Good, Sarah

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Sarah Good

Excerpt from the "Examination of Sarah Good"

Reprinted from The Salem Witchcraft Papers: Verbatim Transcripts of the Legal Documents of the Salem Witchcraft Outbreak of 1692, edited by Paul Boyer and Stephen Nissenbaum

Published 1977

Seventeenth century colonists believed in witches, as did their European ancestors. The Great European Witch Hunt occurred from the fifteenth through the seventeenth centuries. Belief in magic and witchcraft was widespread in the American colonies. It was normal to profess a strong faith in the Almighty God and at the same time to employ magical charms and potions to ward off witches and the devil. Relatively few individuals, however, were accused of witchcraft and fewer still were prosecuted and executed. Accusations were often dismissed, or those convicted received light sentences. The exception played out in New England in the early 1690s. The most famous American witch hunt occurred from May through October 1692 in Salem Town, Essex County, Massachusetts.

"No creature [do I imploy] but I am falsely accused."

Sarah Good

Witch hunting

The English began successful colonization of the New World in 1607 with other Europeans following by the 1630s and 1640s, bringing with them their belief in witchcraft. Since everyday survival preoccupied most colonists, between the 1620s and the end of the seventeenth century there were only
nineteen accusations of witchcraft that made it into court. One resulted in conviction with the individual being whipped and banished. Sporadic witchcraft trials were held in New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Maryland, where only one case ended in an execution.

During the 1600s witchcraft accusations were more prevalent in New England. A total of 250 individuals were formally accused of witchcraft. Before the Salem horrors of 1692, some 100 New England colonists were charged, twenty convicted, and sixteen executed. In 1692 in Salem, Massachusetts, 150 additional witchcraft trials took place.

Legalities and the crime of witchcraft

Seventeenth century laws on witchcraft in New England paralleled those in England, based on a verse from the King James translation of the Bible. The verse, from Exodus 22:18, read "Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live." The King James version of the Bible was ordered by King James I (ruled 1603–25) in the early 1600s. By 1647 all New England colonies had made witchcraft a capital crime, punishable by death.

The actual witchcraft laws reflected the church's view that convictions required proof of contact between the accused and the devil. This made the crime difficult to successfully prosecute. On the other hand, most colonists were concerned with the supernatural skills of witches such as casting a spell to cause harm to another. It was on this basis that most all charges were made.

The surest path to conviction was getting a confession from the accused; few individuals, however, were willing to confess. So under seventeenth century New England laws, in order to convict an alleged witch, at least two witnesses had to give evidence that the accused had a pact with the devil. The most common attempt was to show signs of "witches' teats" on the body of the accused. Supposedly witches nourished their "familiars" at these teats. "Familiars" were evil spirits with which witches had close relationships. Both preachers and magistrates (judges) demanded a physician confirm findings of a witch's teat on the accused individual.

Another type of proof was spectral evidence, or seeing visions. People believed an evil spirit could assume the identity of an individual who had signed a pact with the devil and visions of that individual would appear to victims and torment them. The witnesses would testify that menacing visions of the accused individual had indeed appeared to them.

Proof of witch's teats or spectral visions was difficult. When New England laws were applied properly, and they usually were, convictions were few. This explains why only twenty convictions were achieved out of one hundred cases prosecuted in New England up until 1692. Yet in 1692 New Englanders were so distraught over what they perceived as their failing to achieve a successful and perfect God-fearing colony that they embarked on a major witch-hunt. They convinced themselves the devil and his witches were to blame. When charges against individuals were made during this time, witchcraft laws were not properly applied—instead, prosecution and conviction relied on spectral and suggested but unproven evidence.

God's wrath

The most intense periods of witch hunting in Europe came when a country experienced a particularly stressful time such as civil war, famine, or spreading disease. Why the American colonies had only one large witch-hunt, occurring in Massachusetts in 1692, was most likely the result of extreme stress in the New England colonies.

The Puritans of New England, English Protestants who opposed the Church of England, believed they had been chosen by God to establish a holy land in the New World. Massachusetts governor John Winthrop (1588–1649) told his colony's residents that if they failed to establish communities of holy, reverent people they would feel the wrath or anger of God and be punished.

In the second half of the seventeenth century more and more residents moved away from a rural New England setting where the land was rocky and difficult to farm, and into Boston and surrounding areas where jobs in crafts and manufacturing were available. Many people in the newer urban areas had strayed from regular church attendance. Political disagreements involving the rule of England over the colonies dominated town meetings. Soon preachers called on the people to mend their ways and get back to godliness and disciplined lives or divine punishment would be coming.

