Salem Witch Trials and Giles Corey

In the Spring of 1692, a group of young girls in Salem Village, Massachusetts accused others in their village of practicing witchcraft, unleashing a hysteria that caused the deaths of at least 24 people. Most of the deaths were caused by hanging, or occurred in prison, but the case of Giles Corey, who was accused of colluding with the devil, was different. Giles refused to submit to the lunacy of the Salem show trials, and knowing that making a plea would result in his estate and possessions being forfeited to the government instead of being passed on to his children, he declined to plead either guilty or not guilty. Giles was subsequently subjected to the brutal practice of ‘pressing’ in an attempt to force a plea out of him. He died during the process, but in full possession of his estate, which was passed on to his two sons-in-law, in accordance with his will.

The events that led to the Salem Witch trials began with two young girls, nine-year-old Elizabeth Parris, and 11-year-old Abigail Williams. In January of 1692, Parris and Williams began having fits the involved uncontrollable outbursts of screaming and violent contortions. A local doctor diagnosed the girls with “bewitchment,” and soon other young girls in the area began exhibiting the same symptoms. The girls accused three women of bewitching them – Parris’ Caribbean slave, Tituba, Sarah Good, and Sarah Osborn. The accused were brought to trial. Tituba confessed to practicing witchcraft, preserving her own life. Accusations continued, and some of the accused began pointing fingers at others, in an effort to spare their own lives. The hysteria spread rapidly throughout the town.

During the trials, the young accusers would be present in the court room, writhing and screaming in supposed pain. Specific accusations included seeing the accused transform into animals, the accused coming to their bedside to torture them, suckling a yellow bird between their fingers, and asking them to sign the devil’s book. 

While many accused witches died by hanging, or while in jail, Giles Corey’s death was different. Corey was a prosperous farmer in Salem. He was married three times, to wives Margaret, Mary, and Martha. During the Salem witch trials, Corey and his wife Martha were accused of witchcraft. Accuser Mercy Lewis testified that the apparition of Corey appeared before her, asking her to sign the devil’s book. Corey sat in prison for five months, awaiting trial.

trial-of-giles-corey

In September 1692, Corey went to trial. Almost a dozen witnesses came forward stating they had seen Corey serving bread and wine at a witches’ sacrament. Knowing that he would be convicted and executed, as had occurred to all those before him, Corey refused to plea to the charges. By avoiding trial and execution, Corey would be able to preserve his farm for his two sons-in-law. If he had been accused and executed, his estate and possessions would have become property of the state upon his death.

At the time, the consequence for refusing to stand trial was a practice known as pressing. The accused would be stripped naked, and placed upon the ground with boards across his chest. Heavy stones would be placed upon the boards, one at a time, causing agonizing pain as their organs were crushed and their body was pressed into the ground. Pressing was a public event, to be witnessed by family and neighbors. It would ultimately lead to one of two outcomes: either the individual would give in under the pain and pressure and make a plea, most likely resulting in a conviction and subsequent death by hanging, or he would refuse to plead and would die by pressing.

While the heavy stones were placed upon Giles Corey’s chest, he did not yell out in pain, nor did he give in to his tormentors requests. Instead, he is famously known for shouting out “more weight!”, every time he was asked to make a plea. It is clear that his intention was to die by pressing, in the hopes of saving his wife, and preserving his farm and possessions for the sake of his children. Around noon on September 19, 1692, Corey died from pressing.

The witch trials of Salem, which became a highly influential event in U.S. history, have been used in political rhetoric and popular literature to highlight the dangers of isolationism, religious extremism, false accusations, and breakdowns in due process.

Daughter of a Slave Gets Confederate Burial Ceremony

The daughter of a slave, Mattie Clyburn Rice was adamant about one thing: Her father was a Confederate soldier.

Before she died in September at the age of 91, Rice fought to get the Civil War service of her father, Weary Clyburn, recognized. “People didn’t believe her when she said he was a Confederate soldier,” Tony Way, a member of the Sons of the Confederate Veterans, told The Associated Press. “She spent years searching records until she found his pension record approved by the state of North Carolina.”

