Giles Corey (bapt.Tooltip baptized 16 August 1611 – 19 September 1692) was an English farmer, petty thief, and tried murderer who was accused of witchcraft along with his wife Martha Corey during the Salem witch trials. After being arrested, Corey refused to enter a guilty or not guilty plea. He was subjected to pressing in an effort to force him to plead and died after three days of this torture. Because Corey refused to enter a plea, his estate passed on to his sons instead of being seized by the local government.

Giles Corey
The pressing of Giles Corey
Northampton, England
Baptized16 August 1611
Died19 September 1692(1692-09-19) (aged 81)
Cause of deathPressed to death
Criminal charges
  • Witchcraft (rehabilitated)
  • Murder (reduced to unreasonable force and fined)
(died 1664)
Mary Bright
(m. 1664; died 1684)
(m. 1690)

Corey is believed to have died in the field adjacent to the prison that had held him, in what later became the Howard Street Cemetery in Salem, which opened in 1801. His exact grave location in the cemetery is unmarked and unknown. There is a memorial plaque to him in the nearby Charter Street Cemetery.

Pre-trial history


Giles Corey was born in Northampton, England. He was baptized in the church of the Holy Sepulchre on 16 August 1611.[failed verification] Giles was the son of Giles and Elizabeth Corey. His birth is recorded in the parish records.[1] His name is quite often spelled "Corey," but the baptismal record is "Cory." It is not certain when he arrived in North America, but there is evidence he was living in Salem Town as early as 1640.[2] He originally lived in Salem Town but later moved to nearby Salem Village (now Danvers) to work as a farmer. There are quite a few entries in the court documents for which he was charged and confessed, mainly petty theft.[1] Charges ranged from sleeping on the watch (and once having his weapon stolen from him while doing so), collecting a canoe load of firewood while on watch, and stealing food, tobacco, knives, and several other small items. [3]

Despite these charges, Corey was a prosperous land-owning farmer in Salem and married three times.[4] He is believed to have married his first wife, Margaret, in England.[5] Margaret was the mother of his eldest four children: Martha, Margaret, Deliverance, and Elizabeth.[1] His second wife was Mary Bright; they were married on 11 April 1664, when Corey was 53 years old,[6] and had a son named John.[1]

In 1676, Corey was brought to trial and charged with murder in Essex County, Massachusetts, for beating to death one of his indentured farm workers, Jacob Goodale (also spelled "Goodell" or "Goodall"), son of Robert and Catherine Goodale and brother to Isaac Goodale.[7] According to witnesses, Corey had severely beaten Goodale with a stick after he was allegedly caught stealing apples from Corey's brother-in-law. Though Corey eventually sent him to receive medical attention ten days later, Goodale died shortly thereafter. The local coroner, as well as numerous witnesses and eyewitnesses, testified against Corey, including neighbor John Proctor, who testified that he heard Corey admit he had beaten Goodale.[8] Since corporal punishment was permitted against indentured servants, Corey was exempt from the charge of murder and instead was charged with using "unreasonable" force for which he was found guilty and fined. [9]

Corey's neighbor, John Proctor also accused Corey of the arson of his home.[10] Later, one of Proctor's sons confessed. Corey's second wife, Mary Bright, died in 1684.[11] Corey later married his third wife, Martha Rich. Martha was admitted to the church at Salem Village, where Giles had lived.[12] At the time of the witch trials, Corey was 80 years old and living with Martha in the southwest corner of Salem Village, in what is now Peabody.[13]

Arrest, examination, and refusal to plead


Martha Corey was arrested for witchcraft on 19 March 1692. Corey was so swept up by the trials that he initially believed the accusations against his wife until he himself was arrested based on the same charge on 18 April, along with Mary Warren, Abigail Hobbs, and Bridget Bishop.[citation needed] The following day, they were examined by the authorities, during which Hobbs accused Giles of being a wizard. Giles denied the accusations and refused to plead (guilty or not guilty), was sentenced to prison, and subsequently arraigned at the September sitting of the court.

The records of the Court of Oyer and Terminer on 9 September 1692 contain a deposition by one of the people who accused Giles of witchcraft in Mercy Lewis v. Giles Corey:

I saw the apparition of Giles Corey come and afflict me urging me to write in his book, and so he continued most dreadfully to hurt me by times beating me and almost breaking my back till the day of his examination being the 19th April [1692] and then also during the time of his examination he did afflict and torture me most grievously and also several times since urging me vehemently to write in his book and I verily believe in my heart that Giles Corey is a dreadful wizard for since he had been in prison he or his appearance has come and most grievously tormented me.[14]

Again, in this court, Corey refused to plead.[15]

Death by pressing


According to the law at the time, a person who refused to plead could not be tried. To avoid people cheating justice, the legal remedy for refusing to plead was "peine forte et dure". In this process, prisoners were stripped naked, and heavy boards were laid on their bodies. Then rocks or boulders were laid on the plank of wood. This was the process of being pressed:[16]

... remanded to the prison from whence he came and put into a low dark chamber, and there be laid on his back on the bare floor, naked, unless when decency forbids; that there be placed upon his body as great a weight as he could bear, and more, that he hath no sustenance save only on the first day, three morsels of the worst bread, and the second day three draughts of standing water, that should be alternately his daily diet till he died, or, till he answered.

