Monday, September 19, 2011

Today In History: A pressing engagement.

In the 21st Century, teenage flights of paranormal fantasy have made Stephanie Meyer richer than God's accountant and turned the pasty, sunken-chested Robert Pattinson into the most unlikely adolescent heartthrob since Donny Osmond.

In the 17th Century, more or less the same teeny-bopper tendencies resulted in an outbreak of hysteria in Salem, Massachusetts that saw nineteen people hanged as witches for the crime of "witchcraft" after being fingered as such by the local Tiger Beat brigade.

On this date in 1692, Giles Corey, largely on the testimony of a thirteen year-old girl who claimed that his ghostly apparition had appeared to her and asked her to "write in the Devil's book", expired while trying to draw his last breath under a massive pile of rocks, placed there to encourage him to confess enter a plea.


Bob said...

Peine forte et dure, also known as crushing to death, was used not to extract confessions, but as incentive to force a defendant to make a plea, either of guilty or not guilty. Defendants who died without making a plea did not have their property confiscated by the Crown.

Fuzzy Curmudgeon said...

Never trust anyone under 18.

Tam said...


True. (Which is not to say that there wasn't a preference as to which plea they'd enter... ;) )

Bob said...

@Tam: That goes without saying, as someone famously said.

Lewis said...

Well, sure, we look back on it today and think it doesn't quite square with the 8th Amendment, and that there might have been some procedural issues that don't pass the modern smell test, but he never appeared in ghostly form again, asking little girls to write in the Devil's book! Pressing has a lower recidivism rate than plain ol' incarceration, I tell you what.

Ancient Woodsman said...

Were you foreshadowing in your last line, two posts down?

"Talk about getting stuck between a rock and a hard place."

John Stephens said...

I'd just like to point out that what Giles Corey would have used that last breath for is to dare the Sheriff to pile on even MORE rocks. Truly Badass.

karrde said...

And Wiki says that witch-hunts were mostly a late-Medieval European phenomenon.

As in, Charlemagne condemned and proposed a punishment on people who wanted to hunt witches!

Learn something new every day.

fast richard said...

RE: recidivism

Death doesn't end adolescent fantasies. There are women in their sixties and seventies today, who still have adolescent fantasies about Elvis Presley, or James Dean. Giles Corey could have been the subject of such fantasies long after the pressing.

Firehand said...

I had to search the name to find out who Meyer is; apparently I'm even more out of the 'what's popular' loop than I thought

Joel said...

Never trust anyone under 18.

Never trust anybody with a monopoly on violence and a big pile of rocks.

And thanks, Tam. Thoughts of being crushed or hanged are exactly the way I prefer to start my day.

Ed Foster said...

Years ago I was helping a buddy from an old New England family (the name is Worthen) trace his ancestry. One of his ancestresses was a lady who was executed for having clean shoes on a rainy, muddy day.

Interestingly, virtually all of Chris's people were Welsh, originally from the Welsh colony around Amesbury. They migrated south over the years, and bumped into the English in a town called Salem.

All but two of those executed for witchcraft were Welsh, while accused English people, having strong family connections in the community, were mostly given penetence or an occasional whipping.

In his Henries,Shakespeare goes into quite a lot of detail concerning the innate "witchiness" of the Welsh. Evidently the prejudice sold well with the groundlings.

The Lodge family made quite a bit of money in the confiscation and resale of "witch" owned property, and went on to more or less own Massachusetts for the next few centuries.

Poor old Barbara was quite a lady. After her sentence of execution was passed,she made an impassioned speech denying the existence of witches and expressing her contempt for superstitious fools.

Evidently it never occured to the jury that a polite lady might stop and wipe her shoes off before knocking on someone elses door, rather than flying.

In our research, we also discovered that people were taxed on their consumption of hard cider, with children assumed to polish off two pints a day, women half a gallon, and men twice that amount.

Thinking about it, I'm not really suprised they saw witches flying around.

It has contributed to American folklore though. Our standard depiction of a witch is still an elderly woman in a high peaked,flat-brimmed Welch hat and black widow's weeds.

karrde said...

Even more intereing, old man Increase Mather (father of Cotton Mather, and influential spiritual leader in Mass. Colony) said something like this:

"It were better that Ten Suspected Witches should escape, than that one Innocent Person should be Condemned".

Sounds like a good idea to me.

Bubblehead Les. said...

But after seeing so many stories about Modern Court Cases and their Outcomes, perhaps Modern Teenage Adolescent Fantasies are still being used in some of these Judgements?

Justthisguy said...

Hmm. I've always thought that Mike Williamson guy was a bit strange, and he claims to be a Pagan too! Burn him! (but not before his next book comes out in paperback)

Heath J said...

"More Weigh"

Guy had some stones.

I'd like the think he meant "More weight, bitches", but ran out of air. At the very least it was implied.

Unknown said...

"nineteen people hanged..." Mary Easty was my 9th great-grandmother. She was in good company.