Sure enough, in the 1670s, one catastrophe after another came to the New England area. War with the Indians called the King Philips War in 1675 and 1676 killed between six hundred and one thousand New Englanders and many towns were destroyed or damaged. Approximately three thousand Indians were killed, villages destroyed, and hundreds of captives sold into slavery to the West Indies. Matters only worsened as Boston experienced devastating fires in 1676 and 1679. Smallpox epidemics struck in 1677, 1678, and again in 1690. New Englanders looked for something to blame for their misfortunes. Anxiety and frustrations grew as the colonists feared they had indeed failed in their mission and were feeling God's anger.

In 1679 the Massachusetts General Court called for a general synod [meeting] of New England's clergy to consider what
was causing the terrible events of the 1670s. The synod cited God's displeasure with New Englanders for their immoral behavior, argumentative ways, love of worldly goods, interest in profits, and not working cooperatively with their neighbors. Another problem was belief in magic, with clergymen believing those who used potions and charms and held magic powers were displeasing an all-powerful God. Those who attempted to practice magic, they believed, were being tempted by the devil. The synod gatherings continued throughout the 1680s.


Reverend Samuel Parris from Salem village attended one of the synod gatherings in 1690. In January and February 1692, just before the Salem witch-hunt started, he was preaching that people had failed God and God had abandoned them. Parris insisted all men were evil by nature.

Rather than console his congregation in these difficult times, Parris constantly stirred up trouble in Salem. Yet he claimed the work of the devil was causing all the problems. Villagers were determined to find and punish those responsible; under these circumstances the 1692 Salem witch-hunt began.

Both men and women and occasionally children were accused of witchcraft, but the vast majority were women. The women accused were often poor, widowed, perhaps childless, particularly quarrelsome, or bad tempered. Most were between the ages of forty and sixty, did not attend church, and were in conflict with family friends or neighbors. Those whose lifestyles were outside what was considered normal and proper came under close scrutiny. Examples of deviant life patterns included those who cursed, had questionable morals like prostitutes, and those who wandered the streets, homeless.

Sarah Good

The case of Sarah Good serves as an example of one witchcraft prosecution. Sarah Good was well known in Salem. Penniless, she wandered the streets with her children begging from door to door and sleeping in neighborhood barns. Whether she received a handout or not she would leave a house grumbling and mumbling indistinguishable words. New Englanders believed such utterances, especially if they came from someone dealing with the devil, could cast spells and curses causing physical harm.

Frequently, as in Sarah's case, the sudden death of livestock or crop failure was blamed on a spell cast by a suspected witch. Contact with a witch could also cause an individual to see visions of the supposed witch. The vision would harass and hurt its victim.

In January 1692 Elizabeth Parris, the nine-year-old daughter of Reverend Parris, and Abigail Williams, eleven years old, began exhibiting odd behavior—screaming, having seizures, and going into trance-like states. Unable to find a physical cause, the town doctors attributed the behavior to the influence
of the devil. Other girls began to show similar behavior. Pressed to say who had afflicted them, they named Sarah Good, a slave/maid of Reverend Parris named Tituba, and another town woman Sarah Osborne.

On March 1, 1692, Sarah faced examination by magistrates John Hathorne and Jonathan Cowin. In the following excerpt Sarah says that she is "falsely accused." During the examination, the girls were made to look at Sarah, causing them to be "tormented." Sarah claimed that the words she mumbled leaving houses were words of a Psalm and that she served only God.

Through the next few months depositions were taken from many townspeople including Sarah and Thomas Gadge and seventeen-year-old Elizabeth Hubbard. Sarah and Thomas Gadge claimed after Sarah Good appeared begging at their door, some of their "cowes [cows] died in a sudden, terible [terrible] and strange, unusuall [unusual] maner." Elizabeth Hubbard claimed Sarah Good had appeared in a vision to her and "most greviously afflect and tortor [torture] me." She also claimed to have seen the apparition of Sarah Good hurt Elizabeth Parris, Abigail Williams, and Ann Putnam. In most of the testimonies, witnesses claimed a vision of Sarah Good urged them to "write in hir [her] book." It was believed if someone wrote in a witch's book they too had made a pact with the devil.

Sarah Good was found guilty at her trial and was later sentenced to hang. She showed no remorse and was hanged on July 19, 1692.

Things to remember while reading excerpts from the "Examination of Sarah Good":

  • The Great European witch-hunt began in France in the 1420s. Peaking between 1580 and 1640, witch-hunts spread across Europe particularly to Germany, Switzerland, Poland, Scotland, and England. Thousands were accused and executed for devil worship.
  • Believing in the supernatural, witches, evil spirits, and magic was common among colonists who came from England and Europe.
  • Salem residents believed in witches, but the community was also split into quarreling factions that accused each other of moral failings. Bitter resentment of one family toward another was not uncommon.
  • Most all accusations of witchcraft occurred when one neighbor or family accused another of causing them harm.

