Sarah Bibber played a big part in the infamous witch trial in Salem in 1692, both as an accuser of witchcraft, as well as being accused as a witch herself. The history of the witch trials makes for fascinating reading, and in order that you can understand her role I will explain a little about the background to the trials before moving on to Sarah herself.
Salem village was established in the late 1630s when a group of farmers moved 5 miles from Salem Town where the inhabitants remained legally part of Salem Town, though from the 1660s they began petitioning for independence. By 1672 Salem Village became a separate parish at which time they built a meeting house and hired their own minister. In 1689 the village established a covenant church with Rev. Samuel Parris as their new minister.
In early 1692, Rev. Parris’s 9-year-old daughter Elizabeth, 12-year-old niece Abigail Williams, as well as other neighborhood girls began to fall into horrid fits. Their parents tried to discover what was causing their distress, and village doctor William Griggs gave his opinion that the girls were the victims of witchcraft .Asked who was causing their afflictions, the girls accused three village women, and warrants were sworn out for their arrest.
On March 1, 1692, magistrates John Hathorne and Jonathan Corwin conducted an examination at the Meeting House. two of the women were examined and as they answered the questions put to them, the “afflicted” girls went into horrific fits. To all present, the girls were obviously victims of these women’s witchcraft. Though the two protested their innocence, one made a confession of meeting with the devil and stating there were still other witches in the neighborhood. This evidence was sufficient for the magistrates, and the three women were jailed. The girls’ afflictions did not stop, however, and still more villagers became “afflicted.”
Soon more accusations were made, and by the end of March Church members Martha Cory and Rebecca Nurse were also arrested, examined and jailed. No longer were just the lowly being accused, but people formerly in good standing in the community. By May, scores of “witches,” both men and women, had been examined in Salem Village, and jails were being filled with up to 150 accused persons from many towns including Salem, Topsfield and Andover. Dozens of people under excruciating religious, civil and family pressures found themselves confessing to being witches.
In May, Governor William Phips called a special court to try the cases of those accused witches who had not confessed. Convening in Salem in June 1692, the court quickly condemned Bridget Bishop to death. During July, August, and September, 18 people were hanged. In addition, one man, Giles Cory of Salem Farms, died under torture. At least 5 others died in jail. By the new year the colony was becoming exhausted with the witchcraft frenzy, and learned persons were speaking against the validity of “spectral evidence” being used in court. When the trials resumed, this former evidence was disallowed and proof was insufficient to condemn any other accused. The witch horror was over. Of the 19 people who were executed during this tragic yet heroic period, 12 came from the Salem Village area, dying rather than confessing to what they had not done.
Sarah Bibber was one of the “afflicted” who testified against the accused in the Salem Witch Trials of 1692. Overall Sarah is mentioned in indictments, gave depositions and testified under oath against 15 people accused of witchcraft: Mary Bradbury, George Burroughs, Giles Corey, Mary Easty, Sarah Good, Dorcas Hoar, Elizabeth How, George Jacobs, Sr., Susannah Martin, Rebecca Nurse, Alice Parker, John Proctor, Ann Pudeator, Job Tookey, and John Willard. She also was mentioned in the indictment of Mary Witheridge.
There was also testimony against Sarah Bibber by several individuals: John and Lydia Porter, Joseph Fowler, Thomas and Mary Jacobs, Richard Walker, and Sarah Nurse.
Although her husband John Bibber (Vibber) is mentioned in depositions and indictments and listed as a witness,there does not seem to be any evidence that he testified under oath against any of the accused.
Searching for any information on Sarah and John Bibber prior to the Salem Witch Trials has proven fruitless at this point. However, much is revealed about Sarah from statements made about her during the course of the trials and in later narratives:
In 1692 Sarah Bibber’s age is given as about 36 years old, she’s married to a John Bibber and they have a 4-year-old child. Various court documents list their town of residence as Salem or Wenham. Throughout her name is given as Bibber and Vibber interchangeably. She has been described by those who testified against her as a “loose-tongued creature, addicted to fits,” a woman who quarreled often with her husband during which times she would call him “very bad names,” would have “strange fits when she was crossed,” a woman of turbulent spirit and “double tongued.” Sarah was observed to be “very idle in her calling” and given to tattling and making mischief among her neighbors.
