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Salem Witch Trials: George Corwin and Stephen Sewall....

2008 February Grand Format Books & Manuscripts Auction #682

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Auction Ended On: Feb 21, 2008
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Autograph Document Signed by George Corwin, Essex County Sheriff who arrested the accused and executed those found guilty in the Salem Witchcraft Trials
Salem Witch Trials: George Corwin and Stephen Sewall. Rare Autograph Document Signed "George Corwin Sherrif/of ye County of Essex," one page, 7.75" x 6". Salem, June 19, 1694. In full, "Persuant to ye within warrant I have impannelled and caused to be summoned twelve able men within my Baylwick and caused all of them to be Sworn before ye Honbl Barthol Gedney one of theire Majestyes Justices of Ye peace, and accordingly went with them and brought all of them upon ye Land which Land they have modfied and Apprized as by return under their hands appears." On verso is an ADS "Pr ord. Of Court Steph. Sewall Cler," one page, 7.75" x 6". Salem, June 9, 1694. The first line seems to have been cut off. In full, "in their Majties Names to Summon a Jury of Twelve Sufficient freeholders & have them Sworne before One or more of their Majties Justices of ye peace for sd County and then have them on ye place of ye Law relating to ye high way & you are also to Give Notice unto Sarjts John Leach & John Traske Junr that they may be present also & hereof make Return unto ye next Sessions of ye peace holden for ye County of Essex on ye last Tuesday of this Instant June under your hand as also under ye hands of ye Jurors fail not."

George Corwin
(1666-1696) was the High Sheriff of Essex County and carried out the arrests of the accused and the executions at the gallows of those condemned during the Salem witchcraft trials beginning with Bridget Bishop, the first to be executed. On September 16, 1692, the Court of Oyer and Terminer ordered Sheriff Corwin to pile rocks on Giles Corey, an 80-year-old farmer, who refused to stand trial for witchcraft. On September 19th, Corey was stripped naked and a board was placed upon his chest. As rocks were piled on the board, he was interrogated by the magistrate. He is reported to have pleaded for "more weight" so his death would come more quickly. Judge Samuel Sewall reported "About noon, at Salem, Giles Corey was press'd to death for standing mute." In a report, Robert Calef, who opposed the trials, observed that Corey's "tongue being prest out of his mouth, the Sheriff with his cane forced it in again, when he was dying." Witnesses claim they heard Corey say, with his dying breath, "Damn you Sheriff I curse you and Salem!" Four years later, at age 30, Sheriff George Corwin had a fatal heart attack. In Haunted Happenings (Salem, Mass.: Old Saltbox Pub Co., 1995) by Robert Ellis Cahill, former High Sheriff of Essex County, Cahill noted that every Sheriff since Corwin, including himself, a period of almost 300 years, each headquartered at the Salem Jail overlooking the spot where Corey was pressed to death, had died while in office or had been forced out of his post as the result of a heart or blood ailment. Corwin's document summons a jury before Justice Bartholomew Gedney who, on May 27, 1692, had been appointed by Massachusetts Gov. William Phips as one of the members of a Court of Oyer and Terminer created to investigate the allegations of witchcraft. Stephen Sewall (1657-1725), Judge Samuel Sewall's brother, was the court clerk. In September, 1692, minister Cotton Mather, a believer in the existence of witchcraft, was asked by Gov. Phips to write about the trials. His friend Stephen Sewall supplied him with the trial transcripts and Mather's Wonders of the Invisible World was published in 1693. On October 29, 1692, Gov. Phips dissolved the Court of Oyer and Terminer and in May 1693 he pardoned the remaining accused of witchcraft. This document, with light soiling and folds, is, overall, in fine condition and bears excellent signatures of George Corwin and Stephen Sewall.

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