The Salem Witch Trials are the most infamous event in the history of Salem. Between 1692 and 1693, over 200 men and women were accused of practicing witchcraft. 20 of those accused were executed, the majority by hanging. Soon after the executions ended, the town admitted to their mistake and apologised for the hysteria. But the residents of Salem have never forgotten the frightening, paranoid nature of these troubling events.
The Devil Comes to Salem
Many practicing Christians throughout history have feared the Devil’s influence over certain people. They believed that these people could use witchcraft – the Devil’s magic – to affect those around them in all sorts of horrifying ways. From the 1300s to the 1600s, this belief rippled through Christian populations across the globe. The craze primarily made its home in Europe, where tens of thousands of “witches” were senselessly murdered for their alleged black magic.
Reverend Samuel Parris was ordained as Salem’s first minister in 1689. He was disliked by the townspeople almost immediately due to his stringent lifestyle and selfish actions. Some even believed that he wasn’t a representative of God at all, but was instead the Devil.
In January 1692, 9-year-old Elizabeth Parris and her cousin, 11-year-old Abigail Williams began to act incredibly bizarre. They would have fits, screaming and throwing whatever they could grab across the room. Even more disturbingly, the girls would contort their bodies into frightening shapes which caused the doctor to declare them possessed.
The Witches Stand Accused
11-year-old Ann Putnam began to have similar fits next, and the townspeople began to pressure the local judges to seek out a cause. Judges Jonathan Corwin and John Hathorne began to question the young girls about who caused their affliction. The three of them singled out Tituba, a slave serving the Parris’, Sarah Good, a homeless woman and an outcast, and Sarah Osborne, an old, impoverished woman with barely a cent to her name.
On March 1, 1692, the woman were examined and interrogated by the local judges. Osborne and Good claimed they were innocent, but Tituba admitted that she had been practicing witchcraft. She also claimed to know of several other witches trying to practice their craft against the local Puritan communities.
Over the next few months, hundreds of accusations were made against the alleged witches of Salem and the nearby towns. Those accused ranged from beloved, churchgoing Martha Corey to Sarah Good’s 4-year-old daughter Dorothy. She was so scared to answer their questions that she just stood silent – which was later used as an admission of guilt in court.
The First Hanging
The first case tried was that of Bridget Bishop, a gossipy older woman known for sleeping around with the local townsmen. She claimed she was “innocent as a child unborn,” but they hanged her anyways on what soon became known as “Gallows Hill.”
The Second Wave
In July, another 5 people were sentenced and hanged, and 5 more in August as well. In September they took it up a notch and hung a total of eight Salem residents. By this point, Governor William Phipps’ own wife was under investigation for being a witch. Only then did he dissolve the court responsible for the hangings, denounce “spectral evidence,” and pardoned all who were in prison due to their supposed witchcraft. Spectral evidence included testimony regarding dreams and visions of the witness or suspect.
An Admission of Guilt
Many responsible for the hangings and accusations soon begged for forgiveness and admitted to their mistakes. By 1702, the trials were officially declared unlawful, and they passed a bill to restore the names of those accused in 1711. They ended up paying around £600 in restitution to the victims families, but no amount of money could restore the lives that were lost.
In 1992, Nobel Laureate and Holocaust Survivor Elie Wiesel dedicated the Witch Trials Memorial right here in Salem. Stop by this historic landmark to pay tribute to the poor souls who lost their lives in the middle of this insane hysteria. The Salem Witch Trials are a warning about the power that mass hysteria has on populations that don’t focus on critical thinking. We as a human race should not allow people to be treated in this unfair and terrifying manner.
The Salem Witch Trials remain one of the seminal events in Salem’s history. Modern developments suggest that the fits that the children experienced could be explained by the fungus ergot. It can cause muscle spasms, vomiting, delusions and hallucinations. The moist, swampy land near Salem could easily have provided the right conditions for this dangerous fungus to grow and contaminate the local food supply.
Do you have any witchy theories about the history of Salem? Let us know in the comments!