The testimony of Thomas and Mary Jacobs against Sarah perhaps gives the most insight (in their view) into her character: “… Bibber would be very often speaking against one and another very obscenely and those things that were false and wishing very bad wishes and very often and she wish that when her child fell into the river that she had never pulled ….her child out and Bibber use to wish ill wishes to herself and her children and also to others: the neighborhood where she lived amongst after she buried her first husband has told us that this John Bibber wife could fall into fits as often as she pleased.”
We haven’t been able to determine what happened to Sarah Bibber after the trials of 1692 were over. It is our understanding that several of the accusers and/or afflicted who were believed to have testified falsely were later prosecuted. Hopefully, further research will reveal more about Sarah and John Bibber.
Records exist which detail the accusations made by Sarah Bibber against others, which are detailed below.There is a website which has all the transcripts of all of the trials, as well as further history about Salem which you can find at this URL
In an indictment against Mary Bradbury, Sarah appears to be a “victim” having been “tortured, afflicted, consumed, pined, wasted and tormented” by acts of Witchcraft by the said Mary Bradbury. In her answer to the indictment, Mary stated “I am wholly innocent of any such wickedness through the goodness of God that have kept me hitherto. I am the servant of Jesus Christ and have given my self up to him as my only Lord and Saviour…”.
Sarah Bibber testified that she had been afflicted by Miss Bradbury of Salisbury and on the day Miss Bradbury was examined, “I was most grievously tormented by her” and “I have also seen Miss Bradbury or her appearance several times afflicting the bodies of Mary Walcott and Ann Putnam” and she has “tormented me and the named person by her acts of witchcraft.”
In her deposition Sarah stated that on 9th day of May 1692, she was going to Salem Village and “saw the apparition of a little man like a minister with a black coat on and he pinched me by the arm and bid me go along with him, but I told him I would not but when I came to the Village I saw there Mr. George Burroughs which I never saw before and then I knew that it was his apparition which I had seen in the morning and he tortured me several times while he was in examinations also during the time of his examination I saw Mr. George Burroughs or his apparition most grievously torment and afflict Mary Walcott, Mercy Lewis, Elizabeth Hubbard, Ann Putnam and Abigail Williams by pinching, twisting and almost choking them to death also several times since Mr. George Burroughs or his apparition has most grievously tormented me with variety of tortures and I believe in my heart that Mr. George Burroughs is a dreadful wizard and that he has most grievously tormented me and the above mentioned person by his acts of witchcraft.”
As in her previous testimony Sarah stated that she had been “grievously afflicted” by Giles Corey or his apparition. She also witnesses to Giles afflicting and tormenting Mary Walcott, Mercy Lewis and Ann Putnam. Sarah also believes Giles to be a wizard. It should be noted that Giles Corey was 80 years old at this time…. “Giles Corey, age eighty, would not plead to the indictment — in those days not an acceptable response as one need be guilty or innocent. He was thus condemned to the “peine forte et dure” of the Dark Ages (Drake) –that is to be pressed by great weights until a confession or death ensued. Accordingly, Giles Corey, who steadfastly refused to plead, was taken to the field at the corner of St. Peters and Brown Streets, opposite the jail then on Church Street and pressed to death.
Sarah “affirmed upon her oath that she saw Mary, the wife if Isaac Easty, upon John Norton’s bed when said Norton was ill.
The indictment against Sarah Good charged that Sarah Vibber had been “tortured, afflicted, pined, consumed, wasted and tormented” by Sarah Good.
Sarah stated in her deposition that she had often seen an apparition of Sarah Good but Mary did not hurt her until May 2, 1692 although Sarah saw the apparition “torture Mercy Lewis and John Indian in Salem on the 11th of April 1692.” On May 2, 1692 the apparition of Sarah Good almost pressed the breath out of Sarah Bibber’s body and “she did immediately afflict my child by pinching of it that I could hardly hold it and my husband seeing of it took hold of the child but it cried out and twisted so dreadfully…” She also stated that several times since the second of May, the apparition of Sarah Good beat and pinched her, almost choked her to death and pricked her with pins.
