1658
Age 37
Salem, Essex, MA
1664
April 11, 1664
Age 43
Salem, Essex County, Massachusetts
1690
April 27, 1690
Age 69
Salem, Essex County, Massachusetts