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The Salem Witch Trials 1962 -1963

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The Salem Witch Trials of 1962-1963 were the most controversial in the history of Salem, Maschusetts, which led to the imprisonment of over 200 innocent people, 19 of whom were hanged and one crushed to death. Salem was a Puritan community, its residents lived in a extremely restrictive society. The Puritans were heavily influenced by the church and Christian beliefs. Puritans believed in witches and their ability to harm. They defined witchcraft as entering into a compact with the devil in exchange for the power to do evil. Witchcraft was considered to be a sin and crime.

Salem was divided into two: the wealthy merchants who lived in Salem town and typical farming families who lived in Salem Village. It was an economic difference that divided the two. They often fought over politics and religion. It was the religious divide that fuelled the Salem witchcraft trials. One of the largest farming families who felt that Salem Town was out of touch with the rest of Salem village was the Putnams who were highly thought of in the village. They decided to establish their own church in 1689. They chose Rev. Samuel Parris as their minister who was a former merchant in Barbados.

He had a nine year old daughter named Betty, and an 11 year old niece named Abigail Williams. There was little entertainment for the girls as they lived far away from Salem town. They would entertain each other with stories. Rev. Parris’s slave Tibuta would sometimes participate telling ghost stories and stories of witchcraft from her native land. The Witchcraft crisis began in January 1962 when Rev. Parris’s daughter Betty, and her cousin Abigail started having fits. They screamed, threw things, hid under furniture and contorted in pain.

Unable to find any medical reason for their condition the village doctor declared that all their symptoms lead to one belief that they had been bewitched which was the beginning of the mass hysteria that would follow. At first the families of the children could not find anyone to accuse for being the witch responsible for possessing the children. The girls were hesitant to speak out but eventually accused three women for afflicting them: Parris’s slave Tituba, Sarah Good, a beggar and Sarah Osborne an elderly woman who were all residents of Salem Village.

On March 1, 1962, all three women were arrested and brought to the local courts and interrogated for several days. During the trial Good and Osborne kept insisting they were innocent and had been wrongly accused. Tibuta confessed that she was a witch, most likely in fear of her master, Rev. Parris. She claimed that she was approached by a tall, dark man in Boston who sometimes appears to her as a dog or a hog. During her confession she talked of red rats, talking cats and that the tall man dressed in black made her sign in a book, and that Good, Osborne and other names she could not read had signed this book.

When Tibuta finished her confession, she, Osborne and Good were taken to a Boston jail. Osborne later became the first victim of the trials when she died in jail of natural causes two months later. The mysterious afflictions spread to several more young girls. They were all friends of important families in the village. The accusations of witchcraft continued and quickly spread to neighbouring towns. By the end of May 1692, around 200 people were jailed under the charges of witchcraft in Salem, Ipswich, Cambridge and Boston with members from all walks of life being accused.

Most of them as a result of spectral evidence which was a form of evidence based on dreams and visions. The problem with spectral evidence was that it could not be supported by others. The accused witches were kept in a dungeon and were chained to the walls as they were considered dangerous prisoners. Minister Cotton Mather, the son of Harvard President Increase Mather, wrote a letter pleading the court not to allow spectral evidence which the court ignored. The newly appointed Governor, Sir William Phips created a new court, the Court of Oyer and Terminer ( “to hear and determine”) to hear the backlog of witchcraft cases.

The first person brought to trial was Bridget Bishop on June 2, 1692. She was almost 60 years old and was not the first time she faced the charge of witchcraft. Twelve years earlier, she was tried for witchcraft, but was cleared of the crime. Bishop was accused by five of the afflicted girls who said she had physically hurt them and tried to make them sign a pact with the devil. She was found guilty of witchcraft and was brought to Gallows Hill and hanged on June 10, 1692. On June 29, 1962, the cases of Sarah Good, Sarah Wilds, Elizabeth How, Susannah Martin, and Rebecca Nurse were heard, three of whom where full church members.

The one accused who escaped a guilty verdict was 71 year old Nurse who did not make a likely witch. Her friends and neighbours signed a petition asking for her release. Most people thought she would be released. When the jurors announced a not guilty verdict, the afflicted girls began to have fits in the courtroom. With the courtroom in pandemonium, the judges asked the jury to reconsider its decision. The jury changed their minds and declared Nurse guilty. Nurse, Good along with the three other convicted women was hanged July 19, 1692, on Gallows Hill. The court met again on August 5, 1962 where Rev.

George Burroughs, John and Elizabeth Proctor, George Jacobs, Sr. , John Willard and Martha Carrier were tried. In Burroughs case, his lying and failure to have one of his children baptized did not help his cause to be found innocent. Many found it hard to believe that a Puritan minister could be a follower of Satan. All six were found guilty of witchcraft by the court. Elizabeth Proctor escaped the sentence of death because she was pregnant, but the rest were hanged on Gallows Hill on August 19, 1692. At the hangings, Burroughs recited the Lord’s Prayer flawlessly.

This achievement was important because it was believed that a wizard could not recite this prayer without making a mistake. It was not enough to save his life. The trials continued with Giles Corey scheduled for mid-September of 1692. He pled not guilty but refused to speak or answer the questions asked by the court. English law at the time dictated that anyone who refused to enter a plea could be tortured in an attempt to force a plea out of them which meant strong and harsh punishment. Due to his refusal, Corey was taken to a field near the Salem Meetinghouse, his hands and legs were bound, and heavy rocks were piled upon his chest.

Even with the increasing weight, he refused to answer the court’s questions. After two days of induring the increasing weight, Corey was crushed to death on September 19, 1962. The next accused witches, Mary Easty, Alice Parker, Ann Pudeater, Margaret Scott, Wilmott Reed, Samuel Wardwell, and Mary Parker were hanged on Gallows Hill September 22, 1692. Many people felt the accusations and trials were getting out of control due to lack of evidence and credibility of the witnesses. By October, ministers, judges and numerous others believed that the trials claimed innocent lives and wanted the court to stop using spectral evidence.

Increase Mather denounced the use of spectral evidence “It were better that ten suspected witches should escape than that one innocent person should be condemned. ” It was not long after Increase Mather made this statement that on October 12, 1692, Governor Phips, issued orders to protect the current prisoners accused of witchcraft from harm, and suspended the arrest of suspected witches due to lack of evidence and credibility of the witnesses. He soon followed these orders with dissolving the Court of Oyer and Terminer on October 29, 1692.

The fury of the witch trials subsided, and the last witch trial was held in January 1693. Governor Phips pardoned the remaining accused in May 1693. All defendants had their charges dismissed except for three who confessed. With this pardon, the Salem witch trials, which resulted in over 200 imprisoned, nineteen accused witches executed, at least four others had died in prison, a death by crushing rocks, was finally concluded. The aftermath of the Salem Witch trials was severe, many were still in jail as they could not pay for their release. The law required that prisoners pay for their stay before being released.

Many had their homes and land conviscated leaving families homeless. The trials left such an effect on the village that it was renamed Danvers. It is still unknown what brought about the mass hysteria in Salem. Many innocent lives were taken from people that lived in Salem. People went against each other and accused each other for things that did not happen. I think the trials demonstrate many points from this period such as religion, their position in the social ladder and the role of the government and persecution. Many people were prosecuted based on eye witness accusations.

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