She was known for her piety and church attendance. She became an easy target for the young girls who were accusing everyone of witchcraft when she publicly denounced them. She did not believe in witches or warlocks which put her at odds with many in leadership. Once she publicly denounced them the girls quickly put accusations on her.
Early Years and Marriages
Martha was probably around 1620 and by the time of the trials, she was in her 70s.
She had an illegitimate son of mixed-race named Benoni. The father is never named, but her husband Henry Rich seemed to accept him as his own. This son was known by all and was proof of Martha’s checkered past, but she would redeem herself in their eyes.
Martha would become one of the most respected women in the community. She was known for her piety, church attendance, and love of family. Her children adored her as did her husband.
After the death of her first husband, she married a wealthy farmer named Giles Corey.
Trial and Execution
The Salem community was surprised when Martha Corey was accused of witchcraft. Her reputation and the fact she had been officially admitted to the Salem Village Church the year prior had put her in good standing with many.
However, it should not have come as a surprise. At this point in the trials, it was clear that anyone who questioned the credibility of the accusers would eventually be accused. This was seen in the Trial of John Proctor who questioned the use of spectral evidence and then ended up being accused of witchcraft.
Corey was vocal against the witch trials. She did not believe in witches or warlocks and also believed the accusers were lying. When she was accused she obviously believed that she would be exonerated and she did not take the hysteria seriously.
As the girls testified against her during the examination, Corey asked the judge not to believe the rantings of hysterical children and continued to make similar claims throughout the Salem Witch Trials, so this combination made it easy for the afflicted girls to create a story accusing Corey.
The girls began mimicking her movements as if they were being controlled by her. Mercy Lewis called out, “There’s a man he whispered in her ear.” John Hathorne asked Lewis if the man was Satan, then shortly Ann Putnam Jr. cried out that Martha Corey had a yellow bird sucking on her hand, which was enough evidence to persuade the jury of her guilt.
By accusing her, the Putnam family established their power in the town and showed that they would willingly attack anyone who openly doubted their motives and authority.
She was hanged on September 22, 1692. She was 72 years old.
After this, accusations escalated across social boundaries, and over one hundred women were eventually accused of witchcraft.
The trial and death of Martha Corey sent shockwaves throughout the town and caused many to question whether these trials were fair. Folks began to doubt the young ladies who seemed to be accusing anyone that questioned them.
It is ironic that the accusers seemed to be so powerful. They were never accused of witchcraft despite their obvious hysteria. Judge and jury believed these ridiculous accusations and allowed the use of spectral evidence which made it extremely hard to prove innocence since the accusers could change their story or have a vision at a moment’s notice.