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The Salem Witchcraft Trials

1692

 

The year 1692 marked a very disturbing time in the history of the New England area. This was the year of the Salem Witchcraft Trials when 19 people were executed on the charge of witchcraft.

The Reverend Samuel Parris was spiritual leader of town of Danvers where the majority of the trials and hangings took place. On January 20 Elizabeth Parris and Abigail Williams, Parris' daughter and niece, began to exhibit strange behavior; including convulsive seizures, screaming, and trances. More and more girls began to show such behavior and the town started worrying; especially when doctors could find no cure or explanation for the behavior. They declared that the girls were under the influence of the Devil.

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When pressured to tell who was the source of the problem the girls identified three women. The only one to confess the practice of witchcraft was Parris' Caribbean slave woman Tituba. She had been brought with her husband John from the Caribbean by Parris' family after one of their vacations. She declared that Satan had visited her on numerous occasions in the form of a dog or a pig.

A strange pattern began to develop as more and more people accused others of being witches. Most of the accused were of lower economic standings and whose behavior seemed to be more disturbing around the community. Many of the accused had criminal records but some attended church faithfully.

The trials were not always conducted in a fair manner. Many of the decisions were made due to intangible evidence. Many of the accused were forced to confess by different forms of torture. Giles Corey, for instance, was pressed to death when he refused trial. Large weights were placed on his chest to encourage him to confess to the charges.

On June 2, 1692 Bridget Bishop was the first person to be convicted of witchcraft. She was hanged on Gallows Hill in Salem Town on June 10 still claiming to be wronged by the courts and that she was innocent of any crime.

In the end, 19 people were hung and five died due to torture in prison. The last hanging was held on September 22 and the trials were soon stopped by the governor who ordered that no convictions could be made due to intangible evidence. There is no way to tell whether the people who died were truly witches or victims of a very sad time in our nation's history.


Bibliography.

Brown, David. A Guide To The Salem Witchcraft Hysteria Of 1692. (Worcester: Mercantile Company, 1984).

Boyer, Paul and Nissenbaum, Stephen. Salem Possessed. (Cambridge, MA; Harvard University Press, 1974).


Edited by: Jill E. Luckow
Researched by: Matthew E. Johnson
Written by: Benjamin D. Oliver

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