The Death Warrant of Bridget Bishop captures the horror of the Salem witch trials that took place between 1692 and 1693. Bridget Bishop was one of 26 people in and around Salem, Massachusetts convicted of witchcraft. Fourteen women, including Bridget Bishop, and five men were put to death by hanging. One man was crushed to death by heavy stones in an attempt to force him to enter a plea.
There have been many shameful acts of organized violence, coercion, and even murder in American history, including the lynching of blacks and the wholesale extermination of Native Americans. But the murder of Bridget Bishop, along with the executions of the other so-called Salem witches in colonial Massachusetts, is one of the most appalling in that it was done through an official court process.
The Salem witch trials ended as shockingly as they did partly because there was no separation of church and state in the Puritan colonies of 17th century New England. Radical Protestants, who had left Europe in search of religious freedom, imposed their beliefs on others, and civil courts became the tools of religious zealots.
Drawing lessons from the Salem witch trials and other instances of religious fervor infringing on civil liberties, the framers of the U.S. Constitution prohibited any law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof" in the First Amendment of the Bill of Rights.
To George Corwin Gentm high Sheriffe of the County of Essex. Greeting.
Whereas Bridgett Bishop als Oliver the wife of Edward Bishop of Salem in the County of Essex, Sawyer, at a speciall court of Oyer and Terminer held at Salem the second Day of this instant month of June for the Countyes of Essex' Middlesex' and Suffolk before William Stoughton esquire and his Associate Justices of the said Court was Indicted and arraigned upon five severall Indictments for useing practiceing and exercising on the nyneteenth day of April last past and divers other dayes and time before and after certain acts of Witchcraft in and upon the bodyes of Abigail Williams Ann puttnam Junior Mercy Lewis Mary Walcott and Elizabeth Hubbard of Salem Village Singlewomen whereby their bodyes were hurt afflicted pined, consumed Wasted and tormented contrary to the forme of the Statute in that Case made and provided.
To which Indictment the said Bridgett Bishop pleaded not guilty and for tryall thereof put herselfe upon God and her Country whereupon she was found guilty of the felonys and witchcrafts whereof she stood Indicted and sentence of Death accordingly passed against her as the Law, directs.
Execution where of yet remains to be done.
These are therefore in the name of their Majesties William and Mary now King and Queen over England to will and Comand you That upon Fryday next being the Tenth day of this instant month of June betweene the hours of Eight and twelve in the aforenoon of the same day you safely conduct the sd Bridget Bishop als Oliver from their Majesties Goal in Salem aforesd to the place of Execution and there cause her to be hanged by the neck untill she be dead. and of your doings herein make returne to the Clerke of the sd Court and precept.
And hereof you are not to faile at your peril.
And this shall be your sufficient Warrant. Given under my hand and seal at Boston the Eighth day of June in the fourth yeer of the Reigne of our Sovereigne Lord and Lady William and Mary now King and Queen over England &c Annoq Dom 1692.
June 10th 1692
According to the within Written precept I have taken the body of the within named Boigett Bishop out of theire Majesties Goale in Salem and Safely Conveighed her to the place provided for her Execution and caused ye sd Brigett to be hanged by the neck until shee was dead all which was according to the time within Required and So I make Returne by me
George Corwin Sheriff.