Excerpt from the "Examination of Sarah Good"

The examination of Sarah Good before the worshipfull Assts John Harthorn Jonathan Curren

(H) Sarah Good what evil spirit have you familiarity with

(S G) none

(H) have you made no contract with the devil,

Good answered no

(H) why doe you hurt these children

(g) I doe not hurt them. I scorn it.

(H) who doe you imploy then to doe it

(g) I imploy no body,

(H) what creature do you imploy then,

(g) no creature but I am falsely accused

(H) why did you go away muttering from mr Parris his house

(g) I did not mutter but I thanked him for what he gave my child

(H) have you made no contract with the devil

(g) no

(H) desired the children all of them to look upon her, and see, if this were the person that had hurt them and so they all did looke upon her and said this was one of the persons that did torment them—presently they were all tormented.

(H) Sarah good doe you not see now what you have done why doe you not tell us the truth, why doe you thus torment these poor children

(g) I doe not torment them,

(H) who do you imploy then

(g) I imploy nobody I scorn it

(H) how came they thus tormented,

(g) what doe I know you bring others here and now you charge me with it

(H) why who was it

(g) I doe not know but it was some you brought into the meeting house with you

(H) wee brought you into the meeting house

(g) but you brought in two more

(H) Who was it then that tormented the children

(g) it was osburn

(H) what is it that you say when you goe muttering away from persons houses

(g) if I must tell I will tell

(H) doe tell us then

(g) if I must tell I will tell, it is the commandments I may say my commandments I hope

(H) what commandment is it

(g) if I must tell you I will tell, it is a psalm

(H) what psalm

After a long time shee muttered over some part of a psalm

(H) who doe you serve

(g) I serve god

(H) what god doe you serve

The god that made heaven and earth though shee was not willing to mention the word God her answers were in a very wicked, spitfull manner reflecting and retorting aganst the authority with base and abusive words and many lies shee was taken in. it was here said that her housband had said that he was afraid that shee either was a witch or would be one very quickly the worsh mr Harthon [Magistrate Hathorne] asked him his reason why he said so of her whether he had ever seen any thing by her he answered no not in this nature but it was her bad carriage to him and indeed said he I may say with tears that shee is an enimy to all good.

(Salem Village March the 1t 1691/2

Written by Ezekiell Chevers

Salem Village March the 1t 1691/2)

(Essex County Archives, Salem—Witchcraft Vol. 1, page 6). . . .

(Sarah Gadge v. Sarah Good)

The deposition of Sarah Gadge the wife of Thomas Gadge aged about 40 years this deponent testifieth and saith that about two years & an halfe agone; Sarah Good Came to her house & would have come into the house, but s'd Sarah Gadge told her she should not come in for she was afraid she had been with them that had the Smallpox: & with that she fell to mutring [muttering] & scolding extreamly & soe: told s'd Gadge if she would not let her in she shouldgive her something; & she answered she would not have any thing to doe with her & the next morning after to s'd Deponents best remembrance one of s'd Gadges Cowes Died in A Sudden, terible & Strange, unusuall maner soe that some of the neighbors & said Deponent did think it to be done by witchcraft. . . .

(Essex County Archives, Salem—Witchcraft, Vol. 1, page 8 )

(Ann Putnam, Jr. v. Sarah Good)

The Deposition of Ann Putnam Ju'r who testifieth and saith, that on the 25th of February 1691/92 I saw the apperishtion of Sarah good which did tortor [torture] me most greviously but I did not know hir name tell the 27th of February and then she tould me hir name was Sarah good and then she did prick me and pinch me most greviously: and also sense severall times urging me vehemently to writ in hir book and also on the first day of march being the day of hir Examination Sarah good did most greviously tortor me and also severall times sence: and also on the first day of march 1692 I saw the Apperishtion of Sarah Good goe and afflect and tortor the bodys of Elizabeth parish Abigail Williams and Elizabeth Hubburd. . . .

Salem Witch Trials Statistics

In 1692 alone, legal actions were taken in Massachusetts against 154 individuals accused of the crime of witchcraft. While the cases were located throughout Massachusetts, a large number occurred in Salem, so the trials as a whole have come to be called the Salem Witch Trials. Of the 154 prosecutions, 19 ended in execution, 13 of which were women and 6 were men. Four individuals died while in prison and one man was crushed to death under rocks during his interrogation. Of the 154, 42 prosecutions took place in Salem resulting in 10 of the 19 executions. Forty-one occurred in Andover, resulting in three of the 19 executions. Towns where prosecutions also took place were Amesburg (1 executed), Beverly, Gloucester, Haverhill, Lynn, Malden, Marblehead (1 execution), Reading, Rowley, Topsfield (2 executed), Wenham, plus a few others. One execution occurred in Wells, Maine, and records show that the location of one execution is uncertain.

