Surely the Devil had come to Salem in Young girls screaming and barking like a dog? Strange dances in the woods? This was behavior hardly becoming of virtuous teenage maidens. The town doctor was called onto the scene. After a thorough examination, he concluded quite simply — the girls were bewitched. Now the task was clear.
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Whomever was responsible for this outrage must be brought to justice. The ordeal originated in the home of Salem's Reverend Samuel Parris. Parris had a slave from the Caribbean named Tituba. Several of the town's teenage girls began to gather in the kitchen with Tituba early in As winter turned to spring the townspeople were aghast at the behaviors exhibited by Tituba's young followers. They were believed to have danced a black magic dance in the nearby woods. Several of the girls would fall to the floor and scream hysterically.
Soon this behavior began to spread across Salem.
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Ministers from nearby communities came to Salem to lend their sage advice. The talk turned to identifying the parties responsible for this mess. Puritans believed that to become bewitched a witch must draw an individual under a spell. The girls could not have possibly brought this condition onto themselves. Soon they were questioned and forced to name their tormentors.
Three townspeople, including Tituba, were named as witches. The famous Salem witchcraft trials began as the girls began to name more and more community members. Evidence admitted in such trials was of five types. First, the accused might be asked to pass a test, like reciting the Lord's Prayer. This seems simple enough. But the young girls who attended the trial were known to scream and writhe on the floor in the middle of the test. It is easy to understand why some could not pass.
Second, physical evidence was considered. Any birthmarks, warts, moles, or other blemishes were seen as possible portals through which Satan could enter a body. Witness testimony was a third consideration. Anyone who could attribute their misfortune to the sorcery of an accused person might help get a conviction. Fourth was spectral evidence. Puritans believed that Satan could not take the form of any unwilling person. Therefore, if anyone saw a ghost or spirit in the form of the accused, the person in question must be a witch.
Last was the confession. Confession seems foolhardy to a defendant who is certain of his or her innocence. In many cases, it was the only way out. A confessor would tearfully throw himself or herself on the mercy of the town and court and promise repentance. None of the confessors were executed. Part of repentance might of course include helping to convict others. As passed into , the hysteria began to lose steam.
The governor of the colony, upon hearing that his own wife was accused of witchcraft ordered an end to the trials. However, 20 people and 2 dogs were executed for the crime of witchcraft in Salem. One person was pressed to death under a pile of stones for refusing to testify.
Salem Witch Trials: History and Background
No one knows the truth behind what happened in Salem. Once witchcraft is ruled out, other important factors come to light. Salem had suffered greatly in recent years from Indian attacks. As the town became more populated, land became harder and harder to acquire. A smallpox epidemic had broken out at the beginning of the decade.
Influenced by Calvinism , Puritans had opposed many of the traditions of the Church of England , including use of the Book of Common Prayer , the use of clergy vestments during services, the use of sign of the cross at baptism , and kneeling to receive communion , all of which they believed constituted popery. King Charles I was hostile to this viewpoint, and Anglican church officials tried to repress these dissenting views during the s and s. Some Puritans and other religious minorities had sought refuge in the Netherlands but ultimately many made a major migration to colonial North America to establish their own society.
These immigrants, who were mostly constituted of families, established several of the earliest colonies in New England, of which the Massachusetts Bay Colony was the largest and most economically important. They intended to build a society based on their religious beliefs. Colonial leaders were elected by the freemen of the colony, those individuals who had had their religious experiences formally examined and had been admitted to one of the colony's Puritan congregations.
The colonial leadership were prominent members of their congregations and regularly consulted with the local ministers on issues facing the colony. In the early s, England erupted in civil war. The Puritan-dominated Parliamentarians emerged victorious, and the Crown was supplanted by the Protectorate of Oliver Cromwell in Its failure led to restoration of the old order under Charles II. Emigration to New England slowed significantly in these years. In Massachusetts, a successful merchant class began to develop that was less religiously motivated than the colony's early settlers.
Indeed, Puritans held the belief that men and women were equal in the eyes of God, but not in the eyes of the Devil. Women's souls were seen as unprotected in their weak and vulnerable bodies. Several factors may explain why women were more likely to admit guilt of witchcraft than men. Historian Elizabeth Reis asserts that some likely believed they had truly given in to the Devil, and others might have believed they had done so temporarily. However, because those who confessed were reintegrated into society, some women might have confessed in order to spare their own lives. Quarrels with neighbors often incited witchcraft allegations.
