Mather, Cotton and Cheever, Ezekiel
Mather, Cotton and Cheever, Ezekiel
The Salem Trials: Interrogation of Susannah Martin
Reprinted in Eyewitness to America in 1997
Edited by David Colbert
Cotton Mather, a Boston minister and a strong supporter of witch-hunts, and Ezekial Cheever, a court clerk, wrote an account of the Salem trials of 1692-93. The following excerpt shows a typical exchange, in this case between a magistrate (judge; here unnamed) and an accused witch, Susannah Martin. Mather and Cheever supposedly provided a "report" on the Salem trials, yet Mather in particular was later faulted for fueling the witch-hunt mania. The account of the interrogation of Martin is an example of how Mather and Cheever presented events from a biased point of view.
Things to remember while reading Interrogation of Susannah Martin:
- Susannah Martin was a sixty-seven-year-old widow who freely spoke her mind and denied all charges against her.
- Note that, in the opening of this excerpt, Mather and Cheever had already concluded Martin was a witch. They saw spectral (ghostly) evidence in her behavior: "The cast of Martin's eye struck people to the ground, whether they saw that cast or not." In other words, she had put a spell on the witnesses by giving them the "evil eye." (Believers in the supernatural thought a witch was capable of inflicting harm with a single glance.)
- During the interview with the magistrate Martin engaged in extensive word play, evading his questions and leaving his statements open to interpretation. Their exchange is an example of the Puritan belief that witches could make evil spirits invade the body of a human being. For instance, the magistrate referred to "their Master" (the devil), "Black Art" (witchcraft), and Martin's "Appearance" (the form she took as a witch).
From Interrogation of Susannah Martin
Susannah Martin pleaded Not Guilty to theindictment of witch-craft brought in against her.
indictment: formal accusation
The evidence of many persons very sensibly andgrievously bewitched was produced. . . .
The cast of Martin's eye struck people to the ground, whether they saw that cast or not.
These were among the passages between theMagistrates and the Accused:
MAGISTRATE: "Pray, whatails these people?"
MARTIN: "I don't know."
MAGISTRATE: "But what do you think ails them?"
MARTIN: "I don't desire to spend my judgement upon it."
MAGISTRATE: "Don't you think they are bewitched?"
MARTIN: "No, I do not think they are."
MAGISTRATE: "Tell us your thoughts about them then."
MARTIN: "No, my thoughts are my own, when they are in; but when they are out they are another's. Their Master—"
MAGISTRATE: "Their Master? Who do you think is their Master?"
MARTIN: "If they be dealing in theBlack Art, then you may know as well as I."
MAGISTRATE: "Well, what have you done towards this?"
MARTIN: "Nothing at all."
MAGISTRATE: "Why, 'tis you or yourAppearance. "
MARTIN: "I cannot help it."
MAGISTRATE: "Is it not your Master? How comes your Appearance to hurt these?
MARTIN: "How do I know? He that appeared in the shape of Samuel, a glorified Saint, may appear in anyone's shape."
It was noted that in her, as in others like her, that if theafflicted went to approach her, they were flung down to the ground. And, when she was asked the reason of it, she said, "I cannot tell. It may be the Devil bears me moremalice than another."
grievously: causing grief
bewitched: to have a spell cast over
Magistrates: officials of the court
ails: to be ill
Black Art: evil magic, witchcraft
Appearance: the form taken when a witch
afflicted: one in great distress
What happened next . . .
Along with many other accused witches, after this interrogation Martin was found guilty and later hanged. She was one of twenty victims of the Salem hysteria.
Did you know . . .
- There is a memorial in Amesbury, Massachusetts, in memory of Susannah Martin. The plaque on a stone commemorating her memory stands on the former site of Martin's home, and states: "Here stood the house of Susanna Martin. An honest, hardworking, Christian woman. Accused as a witch, tried and executed at Salem, July 19, 1692. A martyr of superstition."
For Further Study
Colbert, David, ed. Eyewitness to AMerica. New York: Pantheon Books, 1997.
Discovery Online—A Village Possessed: A True Story of Witchcraft.http://www.discovery.com/stories/history/witches/witches.html (Accessed July 7, 2000).
Hansen, Chadwick. Witchcraft at Salem. New York: George Braziller, 1969.
Hill, Frances. A Delusion of Satan: The Full Story of the Salem Witch Trials. New York: Doubleday, 1995.
Kallen, Stuart A. The Salem Witch Trials. San Diego, California: Lucent Books, 1999.