Clyburn went to war with his master as a cook, and ended up saving his life when the pair came under fire. The pension record says that Clyburn’s “services were meritorious and faithful toward his master and the cause of the Confederacy.” However, a letter from June 18, 1930, states that the pension would not be given to his widow since “negro pensioners are not classified as Confederate Soldiers…” Historian Kevin Levin says that men like Clyburn were not soldiers, and were instead “dragged” into war. “It’s unfortunate that we can’t remember these men for who and what they were,” he told AP. “These were men forced to comply with their master’s wishes as they had always been forced to do.”

Clyburn was in his 80s when Rice was born. His obituary says he was laid to rest in “the Confederate uniform of gray;” it also called him “a white man’s darkey.” Rice’s ashes were buried at the foot of her father’s Monroe, North Carolina, grave on Saturday, as members of the United Daughters of Confederacy and a color guard of Confederate re-enactors looked on.

Proposal For Churches to Pay Taxes

Ernie Chambers, a long-serving, African-American state senator, has proposed a bill that would strike the word “religious” from the list of groups that are property-tax-exempt.

Chambers is immensely popular and handily won his latest election campaign. Though the bill is unlikely to pass, he’s hinted that he’ll make it a rider on other bills that are more viable. He’s written a striking statement of intent to accompany his bill:

The Governor and candidates for governor have said that “everything should be on the table.” If taxes were paid on the many churches and cathedrals and temples in every city in this State, perhaps the State’s assistance to local governments and schools would be diminished considerably — leaving more in State coffers for other purposes.

Religious people say they want to carry out the directives of Jesus who said, “Render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s,” when he was asked whether taxes should be paid to Caesar.

In short: “PAY YOUR TAXES.”

This bill simply carries out what Jesus wanted to see his followers do, and they certainly want to see the Scriptures fulfilled.

Eugene Bullard, First Black Combat Pilot

Eugene Bullard

Eugene Bullard

The entire story of Eugene Bullard, the first black combat pilot, is still a mystery as the precise facts are in dispute. Did he shoot down five enemy aircraft or two? Was his father a French speaking slave from Martinique and was his mother a Creek Indian? Did he really travel with an English band of troubadors doing pickaninnie performances? Was he a professional boxer and a professional and influential jazz drummer? The answers are generally “yes” but also depend on whom you ask; but no matter the degree to which he participated in these activities, it is a testament to this Renaissance man.

Born in 1894 in Columbus Georgia, his father barely escaped a lynching that Bullard witnessed, and the rednecks of south Georgia inundated him with enough fear that he fled home at 8, lived on the streets and moved around the country doing odd jobs. He lived with people who took him in and offered him a place to stay but he was looking for a place his father called France. Bullard was a chameleon, becoming whatever he needed to at the time, he even took to horses and rode a horse for a famous handler. When he had just turned 11 he stowed away aboard a German cargo vessel the Maltheus, at Newport News and made his way to Scotland. The captain, rather than throw him overboard, worked him in the coal room of the ship’s engine.

But a dark, dank environment like a cargo ship’s coal room would never hold a free spirit like Bullard. Back on the street, effusive with charismatic charm, traveling troubadors invited him to do a pickaninnies performance in Paris and off he went. In Paris, he stood on ground his father talked about. A place on the Earth where black men and white men live and work together and there is freedom for all. But he had work to do as an entertainer and he sang and he danced and rode horses.

Bullard made it to the streets and it is said that he was so charismatic he could fall in with any crowd long enough to find employment and room and board. At one point he was running errands for bookies and even later took up boxing. He boxed for a while and found the money “wasn’t worth the aggravation.” But he worked in a boxing gym and at one point owned one and ran it for a few years and sold it for profit.

