MAGISTRATE’S CHAIR (with Peter McLean). 1992.


The magistrates of the Court of Oyer and Terminer in Salem were appointed by Provincial authorities of Massachusetts. They held hearings, interrogated the suspects and directed the trials of the accused. Most were not from Salem and they unrelentingly pursued suspected witches through their discovery, arrest, prosecution and execution. The Magistrates were far more committed to this task than many local citizens, many of whom, along with relatives, supported the accused with petitions and lists of signatures attesting to the good character, religious dedication and innocence of the victims.

The Magistrate’s proceedings in the town meetinghouse were attended by large crowds from near and far, accusers, witnesses, the accused and the young girls who “cried out” many of the suspects. The Magistrates probably held strongly to the prevailing and frightening belief concerning the sudden proliferation of witchcraft incidents: that the Devil was now effectuating his master plan to take over the whole of settled America in the 1690s, destroy the colonies, eliminate its inhabitants and return its land to his minions, the Native American Indians.

Despite much evidence to and many voices speaking to the contrary, the Magistrates must have felt they were one of the last defenses in a life-and-death battle for Colonial survival. They leaned heavily toward the prosecution and conviction of many innocents as witches. It has been suggested that some of the Magistrates who personally failed to protect the colonies from constant incursion and attack by the Indians and the French may have projected onto witchcraft their own shortcomings.