When you grow up in the Northeast Massachusetts area, you are likely to find that your ancestors were linked somehow to the Salem Witch Trials…
The more you read about the events surrounding the Salem Witch trials, the more you realize that at the heart of it all was not something supernatural, dark, or even unexplainable. In fact, at the heart of it all was a misrepresentation of people that were maybe a little different and didn’t fall in line with others, whether it was personal or political. The hysteria was fueled with the use of fear, malevolence, and blatant corruption.
At a time when strict Puritan religion controlled the area, and without the use of science to explain strange events, the accusers inadvertently used the townspeople’s Faith as a weapon against innocent people. Pointing fingers and accusations were almost all that was needed to have someone arrested and questioned. Some were released, some were jailed, some died in jail, and some were hung until their death.
Edward and Sarah (Wildes) Bishop
Let me tell you about my 10th great grandparents, Edward and Sarah (Wildes) Bishop. Edward Bishop was born sometime around 1647. Sarah Wildes was born sometime around 1651. They married in 1670 and had 12 children. Sarah was also the step-daughter of the accused Sarah Wildes who was found guilty of Witchcraft and hanged to death on July 19, 1692.
Edward Bishop is thought to have owned and operated an Inn in Salem Village, now known as Danvers. He had legal problems in 1685 being charged with running an unlicensed establishment and selling liquor illegally. This would have been one of the possible signs for “acting with the devil”.
Edward a “Disbeliever”
Edward Bishop was an apparent disbeliever of the accusers. One day, after witnessing testimony in court in which a man named John Indian, a slave of Rev. Samuel Parris, had been questioned and behaved as one of the ‘afflicted’. The two traveled back to Salem Village together when John Indian began having convulsions. Edward in turn beat him with a stick until the convulsions seemingly stopped. When Indian promised that it would not happen again, Edward agreed, it would not; and then made it known that he believed he could cure all of the afflicted this way. It was only days later that he, himself, was accused of witchcraft.
A group of residents filed complaints of witchcraft against nine of their neighbors, including Edward Bishop, his wife Sarah Bishop, and Sarah’s step-mother, Sarah (Averill) Wildes. They were arrested and imprisoned in April 1692.
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Edward and Sarah seem to have been easy targets for the accusers. They had some problems with a neighbor a few years before the witch hunts. Christian Trask accused the Bishops of unsavory acts, including entertaining travelers with drinking and playing shovel-board for all hours of the night.
Eventually Mrs. Trask made friends with Sarah. But unfortunately, it wasn’t long after that Mrs. Trask took her own life rather violently with a pair of shears to the throat. The talk around town was that Sarah had bewitched her. This troubling event was brought back to life during the Witch Trials in a deposition against Sarah from Rev. John Hale.
There was also testimony from Elizabeth Balch stating that she and her sister were traveling from Salem to Beverly one day, and along the way they ran into Edward and Sarah. Elizabeth told the court that the two (Edward and Sarah) had differences. Sarah claimed that Edward rode too fast and would cause her mischief. While Edward replied it made no matter what was done to her. He said that she had been a bad wife to him ever since they were married, and she stayed up at night with the devil. –Hmm, sounds like a typical quarrel between a couple that had been married for a while.
The two ‘Goody’ Bishops
It’s believed that the character descriptions of this Sarah Bishop have been confused with the infamous Bridget Bishop who was the first person hung during the Salem Witch Trials. In some historical documents and depositions there has been confusion over the two women named Bishop. Both women had a husband named Edward, and both women would have been referred to as “Goody Bishop’. There are stories written about Bridget as the scandalous red corset wearing woman that entertained Inn goers playing shovel-board at all hours of the night. Although Bridget would have had her own troubles which led to her arrest, I am in the belief that her character description over the years and throughout the narratives, might have been that of Sarah Bishop.
The good news is that Edward and Sarah escaped. Now, does that mean that they escaped prison or escaped persecution? It’s unclear, but either way, they escaped. Without anything to go home to, the family moved to Rehoboth, MA, some 75 miles south of Salem. In those days, if you were imprisoned, you had to pay for your stay as well as any food. They were even charged for the shackles, and if you were unable to pay your bill, you stayed in jail.
Petition for Restitution
In a letter dated September 9, 1710, Edward requests restitution for the loss of property during their imprisonment.
This may be a little hard to read but I suggest you do. It’s quite interesting and telling.
The above letter transcribed as written:
Rehoboth Septem 9 — 1710 to the honerabell Jentelmen of the Commitey greating It having plesed the grate and Jenerall cort to apiont your honers a Commitey to in quier who may be proper to be Justified in the bill Refering to the taking of the attainder and what loss and damidg has bene sustained by reason of the tryalls which were for witchcraft In the yere 1692 I with my wife were aprehended and examened and commited to Sallam prison and aftrewards cared to boston prison and in my absanc the Shrefe wente to my hous and tok a way so mutch of my housall goods as afterwards I payed tene pounds for to have It again Sixe cows was caried away which I never had a gain (four and [torn] swine carid away which I never had a gain. Sixe an fortiey Sheep of which I never had eney a gaine: the time that my sellf and wife were prisnors was thirtiey seven wekes all which tim cost me ten shillings pur weeake for our bord be sides other nesecri chardges and preson feese which amounted to five pounds and I was cept from making eney Improufment of my Estate to provide for food for my famiely and had at that time twelve children the which I Could have maintained out of the produce of my Esteat could I have had the liburty to med the Improufment of It which grat damidg I leve to your honers to Judg: — the hole lose and damedg I compute to be one hundred pounds money praying your honers I may be righted In name and Esteat I Rest your honers humbl sarvant
That last statement says it all –praying your honers I may be righted in name and Estate.
It’s not known if they were ever paid back for the loss of their property and personal belongings, but in my mind Edward and Sarah Bishop’s name has been righted.
Find me, remember me