The Right to Petition:
The Case of Mary Easty
One of the fundamental liberties guaranteed by the First Amendment to the American Constitution is the right to "petition the government for redress of grievances." However, the English colonists living in Salem in 1692 - about a century before the Bill of Rights was adopted - did not enjoy this fundamental right.
In 1692, Mary Easty, a condemned victim of the Hysteria, petitioned the court of Oyer and Terminer which had been called to hear the accusations of Witchcraft. However, she did not have the force of law behind her. The judicial system of the seventeenth century had little respect for individuals and did not recognize the legal rights of women at all. In fact her petition was ignored.
Mary Easty's petition is reproduced on the back of this page. Read it carefully. Come to class prepared to discuss it in some detail. How does it reflect the "justice" of the seventeenth century. How would you describe its "tone". What, if anything, makes the document unusual? Would such a petition be ignored today?
Mary Easty's Petition
Shortly before her death on September 22, 1692, Mary Easty sent the following petition to the magistrates of the Court of Oyer and Terminer and to the Essex County ministers:
"To the honorable judge and bench now sitting in judicature in Salem and the reverend ministers, humbly sheweth that whereas your humble poor petitioner being condemned to die doth humbly beg of you to take it into your judicious and pious consideration that your poor and humble petitioner, knowing my own innocency (blessed by the Lord for it) and seeing plainly the wiles and subtlety of my accusers by myself, cannot but judge charitably of others that are going the same way with myself if the Lord step not mightily in. I was confined a whole month on the same account that I am now condemned for, and then cleared by the afflicted persons, as some of your honors know. And in two days time f was cried out upon by them, and have been confined and am now condemned to die. The Lord above knows my innocency then and likewise doth now, as at the Great Day will be known to men and angels. I petition to your honors not for my own life, for I know I must die, and my appointed time is set. But the Lord He knows it is, if it be possible, that no more innocent blood be shed, which undoubtedly cannot be avoided in the way and course you go in. I question not but your honors do to the utmost of your powers in the discovery and detecting of witchcraft, and witches, and would not be guilty of innocent blood for the world. But by my own innocency I know you are in the wrong way. The Lord in his infinite mercy direct you in this great work, if it be His blessed will, that innocent blood be not shed. I would humbly beg of you that your honors would be pleased to examine some of those confessing witches, I being confident that there are several of them have belied themselves and others, as will appear, if not in this world, I am sure in the world to come, whither I am going. And f question not but yourselves will see an alteration in these things. They say myself and others have made a league with the Devil; we cannot confess. I know and the Lord He knows (as will shortly appear) they belie me, and so I question not but they do others. The Lord alone, who is the searcher of all hearts, knows that I shall answer it at the Tribunal Seat that I know not the least thing of witchcraft, therefore I cannot, I durst not belie my own soul. I beg your honors not to deny this my humble petition for a poor dying innocent person, and I question not but the Lord will give a blessing to your endeavors."
Hansen, Chadwick. Witchcraft at Salem. George Brazilfer: New York. 1969. pps. 151-15 2 .