What happened next . . .

By late August some colonists were dismayed by the gruesome hangings taking place in their communities. Many began to wonder if innocent people were dying and there was growing opposition to the trials. On October 8, 1692 Thomas Brattle, a successful, wealthy Boston merchant wrote a widely distributed public letter stating that the chief judge in the trials, William Stoughton, had been overzealous and unwise in his prosecutions.

Brattle called the spectral evidence and supposed ceremonies that witches participated in with the devil mere concoctions of imagination and fantasy. A considerable number of other Massachusetts ministers also spoke out against the witch trials. Having grown skeptical, Massachusetts governor William Phips, who had commissioned the court on May 27 to begin the trials, dissolved the witchcraft court on October 29.

Phips also began to release those still held in jail, including children accused of witchcraft—Abigail and Dorothy Faulkner, Abigail and Stephen Johnson, and Sarah Carrier—all aged from eight to thirteen years. Even those who were in jail after confessing to witchcraft were released. Amazingly, the witnesses who had been afflicted by the released witches suffered no further harm. Although a few charges continued to be made they slowed to a trickle with most dismissed.

In December the Massachusetts General Court passed a new law that better defined precisely what infractions would have to occur for a person to be convicted of being an agent of evil or a wicked spirit. For example, anyone who raised a dead person from the grave or used part of a dead person's body in a ritual of witchcraft could be condemned to death. If anyone used witchcraft-like spells to destroy another's property, they could be imprisoned. The court heard more cases in early 1693 but dismissed nearly all of them.

In Salem, Reverend Parris continued to be involved in community disputes. In July 1697 Parris left Salem for Stowe, Massachusetts. The new reverend, Joseph Green, took immediate action to restore harmony among Salem's residents.

Did you know . . .

  • Only one actual witch-hunt of any size took place in America before 1692. It occurred in Hartford, Connecticut, in 1662. The Hartford hunt resulted in eight prosecutions and four executions.
  • Salem village had about six hundred residents and was part of the larger Salem town. It was known as a community full of disputes and quarreling citizens.
  • If an individual accused of witchcraft confessed, he or she was often spared execution. The public shame and ridicule that came with the confession was usually considered enough of a punishment.

Consider the following . . .

  • Make a list of various happenings that by 1692 caused the Salem residents to begin accusing fellow townspeople as witches.
  • Until 1692 there was great difficulty in legally proving a person was a witch. Do you think judges in the 1692 witchcraft trials felt pressured by their community members to quickly prosecute and convict?
  • What do you think the Salem colonists hoped would result from the conviction and execution of witches?
  • Develop a skit around the witch trial excerpts and present it to the class.

Familiarity: A close relationship.

Two more: Tibuta and Sarah Osburn.

Spitfull manner reflecting and retorting aganst the authority: Disrespectful, rebellious manner.

Base and abusive words: Filthy language; cursing.

Bad carriage: The evil manner in which they acted toward her husband.

Deposition: Testimony taken in writing under oath outside of a trial setting.

Deponent: One who gives evidence in a deposition.

Apperishtion: An apparition; a vision of a spirit-like figure.

Vehemently to writ in hir book: Strongly urged Ann to write in her (Sarah's) book; anyone who signed in a witch's book was making a pact with the devil.

For More Information


Aronson, Marc. Witch-Hunt: Mysteries of the Salem Witch Trials. New York: Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 2003.

Boyer, Paul, and Stephen Nissenbaum, eds. The Salem Witchcraft Papers: Verbatim Transcripts of the Legal Documents of the Salem Witchcraft Outbreak of 1692. Vol. 2. New York: Da Capo Press, 1977.

Hill, Frances. Delusion of Satan: The Full Story of the Salem Witch Trials. New York: Da Capo Press, 1997.

Le Beau, Bryan F. The Story of the Salem Witch Trials. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall, 1998.

Norton, Mary Beth. In the Devil's Snare: The Salem Witchcraft Crisis of 1692. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2002.

Taylor, Alan. American Colonies. New York: Viking, 2001.

Web Sites

Salem Witch Museum. (accessed on August 24, 2004).

"What About Witches." Salem, Massachusetts, City Guide.http://www. (accessed on August 24, 2004).