Sarah Good and the Salem Witch Trials

read about one of the accused people during the witch trials

Penniless, pregnant, and pugnacious! Say what you like, but Sarah Good was no weak woman. A disadvantaged down-and-out, Good was clear-cut for a witchcraft conviction. Indeed, Salem’s Sarah Good was executed for little more than being unliked. Yet Good was officially indicted on “certain detestable arts called witchcraft and sorceries, wickedly and feloniously hath used, practised and exercised, at and within the township of Salem within the county of Essex aforesaid.” Good’s was even the first warrant for arrest in Salem’s Witch Trials.

What history haunts Salem’s brave beggard? How was this bold woman blamed for black magic?

Woman on the Margins

First, Good was born in 1653 to a prosperous innkeeper, John Solart. Yet Solart committed suicide in 1672, leaving his estate to his widow Elizabeth and their nine children. Elizabeth soon remarried, however, and Solart’s estate went to Elizabeth’s new groom. Good, one of seven daughters, received nothing.

It’s no surprise that Good then married former indentured servant Daniel Poole, though Poole furthered Good’s poverty. Indeed, upon Poole’s death, Good was left with colossal debt. Her second marriage to William Good satisfied the creditors but left both Sarah and William dispossessed. By 1962, Sarah and William were destitute.

Charity provided little food or housing, so Good was forced to beg. When ignored, Good would “curse” those who had neglected her – an act that would be used against her in Salem’s Witch Trials. Good’s reputation as a socially disagreeable, disadvantaged down-and-out made her an easy target for a witchcraft conviction.

“Witches” Wanted for Arrest

Sarah Good was wanted for witchcraft on February 25, 1692. Good, along with Tituba and Sarah Osborne, had been accused of afflicting Betty Parris and Abigail Williams with “strange fits.” Betty and Abigail had made bizarre utterances, uncontrollably thrashed and threw their bodies. When Dr. Williams Griggs could find no “natural” cause for the convulsions, he credited the episodes to witchcraft. His “diagnosis”? Betty and Abigail were “under an evil hand.”

Imprisoned While Pregnant

Good was pregnant at the time of her indictment, though her pregnancy didn’t prevent her imprisonment. She was instead shuffled from Ipswich to Salem Jail. Good even gave birth during her incarceration, yet the infant died from the cell’s uninhabitable conditions. Tragic? You bet.

Even Good’s four-year-old daughter had been held in Salem Jail!

Sarah Good on Trial

According to Salem’s Story Bernard Rosenthal, Sarah Good was the first placed on trial because she was, to Salem Village, the easiest to execute. Good was a pregnant pauper; her marginalization meant she would find few defendants. At the time of her examination, Good was described as “a forlorn, friendless, and forsaken creature.” Good even matched Salem’s image of the “witch” – Good, who was 38, looked as if she was 70. Her brutal life had led to the premature greying of her hair and the leathery texture of her skin. To Salem Village, Sarah Good “fit the part.”

Evidence Against Sarah Good

Her trial took place at the house of Nathaniel Ingersalls on March 1. Although she was first accused of afflicting Betty and Abigail, at least five others implicated her in witchcraft. Those who testified against Good include Johanna Childin, Susannah Sheldon, Samuel and Mary Abbey, Sarah and Thomas Gadge, Joseph and Mary Herrick, Henry Herrick, Jonathan Batchelor, William Batten, and William Shaw. Sarah Abbey testified that Sarah Good had been “spiteful” and “malicious.” Abbey thought that Good was to blame for the inexplicable illnesses of her cattle. Sarah Gadge, too, claimed that Good had killed one of Gadge’s cows. Few, if any, defended Sarah Good.

Good maintained her innocence, though one of the “afflicted” girls alleged that she had been stabbed by Good’s specter while Good remained on stand. A knife was found on the girl, yet was subsequently claimed by a man who acknowledged that he had discarded the knife the day before. Although the girl was reprimanded for falsehood, Sarah Good was kept on trial.

The evidence against her was spectral, unproven, or, as in the case of the knife, verifiably false. Sarah Good was punished for little more than being unliked. It’s even been said that, "there was no one in the country around against whom popular suspicion could have been more readily directed, or in whose favor and defense less interest could be awakened."

