5. Dorothy Talbye hanged because she listened to the voices in her head and killed her daughter in 1638
Dorothy Talbye listened to the voices in her head and killed her daughter, Difficulty, in November 1638. Before she committed murder, Dorothy was a respected, but troubled, member of the Salem Church. Her outbursts of violence toward her husband drew attention from Governor Winthrop who stated she suffered form “trouble of mind” and was labeled a “Distracted person.” In 1637, Dorothy was charged with assaulting her husband and was to stand trail.
For several years, Dorothy had done rather odd things. She refused to eat meat because she believed that Satan was talking to her through food. She had violent outbursts that would last for several weeks and then she would calm down and be kind-spirited. In April 1637, Dorothy had been charged with attempting to kill her husband. She failed to appear at the Quarterly Court. To deal with her refusal to attend court, Puritan authorities bound her arms and tied her to a post where she was to remain until her behavior improved.
It is unclear how long she remained tied to the post or if she received any food. By July 1637 she was again punished for attempting to kill her husband. Her punishment this time was a public whipping. According to accounts, Dorothy’s behavior seemed to improve after her whipping. Several months later, in November, Dorothy once again suffered from violent outbursts. One day, she listened to the voice of God in her head and killed her daughter by breaking the three-year old’s neck.
Dorothy was charged with murder and stood trial for killing her own flesh and blood. Throughout the proceedings she was uncooperative and refused to repent. She was found guilty and sentenced to hang. While in the hangman’s noose, she removed the hood covering her head and placed it between rope and her neck to alleviate the pain. When the ladder was removed and she hung from an Elm tree, she attempted to free herself by swinging in an attempt to reach the ladder.
Puritan authorities in Salem convicted a woman of a crime when they knew that she was not right in her mind. After her hanging, in 1641, colonial and church leaders, under orders from England, began to make exceptions for “Children, Idiots, Distracted persons” when it came to criminal charges, standing trial, and sentencing. In the future, people viewed as “distracted persons” would be imprisoned instead of hanged.