Bullard spoke French because his father was a Martinique native and spoke French as a matter of course. He spent a long time in Paris, and as history tells us, a gunshot in Sarajevo thrust all of Europe into a massive bloody war. Austria invaded the Balkans, and the French, allied with Serbia, went to their aid. Bullard signed up for the French Foreign Legion and made it to the ranks of this august and feared expeditionary force. How he did it I can find no reference but he talked his way into the main French force and found himself at one of the turning point battles on the bank of the Meuse River at Verdun. There 250,000 died in five days in December 1914. Another half a million were wounded, among them Eugene Jacques Bullard. He received the Croix de Guerre, and a military retirement commission.

That wasn’t enough fighting for Bullard. He talked his way into the Lafayette Flying Corps in the French Aéronautique Militaire as a gunner/observer that sat in the backseat — and once he won that position he talked himself into the pilot seat. Bullard graduated flight school and was assigned to 93 Spad Squadron late in 1917. Over 20 missions he earned the nickname the Black Swallow of Death apparently for his daring in the air. He shot down at least one, probably two and maybe up to five planes, for certain a Fokker Dreidecker and mostly likely a Pfalze scout plane. The Pfalze tried an Immelman turn and Bullard escaped into a cloud bank and returned out of it to surprise the German airman looking for him out of his turn. His SPAD had an image of a dagger through a heart and the saying: “Tout Sang Qui Est Rouge…” All Blood Runs Red. He was oft reprimanded for taking chances and derring-do.

Bullard had an argument with an officer and was demoted and transferred to the 170th French Infantry.

The exact injury was to one of his legs. Apparently an American captain in Paris bet him he could not learn to fly with the injury. Sometime thereafter Bullard returned, found the man and collected his winnings.

Bullard sought to join the US Army Air Corps as a pilot but that was a dead end. American law prohibited Black military aviators. Period. In addition to his Croix De Guerre, he had received the Legion of Honor, and the Medaille Militaire for bravery and a military retirement commission.

He stayed in Paris and learned a new skill, drumming for jazz bands. He became good enough to play with bands until he found himself the owner of a jazz bar in Paris. Le Grand Duc was his place, a fancy upscale establishment attended to by the cool crowd, sartorial splendor, dashing romances and international entertainers were regulars.

Handsome and articulate and dashing, a man who spoke French and English and German, who grew up poor in the deep south became quite the bon vivant. It is said he became friends with Josephine Baker, Langston Hughes and Louis Armstrong, and even translated for Louis Armstrong. He married a French Countess, Marcelle Straumann and had two daughters, Jacqueline and Lolita.

When World War II broke out Marcelle wanted to escape to the countryside and Bullard wanted to stay and act as a spy for the resistance, which he did, over hearing German officer’s conversations in his bar, little did they know he was fluent. Eventually war changes everything. His countess wife left him and he was granted custody of the girls who stayed with him in Paris.

As the war wound down, he had to flee his broken country looking for work. He left first alone on foot, then met a refugee who saw the limping straggler and gave him a bike. Riding a bicycle, he made it to Portugal and hitched a ride to the US on a Red Cross boat. His daughters joined him soon thereafter.

His life wound down in Manhattan. He sold perfume for a while, and eventually got a job as an elevator operator at Rockefeller Center. Once he went back to France to try and recover his old bar but it had been destroyed and the French government settled with him. In 1949, while attending a Paul Robeson Concert in Peeksville, NY, Bullard was knocked to the ground and beaten with truncheons by three law officers and a concert attendee. Photos of the beating were later published in Susan Robeson’ biography of her grandfather, The Whole World in His Hands: a Pictorial Biography of Paul Robeson.

Eugene Jacque Bullard was ensconced in his later years in his modest New York apartment, his daughters were both married and on Oct. 13, 1961, Eugene Bullard died of stomach cancer and in very modest means. The French government honored him in later years by making him a Chevalier (French Knighthood). He was buried with full military honors in his legionnaire’s uniform and lies in the cemetery of the Federation of French War Veterans in Flushing, NY.