By Dara Cook
You all have probably heard about The Salem Witch Trials and the atrocities that a group of hysterical and superstitious people committed. But have you ever heard about the man who allegedly cursed Salem and its sheriffs from then on?
When the witch trials began Giles Corey and his wife Martha were some of the first people to attend the trials. They sat enthralled while neighbor after neighbor viciously accused each other of superstitious wickedness.
Soon, though, that would come back to haunt them.
Martha began to doubt the accusations and begged Giles to stop attending and stay away from the trials. In the spirit of the time everyone began to suspect Martha.
Martha was soon arrested and tried and her husband Giles even testified against her! Then less than a month later the chickens came home to roost. Giles Corey was accused of practicing witchcraft against his neighbors, The Putnams. He was arrested and quickly brought to trial.
Witnesses came forth making all kinds of accusations and writhed and hollered as he “conjured” against them in the court room. Corey quickly changed his mind about the trials. He became wise and decided to “stand mute” and never entered a plea which ground his trial to a halt. Under English law if a prisoner stood mute the sheriff was to torture them until an answer was given (Thank God for the 5th amendment in the constitution! God bless the USA!)
In September of 1692 Sheriff Corwin stripped Giles naked, made him lay on the ground, and put a board over his chest and kept adding stones until Giles cried out and answered with a plea. Giles was a tough old bird though and the torture lasted 2-3 days. Giles was heard to holler “More weight!” every time the Sheriff began to interrogate him.
After days of this very public and painful torture Corey began to succumb to his injuries. Before he died he let out a gurgling shout at his tormentor, “Damn you! I curse you and all of Salem!”.
Because of the horrific way Corey died, public attention was brought to the outrageous and distasteful system of The Salem With Trials. Many citizens began to rethink the trials and the mass hysteria seemed to blow over.
“This man [Giles Corey] was eighty-one years old; and the barbarous death penalty inflicted on him by the officers of the law, tended to awaken the people to a realization of the grave responsibility resting on them as a Christian community. Doubts began to be felt in the public mind as to the justice of the prosecutions, and the inevitable sentence, and execution.” (Source: A Historical sketch of Salem)
Peace was finally brought to Salem…or so it seemed.
4 years later, Sheriff Corwin died of a massive heart attack at the young age of 30. Local legend says that Giles not only cursed Corwin, but every Salem sheriff from then on.
“About 300 years later, in 1978, Robert Cahill – while in office – suffered a rare blood disease, a heart attack and a stroke. Doctors could not find the cause of his afflictions. He was forced to retire as sheriff of Essex County and as Master and Keeper of the jail. Today he lives in Florida. Mr. Cahill notes that the sheriff before him also contracted a serious blood ailment while in office; it forced him to retire. He, in turn, had inherited the post from his father after the elder man died of a heart attack…while serving as sheriff. The previous sheriff had suffered heart problems as well. ‘So have all the others, as far back as I could trace,’ he says. ‘And the two men who have followed me have had an awful lot of [legal] trouble.’” (Source: Cursed in New England by Cahill)
Legend goes that since the jail was moved from Salem to Middleton in 1991 the curse was broken and spared the future sheriffs.