Further testimony shows Sarah stating that she saw the apparition of Sarah Good standing by her bed, that she then pulled aside the curtain, turned down the sheet, looked upon Sarah Bibber’s 4 year old child which caused the child to go into a fit. Sarah also added the she believed “upon her oath that Sarah Good had bewitched her…”
Sarah Vibber’s deposition stated that Dorcas Hoar of Beverly had tormented her many times with various tortures. On May 2, 1692, the day Dorcas was examined, Sarah saw Dorcas or her apparition torment Mary Walcott, Elizabeth Hubbard, Abigail Williams, Ann Putnam and Susannah Shelden, biting, pinching and almost choking them. “and I verily believe in my heart that Dorcas Hoar is witch for since she went to prison she has most dreadfully tortured me with variety of tortures: which I believe if she wasn’t a witch she could not do.”
Sarah’s deposition against Elizabeth mirrored several other statements, saying she saw others hurt by Elizabeth. As a result of her being witness to this Elizabeth then “fell upon me and choked me and threw me down and hurt one of my legs very much…”
Sarah “owned to the Jury of inquest: the above written to be true evidence of hers upon oath: June 30, 1692.
George Jacobs, Sr.
“Sarah Vibber made oath that she saw him this George Jacobs at the Gallows when Goody Oliver was executed and the black man help him up and that she saw him afflict Mary Walcott and beat her with his staff.”
As a result of the tortures inflicted upon herself and others, Sarah’s deposition stated that she believes said Martin to be a witch and that she was bewitched by her.
“I saw the apparition of Rebecca Nurse, the wife of Francis Nurse, Sr., most grievously torture and afflict the bodies of Mary Walcott, Mercy Lewis and Abigail Williams by pinching them and almost choking them to death; but I do not know that she hurt me till the 27th June 1692; and then the apparition of Rebecca Nurse did not grievously torment me by pinching me and almost choking me several times.”
“Sarah Vibber upon oath affirmeth to the Jury of Inquest that she had seen Alice Parker afflict Mary Warren, Mary Walcott and Ann Putnam and that said Parker did choke said Warren the last night and griped her about the waist, September 7, 1692 and that she hath afflicted this deponent.”
In her deposition Sarah stated “John Proctor Sr., came to me and did most grievously torment me by pinching, pricking and almost pressing me to death urging me to drink; drink as Red as blood which I refusing he did torture me with variety of tortures and immediately he vanished away …”
Under oath Sarah affirmed to the Jury of Inquest that she had seen Ann Pudeator “afflict Mary Warren, Mary Walcott and Ann Putnam” and “she together with Goodwife Parker did afflict the forenamed.” Sarah claimed that Ann Pudeator afflicted her as well and she believed her to be a witch.
Job Tookey had many accusers one of which was Sarah Bibber. They all accused him of afflicting them and telling several that he “had learning and could raise the Devil when he pleased”……”he was not only a wizard but a murderer..”
Sarah testified that she saw the apparition of John Willard the day before his examination “come to Mary Walcott and Mercy Lewis and hurt them grievously and almost choked them, then I told of it and immediately the said Willard fell upon me and tormented me grievously and pinched me and threw me down.”
Mary was accused of the “detestable arts called witchcraft and sorceries” which she “maliciously and feloniously practiced and exercised in the town of Salem.” Her case stated that she practiced and exercised “against one Sarah Vibber wife of John Vibber of Salem.”
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The above information taken from the following sources.
Narratives of the Witchcraft Cases, 1648-1706. George Lincoln Burr
A Brief and True Narrative by Deodat Lawson, 1692
Essex County Archives, Salem – Witchcraft Vol. 1 and 2
Massachusetts Historical Society
Mass Archives Vol 135 No 26
Bowditch Mss. Mass. Historical Society
My sincerest thanks go to Paula Bibber who provided all of the information on Sarah Bibbers role in the trials.