Salem Witch Trials

The Salem Witch Trials took place in Salem, Massachusetts, during February of 1692 – May of 1693.  The Salem Witch Trials were a sequence of prosecutions held due to the accusation of people practicing witchcraft. By the end of these trials  a total of twenty five people died, 19 people were hanged (5 men and 14 women) , and five others died while in custody. A man had also been crushed to death beneath large stones due to his refusal  to plead. Though it was thought that people would be burned at the stake because they were wrongly accused of being witches, surprisingly enough during these trials no one died in this gruesome fashion. 

Witch hunts were put together so that there could be new witches identified, they weren’t really meant to investigate individuals that were previously believed to be witches. People would begin to be investigated and targeted if there were suspicions or rumors. Witches were seen as followers of Satan that sold their souls in order to earn his assistance.

The trials began after Samuel Parris, the pastor of Salem’s Congregational Church, brought his wife, three children, niece, and two slaves, John and Tituba, with him to Salem. In January of 1692 Samuel’s daughter, Betty, who was at the age of 9, and niece, Abigail, who was about 11 years old, began to show strange behavior. Both would have fits in which they would scream, make weird sounds, throw things, contort their bodies, and complain about sensation that felt like they were being bitten and pinched. Now scholars believe that this behavior could be due to a combination of a number of things such as asthma, epilepsy, and delusional psychosis. Yet, with not being able to explain it, the local doctor blamed it on witchcraft.Due to the pressure from Parris to exploit the person who was tormenting them, Betty and Abigail blamed Tituba, Sarah Good, and Sarah Osborn, all  and claimed they were bewitching them. All of these women desperately claimed that they were not guilty, but after being pestered, Tituba told them what they wanted to hear and confessed.

After the situation there were several more people, mostly women, who were accused to be witches. The trials had finally come to an end when Governor Phips’ wife had been accused of practicing witchcraft. On January of 1697 the general court of Massachusetts arranged there to be a day of fasting and contemplation of the tragedy that was the Salem Witch Trials. In that month one of the judges publicly  admitted that he was ashamed of his place in the trials. The trials had become a devastation that held too many deaths.


Benjamin RayOAH Magazine of HistoryVol. 17, No. 4, Witchcraft (Jul., 2003), pp. 32-36

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