Corey, Giles (d. 1692)

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Executed in the Salem Witches
hysteria of 1692–93 by being pressed to death for not
acknowledging the right of the court to try him on
charges of witchcraft.
Giles Corey was a well-to-do man of Salem Town, in
his 80s when the hysteria started. He owned a farm of 100
acres and other properties as well. Though hardworking,
he was not entirely well regarded, having a reputation
for being quarrelsome and “scandalous.” Long before the
hysteria, Corey was regarded as the reason for just about
anything that went bad in Salem Town. In 1676, he was
rumored to have beaten a farmhand who subsequently
died. Corey was arrested and charged with murder, but
the jury found him not guilty, believing the man to have
died of a non-related disease. Corey paid a fine and was
set free.
Two years later, Corey was in court again, this time in
a lawsuit brought by a laborer over a wage dispute. The
court found against Corey.
He was married to Martha Corey, his third wife, who
was condemned as a witch and hung on September 22,
1692. When the hysteria began in early 1692, Corey believed
in witches as the cause of the girls’ afflictions. He
differed with Martha, who was skeptical.
Corey did not distinguish himself as the hysteria
spread and Martha became one of the victims. In fact, he
even spoke against her and was willing to testify against
her in her trial. Then he defended her innocence, denying
things he’d said, thus making himself out to be a liar—
one of the gravest of sins in Puritan eyes.
The tables turned on him when the afflicted girls cried
out against him, calling him a wizard and saying they
had seen his specter about town. Corey may have seen the
handwriting on the wall, for he made out a will bequeathing
his properties and possessions to two of his sons-inlaw.
He then refused to answer his indictment. Under the
laws of New England, a person who refused to answer an
indictment could not be tried. If Corey could not be tried
and found guilty, then his properties could not be seized
by the state.
However, the law allowed such a person to be tortured
until they either answered or died. The torture method
chosen for Corey was pressing. Corey was excommunicated
on September 14, 1692. He was taken out into a field
and staked to the ground. A wooden plank was placed
over his body and then heavy stones were laid on top of
the plank. The weight was increased until Corey literally
was pressed to death. For two days he lay in agony, until
at last he expired. The weight pushed his tongue out
of his mouth. Sheriff Richard Corwin took his cane and
pushed the tongue back in.
According to lore, Corey was asked repeatedly to answer
the indictment, but replied only “More weight!” His
ghost is said to haunt the area where he died.
Corey’s excommunication was reversed on March 2,
1712.