As a result of his refusal to plead, on 17 September, Corey was subjected to the procedure by Sheriff George Corwin, but he was steadfast in that refusal, nor did he cry out in pain as the rocks were placed on the boards. After two days, Corey was asked three times to enter a plea, but each time he replied, "More weight," and the sheriff complied. Occasionally, Corwin would even stand on the stones himself. Robert Calef, who was a witness along with other townsfolk, later said, "In the pressing, Giles Corey's tongue was pressed out of his mouth; the Sheriff, with his cane, forced it in again." There are several accounts of Corey's last words. The most commonly told one is that he repeated his request for "more weight," as this was how it was dramatized in The Crucible,[17] but it may also have been "More rocks".[18] Another telling notes it as, "Damn you. I curse you and Salem!"[19]

Memorial marker in Salem, Massachusetts

Samuel Sewall's diary states, under the date of Monday, 19 September 1692:

About noon at Salem, Giles Cory was pressed to death for standing mute; much pains was used with him two days, one after another, by the court and Captain Gardner of Nantucket who had been of his acquaintance, but all in vain.[20]

It was and remains unusual for people to refuse to plead and extremely rare to find reports of people who have been able to endure this painful form of death in silence. Since Corey refused to plead, he died in full possession of his estate, which would otherwise have been forfeited to the government. It was passed on to his two sons-in-law in accordance with his will.[21]



Corey's wife Martha was hanged three days later on 22 September 1692. She had a son from a previous marriage named Thomas; he showed up as a petitioner for loss and damages resulting from his mother being executed illegally during the witch trials. He was awarded £50 on 29 June 1723.[22]

The gruesome and public nature of Corey's death may have caused residents of Salem to rethink their support for the witch trials.[23] Giles was absolved of the crime in 1712. Martha was not.[18]

Despite Corey's efforts to protect his estate by refusing to plead, Corwin still attempted to extort money from Corey's heirs after the witch trials. In 1710, Corey's daughter Elizabeth and her husband John Moulton[1] filed a lawsuit seeking damages from Corwin. Her statement to the court read, "After our father's death, the sheriff threatened to seize our father's estate, and for fear, that we complied with him and paid him eleven pounds six shillings in money."[24]




"Father Father", illustration accompanying Giles Cory, Yeoman, a play by Mary E. Wilkins Freeman, Harper's New Monthly Magazine, Volume LXXXVI, 1893.

According to a local legend, the apparition of Corey appears and walks his graveyard each time a disaster is about to strike the city. Notably, he was said to have appeared the night before the Great Salem Fire of 1914.[23] The position of Sheriff of Essex County was also said to have suffered from the "curse of Giles Corey," as the holders of that office, since Corwin, had either died or resigned as a result of heart or blood ailments (Corwin died of a heart attack in 1696). The curse was said to have been broken when the sheriff's office was moved from Salem to Middleton in 1991.[23][25]



Corey is the subject of a Henry Wadsworth Longfellow play entitled Giles Corey of the Salem Farms[26] and an 1893 play, Giles Corey, Yeoman, by Mary Eleanor Wilkins Freeman.[27]


Corey is a character in Arthur Miller's play The Crucible (1953), in which he is portrayed as a hot-tempered but honorable man, giving evidence critical to the witch trials. His wife Martha was one of the 19 people hanged during the hysteria on Proctor's Ledge. In The Crucible, Giles feels guilty about his wife's accusation because he had told a minister that Martha had been reading strange books, which was discouraged in that society. Corey also appears in Robert Ward's operatic treatment of the play, in which his role is assigned to a tenor.[28] A movie of the same name was released in 1996, featuring Peter Vaughan as Corey.[29]

Actor Kevin Tighe portrayed Corey in the pilot episode of the WGN television series Salem, in which he is pressed to death in a more-or-less historically accurate manner.[30]

Corey was the namesake behind one of Dan Barrett's musical projects. The band's music has been described as depressing. [31] and is regarded as falling under the slowcore genre.[32]