Even Good’s husband William had testified against her. William had cautioned Goody Ingersoll about a wart on his wife’s right shoulder – a witches’ teat, suspected William.

Which Witch?

During her examination, Sarah Good was blamed for black magic by Tituba – a fellow “witch.” Tituba claimed that Sarah Good and Sarah Osburne had laid upon her, telling her that if she would not hurt the children, they would hurt her. Sarah Good, in response, blamed Sarah Osborne yet maintained her own innocence. Tituba “confessed” to witchcraft, and Good and Osborne were sent to jail.

Dorcas Good

During Good’s interrogation, her four-year-old daughter Dorothy “confessed” to witchcraft. Dorothy’s confession implicated Good for black magic, though some believe that Dorothy only “confessed” so that she could be reunited with her mother. Dorothy likewise alleged that her mother had gifted her a snake, or a “witches’ familiar.” Dorothy then showed the magistrates where the snake had sucked her blood, though some suspect that the wound was little more than a flea bite. Dorothy, who bit and pinched her interrogators, was, too, accused of witchcraft. Dorothy remained imprisoned for nine months at Salem Jail, an indefensible experience which left Dorothy mentally impaired.

The Execution of Sarah Good

Although Sarah was convicted on June 29, Good wasn’t executed until July 19. Lore maintains that when the Reverend Nicholas Noye asked Good to confess to witchcraft, Good screamed. "You're a liar! I'm no more a witch than you are a wizard! If you take my life away, God will give you blood to drink!"

What’s spooky? Reverend Nicholas Noye suffered an internal hemorrhage in 1717; he died from choking on his own blood.

Good was hanged until death on July 16 at Proctor’s Ledge alongside four other women who had been convicted of witchcraft. It’s thought that her soul still lingers there today.

After the Execution of Sarah Good

After Good’s execution, William Good sued the Court of Oyer and Terminer for damages done to his wife and daughter. William received thirty pounds in compensation – one of the largest granted to victims of Salem’s Witch Trials. William cited that the trials had lead to the “destruction of [his] poor family,” and that Dorothy, “a child of 4 or 5 years old was in prison 7 or 8 months and being chain'd in the dungeon was so hardly used and terrified that she hath ever since been very chargeable having little or no reason to govern herself.”

William’s restitution was peculiar since his testimony had contributed to Good’s imprisonment, persecution, and parting. William had implicated his wife in witchcraft. Why should he be recompensed?

Fact or Fable

Legend often shows Sarah Good as a despondent, distressed woman with little determination or drive. Indeed, The New England Magazine stated that Good had “long been counted a melancholy or distracted woman.” Upham, The New England Magazine upheld, thought Good “broken down by the wretchedness of her condition and ill-repute.” Yet her reactions recorded within her trials shows a woman of courage and candor. Good, the magazine continues, “appears to have answered with a fair degree of spirit. During most of the first week in March, while on trial before the local magistrates, Sarah Good was taken to Ipswich jail every night and returned in the morning, a distance of about ten miles each way. From the testimony of her keepers and the officers who escorted her to and from jail, we learn that she exhibited considerable animation. She leaped off her horse three times, railed at the magistrates, and endeavored to kill herself.”

How did Sarah Good, with a “fair degree of spirit,” come to be known as a “melancholy or distracted woman”? Good was a woman of wit, guts, and grit!

Remembering Sarah Good

Good’s reputation as a socially bereft beggard has remained at the forefront of her legacy. Yet Good was, too, a pugnacious woman. Although she was persecuted unjustifiably, Good maintained her innocence. She likewise showed spirit and strength, though her resistance reinforced Salem’s slights against her.

Massachusetts Legislature cleared Good’s name in 1711. Yet it was too late – Good had been unjustly executed in 1692.

In 1992, the Salem Witch Trials Memorial was erect at 24 Liberty Street, Salem. The monument established a marker for Sarah Good, canonizing her in Salem’s history. Sarah Good was likewise memorialized at Proctor’s Ledge, the confirmed hanging site of Salem’s Witch Trials. Sarah Good was one of the first “witches” hanged at Proctor’s Ledge, but she wouldn’t be the last.

If you’d like to pay your respects to Salem’s resolute woman, do check out both sites! And do let us know if you see Sarah Good’s specter about.