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The Pressing of Giles Corey
I remember seeing a movie when I was a kid that made a memorable impression on me for some reason. The movie was called Crowhaven Farm, and it starred the late Hope Lange playing a character named Meg Corey. I believe the character Lange played was supposed to have been a descendant of a woman who belonged to a coven of witches hundreds of years earlier. At the end of the movie, she was killed by having a board or an old door placed over her supine body, and people in the town put more and more heavy rocks on top of the board until she finally died. This was called “pressing.”
Not only in Salem, Massachusetts, but in all of the United States of America, only one person has been killed in this fashion, and his name was Giles Corey.
Giles, and his wife, Martha, lived on a farm in the village of Salem. In the spring of 1692, when young teenage girls in the town started accusing people of witchcraft, Martha expressed her doubt in the validity of the girls’ claims. Big mistake! The girls then accused Martha of being a witch! Ann Putnam told the executor at the Salem witch trials, John Hathorne, that she had seen Martha praying to the devil one evening.
Martha was arrested and placed in jail until her trial date. Oddly, initially, her husband testified against her. Though, it wasn’t long before he protested his wife being treated in this manner. The girls retaliated by accusing Giles of being “a dreadful wizard,” who had beaten and tortured them.
On April 18, the 80 year old Giles was arrested and placed in prison with his wife. The trial date was not scheduled until the following September.
Giles Corey was an uneducated man, but he was no fool. He knew what would happen in this mockery of a trial. He also knew that his farm would become the property of the state if he was convicted.
The law at that time stated that “a person who refused to plead could not be tried.” If Giles refused to stand trial, upon his death, his property would go to his two sons-in-law as set forth in his will.
The penalty for refusing to stand trial was a harsh one: “death by pressing under heavy stones.”
On the 19th of September, Giles was taken from his cell by Sheriff George Corwin, and led to a pit in an open field. His clothes were removed. Boards were placed upon his chest and stomach. Heavy stones were piled on the board one by one by six men. Corey didn’t cry out at all, and was continuously asked over the two-day period how he would plead, guilty or innocent. The courageous Giles only asked for more rocks. His tongue and eyes bulged out. Using his cane, the Sheriff forced his tongue back into his mouth.
Eventually, “his chest gave way and he expired.” Giles Corey’s last words were, “more weight!” Martha was hanged along with six others a few days later, on September 22, on Gallows Hill. “These seven prisoners were the last to be executed by order of the court.”
Legend says that Giles Corey cursed the town. There have been reports of a “strange old man” being sighted at the place where he was pressed to death. Additionally, “every person to hold the position of Sheriff in Essex County,” including Sheriff George Corwin, has died in office or has been forced out of office due to health issues. Many of the men who have held the office have also reported waking up “in the night to see a strange old man in their bedrooms and feeling a crushing weight on their chests.”
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