Susannah Sheldon

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Susannah Sheldon, a refugee from Maine, was eighteen years of age during the time of the witchcraft crisis at Salem Village. As one of the core group of allegedly afflicted girls, Sheldon made claims of afflictions for the first time during the last week of April 1692. Four days following the accusation that Minister George Burroughs was the leader of the suspected witches, Sheldon allegedly began experiencing “strange spectral encounters" [1] and on April 24 identified the wealthy New England merchant, Philip English, as her tormentor. Sheldon was the first to accuse Philip English and the Boston merchant, Hezekiah Usher of witchcraft and throughout the crisis, she claimed to experience afflictions caused by Goody Buckley, Bridget Bishop, Mary English, Martha Corey, John Willard, Sarah Good, Lydia Dustin, John Proctor, Elizabeth Proctor, Phillip and Mary English, and George Burroughs. Altogether, Sheldon filed twenty-four legal complaints against her alleged tormentors.


Throughout the trial, Sheldon allegedly experienced apparitions from specters attempting to persuade her to sign the devil’s book, visions from the dead, visual manifestations from familiars of snakes and yellow birds on her tormentors, and symptoms of feeling physically choked and having her hands bound so tight that she could not free herself. In an attempt to diagnose the symptoms claimed to have been experienced by the girls, scholars have attributed the torments to a variety of causes, giving such explanations of fraud, ergot poisoning, hysteria, and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). One such scholar, Mary Beth Norton, argues that Sheldon experienced PTSD because of her connection to the Indian wars on the Maine frontier. Sheldon was a young child during the confrontation at Black Point garrison in 1675, and Norton speculates Sheldon would have developed PTSD from living through the Indian conflict, the death agonies of her uncle Arthur, the grief of her mother and aunt, and the death of her older brother Godfrey in July 1690.


  1. ^ Mary Beth Norton, In the Devil’s Snare: The Salem Witchcraft Crisis of 1692 (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2000), 140.