Witch Trials – Constabulary

Our ancestors, noted below by Bold CAPITALS, played every role in the 17th Century Witch Trials: Accused, Accuser, Witness, Neighbor, Jury and the Law.  Seeing all their stories together, shows that the witch trials weren’t an isolated incident.  Since all the players were family, the message I get is that everyone in their society was responsible for what happened.

1. Victims
2. Accusers
3. Witnesses
4. Supporters and Neighbors
5. Constabulary
6. Jury

It is generally accepted that the Salem trials were one of the defining moments that changed American jurisprudence from the English system of “guilty, ’til proven innocent” to the current American system of “innocent until proven guilty”. In addition, the jury pool in trials was changed from “church-members only” to “all those who have property” in an act which was passed by the General Court on 25 Nov 1692. Finally, these cases caused Americans to take their first steps away from what we now know as “cruel & unusual punishment” when trying to get someone to confess. It had been a staple of the English legal system, but after 1692 even Cotton Mather urged judges to use “Crosse and Swift Questions” rather than physical torture to gain the truth. These were three significant changes to the nascent American legal system. In May of 1693, Governor Phips pardoned the remaining accused of witchcraft.


Richard ORMSBY (1602 – 1664) was a constable in Salisbury in 1656 and testified he saw something on Eunice Cole’s breast when he was about to administer a public whipping.

The deposition of Richard Ormsby constable of Salisbury. That being about to strip Eunice Cole to be whipped (by the judgment of the court at Salisbury) looking upon her breasts under one of her breasts (I think her left breast) I saw a blue thing like unto a teat hanging downward about three quarters of an inch long not very thick, and having a great suspicion in my mind about it (she being suspected for a witch) [I] desired the court to send some women to look of it and presently hereupon she pulled or scratched it of[f] in a violent manner, and some blood with other moistness did appear clearly to my apprehension and she said it was a sore. John Goddard doth testify that he saw her with her hand violently scratch it away. Sworn in the court at Salisbury. 12th, 2d. month 1656, Thomas Bradbury Vera Copia per me Thomas Bradbury recorder. Sworn in the court September 4, 1656.

Edward Rawson affirmed I stood by and saw the constable rip her shift down and saw the place raw and fresh blood where Good[y] Cole [ends abruptly].

The court presently stepping to her saw a place raw with some fresh blood but no appearance of any old sore: Thomas Bradbury recorder in the name of the court. Sworn in court September 4, 1656 Richard Ormsby Edward Rawson Secretary.

Also Abraham Perkins and John Redman affirmed on oath that they stood by and saw the constable tear down her shift and saw the place raw and where she had [tore?] of[f?] her teat and fresh blood come from it and saw her [ ] her hand to tear of[f] it was torn off. Sworn in court September 4, 1656 Edward Rawson Secretary.

A resident of Hampton in present-day New Hampshire, Mrs. Cole had been in and out of the courts of Essex and Norfolk counties, Massachusetts, since the 1640s. She was tried on charges of witchcraft for the first time in 1656. It is probable that she was convicted, instead of ordering her execution, the court sentenced Mrs. Cole to imprisonment in Boston and a public whipping. She was in and out of prison for the next decade, during which time, in 1662, her aged husband William died. Eunice was charged again with witchcraft in 1673; the court criticized her, though the formal verdict was innocence. In the years before and after this trial she lived in Hampton in a destitute condition. Her third court hearing on charges of witchcraft occurred in 1680; though not indicted, she was put in prison. The depositions from 1673, which are the fullest surviving records of community suspicions, describe Eunice Cole as attempting to persuade a ten-year-old girl, Ann Smith, to live with her.

Orlando BAGLEY Jr. (1658 – 1728) was Susannah Martin’s arresting Amesbury constable. See his page for images of the original summons, examination and death warrant.  Susannah was found guilty, and was hanged on July 19, 1692 in Salem.

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7 Responses to Witch Trials – Constabulary

  1. Pingback: Witch Trials – Jury | Miner Descent

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