Massachusetts Bay Colony
“Miriam Lancaster, you have been condemned by the colony for the practice of witchcraft,” “You are hereby sentenced to death by hanging for your crimes.”
Chief Justice William Stoughton’s gavel rang out as he delivered her sentence, the only sound in the crowded room that day.
“You will be taken to the Galley at once.”
Miriam said nothing, only hung her head low as her three-year-old daughter clung tightly to the tattered hem of her dark green skirt. Tears rolled down the girl’s chubby face, spilling to the floor.
It was one week earlier that Miriam had been taken from her home by a group of her fellow Puritans; their tall flaming torches held high as if to ward off the devil they had insisted lived within her.
There had been strange occurrences surrounding the village for months prior to the witch trials-young girls began to fall ill with fever, delusions, and pain. One by one like small insects, they dropped to the ground, writhing in agony, crying out accusations of witchcraft.
Had they not been fed tall tales of witchery and the devil by a West Indian slave, such occurrences may not have happened. With a war raging and a small pox epidemic still looming close, the townspeople of Salem had found themselves vulnerable and afraid; open to deceit and even the tales of five young girls.
The deeply religious Puritans took the word of the young girls as sacred, and set in motion a spree of hateful accusations and death.
Miriam had been in the garden that day, tending to her summer greens, and singing a light tune when the flame-wielding group appeared before her, demanding that she be sentenced for her crimes, and washed clean of her sins.
Unknowing of what exactly she stood accused, Miriam agreed to go with them, taking one last look at her daughter as she walked away. Once in the open, the men grabbed at her wrists and hair, pulling so hard that her scalp swelled with each tug. Her wrists became raw and red, blood beginning to flow.
“You, woman are being condemned for your evil actions upon our peaceful community,” “You shall burn for what you have done!”
Miriam tried desperately to free herself from their grasp, to get home to her little girl who was no doubt gripped with fear. She was struck upon the head for her effort, and rendered unconscious.
The fight was over, and she was on the losing end; to be hanged for crimes against humanity, for being just the slightest bit different from the rest. She had been raised with these people, settled this land with them, and made her home among them.
Yet, she did not share in their superstition, nor did she care for some of what they practiced as a people. Her poor little girl was now at their mercy, and she shuddered to think of what may become of her; a suspected witch’s child.
She was an independent little one full of fiest and molasses; and Miriam had loved her from her first breath. Her father had passed just years before, and Miriam was the only family she had. She thought of how fearful her daughter must have been; standing alone in their home, blonde curls pulled back with a ribbon, holding a teddy bear at her side, tattered and worn, her only source of comfort.
“Miss Lancaster, you will now be escorted,” the justice’ loud voice boomed her back to reality.
Miriam quickly pecked her baby on the head, praying silently for her future.
“I love you my dear Lizzie,” she stared back at the girl as a single tear began to form in her eye.
Goodbye, my baby.
“Mama!” The little girl ran after the crowd surrounding her mother, scared and confused. She ran along the rows of people gathered in the streets chanting death. She ran without stopping, dust filling her big green eyes, until they had reached Gallows Hill.
Two men set her mother up high on a platform and quickly slipped the noose tightly ‘round her neck.
“Hhehmm,” a young gentleman spoke, his voice quivering slightly, giving away his obvious inexperience.
“Miriam Lancaster, you have been given a sentence of death, and such execution shall be carried out today,” “What say you, madam witch?”
Miriam raised her head slowly, staring into the hushed crowd. The evil in her eyes apparent, she spoke.
“Damn you all to hell!” Her eyes narrowed in sheer hatred. Suddenly the anger was replaced with sadness as she shouted, “I love you Lizzie!”
With that, little Elizabeth Lancaster watched in horror as the old wooden platform gave way. Her mother’s body struggled and writhed momentarily, then went limp. The silent crowd erupted with cheer, shouting with delight at the death of their suspected witch.
Silently, one by one, they began to stone the dead woman’s body, shaking the devil from her. No one cared about the little girl standing in the crowd, eyes bulging in disbelief at the mangled lifeless body of her dear mother.
The body was taken away and burned, the ashes floating high into the sky on a warm sunny day. Eighteen others were hanged that summer, one by one the villagers gathered on the hill, chanting and stoning. It was to be the largest and worst massacre of their time.
Eventually, a new court was appointed to preside over the witch trials-this court would not allow for speculative evidence against the condemned. Each of the one hundred fifty men and women awaiting their deaths were pardoned and released.
The Salem witch trials were over.