  1. ^ a b c d e "First Generation". Archived from the original on 26 August 2014. Retrieved 22 August 2014.
  2. ^ "Corey Family Genealogy". Archived from the original on 2 April 2008. Retrieved 28 December 2014.
  3. ^ "G is for Giles Corey". 10 November 2016.
  4. ^ "Giles Corey, Salem Witch". Retrieved 4 May 2017.
  5. ^ "Marriage of Giles and Margaret Corey". Retrieved 4 May 2017.
  6. ^ Pope, Charles Henry (May 2009). The pioneers of Massachusetts : a descriptive list, drawn from records of the colonies, towns, and churches, and other contemporaneous documents. Baltimore : Genealogical Pub. Co., 1991. p. 118. ISBN 978-0806307749. Retrieved 28 December 2014.
  7. ^ Davis, Walter Goodwin (1924). The ancestry of Lydia Harmon, 1755–1836, wife of Joseph Waterhouse of Standish, Maine. Boston: Stanhope Press. pp. 33–36. hdl:2027/wu.89066181652.
  8. ^ The curse of Giles Archived 26 September 2023 at the Wayback Machine
  9. ^ Records of the Essex Quarterly Courts. Vol. 6. Essex Institute. 1917. pp. 190–191.
  10. ^ "G is for Giles Corey". Donna Gawell. 10 November 2016. Retrieved 1 March 2024.
  11. ^ Ogden, Tom (1 September 2018). Haunted Cemeteries: Creepy Crypts, Spine-Tingling Spirits, And Midnight Mayhem. Rowman & Littlefield. ISBN 9781493036639 – via Google Books.
  12. ^ Goss, K. David (2008). The Salem Witch Trials: A Reference Guide. ABC-CLIO. p. 90. ISBN 978-0313320958. Retrieved 17 September 2018.
  13. ^ "Biography of Giles Corey". Archived from the original on 19 February 2010.
  14. ^ Goss, K. David, ed. (2018). Documents of the Salem Witch Trials. Santa Barbara: ABC-CLIO. pp. 118–119. ISBN 978-1-4408-5320-3. LCCN 2017032306. OCLC 987796573.
  15. ^ Snyder, Heather (2001). "Salem Witch Trials: Giles Corey". Salem Witch Trials Documentary Archive. University of Virginia. Retrieved 19 September 2018.
  16. ^ "Salem Witch Trials of 1692". 19 June 2021. Archived from the original on 5 February 2010.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: unfit URL (link)
  17. ^ Hurn, Susan. "What were Giles Corey's last words in The Crucible?". eNotes. Retrieved 19 September 2018.
  18. ^ a b Magotra, Corrinne (1987). Salem witchcraft in American drama. Kansas State University. pp. 13–14.
  19. ^ "Salem Witch Craft Trials". Archived from the original on 5 February 2010.
  20. ^ Goss, K. David (2008). The Salem Witch Trials: A Reference Guide. ABC-CLIO. p. 32. ISBN 9780313320958.
  21. ^ Hill, Frances (2002). A delusion of Satan: the full story of the Salem witch trials. Karen Armstrong (second ed.). New York: Da Capo Press. pp. 184–185. ISBN 0-306-81159-6. OCLC 54477464.
  22. ^ Hoyt, Albert Harrison (1872). The New-England Historical and Genealogical Register and Antiquarian Journal. Vol. XXVI. New-England Historic, Genealogical Society. p. 337.
  23. ^ a b c Brooks, Rebecca Beatrice (12 October 2011). "The Curse of Giles Corey". History of Massachusetts. Retrieved 28 December 2014.
  24. ^ Essex Institute Historical Collections. Salem, Massachusetts: Essex Institute. 1859. pp. 56–57.
  25. ^ "Cold Spots – The Curse of Giles Corey". Dread Central. 15 February 2010.
  26. ^ Longfellow, Henry Wadsworth (1900). Giles Corey of the Salem Farms. Boston, New York [etc.]: Houghton, Mifflin & Co.
  27. ^ Freeman, Mary Eleanor Wilkins (1893). Giles Corey, Yeoman: A Play. Harper & Brothers.
  28. ^ Harold C. Schonberg (27 October 1961). "Opera: Robert Ward's 'The Crucible'; Work Based on Miller Play at City Center". The New York Times. Retrieved 18 May 2009.
  29. ^ The Crucible at AllMovie
  30. ^ Potts, Kimberly (19 April 2014). "The Real Characters Behind the Story of WGN's 'Salem'". Yahoo! Entertainment. Retrieved 17 September 2018.
  31. ^ Finlayson, Ray (30 November 2011). "Album Review: Giles Corey - Giles Corey". Beats Per Minute. Archived from the original on 17 March 2020. Retrieved 14 November 2023.
  32. ^ Rosean, Samuel (31 January 2020). "The Beginner's Guide To: Slowcore". Drowned in Sound. Archived from the original on 15 January 2021. Retrieved 14 November 2023.

Further reading

  • Upham, Charles (1980). Salem Witchcraft. New York: Frederick Ungar Publishing Co., 2 vv, v. 1 pp. 181–91, 205, v.2 pp. 38, 44, 52, 114, 121, 128, 334–43, 480, 483.