One example of this is Abigail Faulkner, who was accused in Faulkner admitted she was "angry at what folk said," and the Devil may have temporarily overtaken her, causing harm to her neighbors. Prior to , there had been rumors of witchcraft in villages neighboring Salem Village and other towns. Cotton Mather , a minister of Boston 's North Church not to be confused with the later Anglican North Church associated with Paul Revere , was a prolific publisher of pamphlets, including some that expressed his belief in witchcraft. In his book Memorable Providences Relating to Witchcrafts and Possessions , Mather describes his "oracular observations" and how "stupendous witchcraft" had affected the children of Boston mason John Goodwin.
Mather illustrates how the Goodwins' eldest child had been tempted by the devil and had stolen linen from the washerwoman Goody Glover. After the event, four out of six Goodwin children began to have strange fits, or what some people referred to as "the disease of astonishment. Symptoms included neck and back pains, tongues being drawn from their throats, and loud random outcries; other symptoms included having no control over their bodies such as becoming limber, flapping their arms like birds, or trying to harm others as well as themselves.
These symptoms would fuel the craze of In Salem Village in February , Betty Parris age nine and her cousin Abigail Williams age 11 the daughter and niece, respectively, of Reverend Samuel Parris, began to have fits described as "beyond the power of epileptic fits or natural disease to effect" by John Hale , the minister of the nearby town of Beverly.
The girls complained of being pinched and pricked with pins. A doctor, historically assumed to be William Griggs ,  could find no physical evidence of any ailment. Other young women in the village began to exhibit similar behaviors. When Lawson preached as a guest in the Salem Village meetinghouse, he was interrupted several times by outbursts of the afflicted. Some historians believe that the accusation by Ann Putnam, Jr. At the time, a vicious rivalry was underway between the Putnam and Porter families, one which deeply polarized the people of Salem.
Citizens would often have heated debates, which escalated into full-fledged fighting, based solely on their opinion of the feud. Good was a homeless beggar, known to seek food and shelter from neighbors. She was accused of witchcraft because of her appalling reputation. At her trial, she was accused of rejecting Puritan ideals of self-control and discipline when she chose to torment and "scorn [children] instead of leading them towards the path of salvation". Sarah Osborne rarely attended church meetings.
She was accused of witchcraft because the Puritans believed that Osborne had her own self-interests in mind following her remarriage to an indentured servant. The citizens of the town disapproved of her trying to control her son's inheritance from her previous marriage. Tituba, a South American Indian slave by way of the West Indies , likely became a target because of her ethnic differences from most of the other villagers. She was accused of attracting girls like Abigail Williams and Betty Parris with stories of enchantment from Malleus Maleficarum.
These tales about sexual encounters with demons, swaying the minds of men, and fortune-telling were said to stimulate the imaginations of girls and made Tituba an obvious target of accusations. Each of these women was a kind of outcast and exhibited many of the character traits typical of the "usual suspects" for witchcraft accusations; they were left to defend themselves. Brought before the local magistrates on the complaint of witchcraft, they were interrogated for several days, starting on March 1, , then sent to jail.
Martha Corey had expressed skepticism about the credibility of the girls' accusations and thus drawn attention. If such upstanding people could be witches, the townspeople thought, then anybody could be a witch, and church membership was no protection from accusation. Dorothy Good, the daughter of Sarah Good , was only four years old but was not exempted from questioning by the magistrates; her answers were construed as a confession that implicated her mother.
In Ipswich, Rachel Clinton was arrested for witchcraft at the end of March on independent charges unrelated to the afflictions of the girls in Salem Village. The men were both local magistrates and also members of the Governor's Council. Objections by Elizabeth's husband, John Proctor , during the proceedings resulted in his arrest that day.
Abigail Hobbs, Mary Warren, and Deliverance Hobbs all confessed and began naming additional people as accomplices. Nehemiah Abbott, Jr. Mary Eastey was released for a few days after her initial arrest because the accusers failed to confirm that it was she who had afflicted them; she had been arrested again when the accusers reconsidered. In May, accusations continued to pour in, but some of those suspects began to evade apprehension. Until this point, all the proceedings were investigative, but on May 27, , William Phips ordered the establishment of a Special Court of Oyer and Terminer for Suffolk, Essex and Middlesex counties to prosecute the cases of those in jail.
Warrants were issued for more people. Sarah Osborne, one of the first three persons accused, died in jail on May 10, When the Court of Oyer and Terminer convened at the end of May, the total number of people in custody was Cotton Mather wrote to one of the judges, John Richards , a member of his congregation, on May 31, ,  expressing his support of the prosecutions, but cautioning him,.
It is very certain that the Devils have sometimes represented the Shapes of persons not only innocent, but also very virtuous. Though I believe that the just God then ordinarily provides a way for the speedy vindication of the persons thus abused. Bridget Bishop's case was the first brought to the grand jury, who endorsed all the indictments against her. Bishop was described as not living a Puritan lifestyle, for she wore black clothing and odd costumes, which was against the Puritan code.
When she was examined before her trial, