More About Site of the Salem Courthouse in 1692

The Court of Oyer and Terminer (“to hear and determine”) was created by Governor William Phips in May of 1692. The court consisted of Chief Justice William Stoughton, plus nine successful merchants, landowners, and politicians of the day. They were: Jonathan Corwin, Bartholomew Gedney, John Hathorne, John Richards, Nathaniel Saltonstall, Peter Sargeant, Samuel Sewall, and Wait Winthrop.

 

The court convened here for the trials of Bridget Bishop (June 2); Sarah Good, Susannah Martin, Rebecca Nurse, Elizabeth How, and Sarah Wildes (around June 28); Martha Carrier, John and Elizabeth Proctor, John Willard, George Jacobs, and George Burroughs (August 2-5); Martha Corey, Mary Easty, Ann Parker, Mary Parker, Ann Pudeator, Dorcas Hoar, and Mary Bradbury (week of September 2); and Wilmott Redd, Samuel Wardwell, and Margaret Scott (September 13). Nineteen were convicted and executed by hanging. Giles Corey was also questioned here but refused to stand trial and was pressed to death.

 

No more executions took place after September 22. The Court of Oyer and Terminer was dissolved by Governor Phips and replaced by a Superior Court in December of 1692. Additional trials were held in the Salem Courthouse in 1693, as more than 50 accused were still languishing in jail. Twenty-six cases were dismissed without charges. Of the remaining, three were found guilty ­— Sarah Wardwell (widow of Samuel Wardwell, executed in September), Betty Johnson, and Mary Post — and the rest were found not guilty. In the end, the three convicted women were reprieved by Phips, which greatly angered Chief Justice William Stoughton. He would have liked to see them hang.

 

Additional note: The building where the witch trials occurred was the second Town House erected in Salem, located in the middle of Washington Street from 1677 until 1740. A third Town House was built about 1720, next to and west of the First Church on Essex Street. According to Salem historian Joseph Felt, “Credible tradition relates that the building connected with such prominent events stood over twenty years after its successor was erected. The lower part of it served for a school, while the floor of the old court above was mostly taken up, except where the seats of the judges and juries were located. Here the boys would sometimes collect before master came, and play over the scene, once acted there in dread reality, of trying witches.”

 

There is a marker on the outside of the Masonic Temple building at 70 Washington Street (on the west side of the street), noting the location of the Courthouse in 1692.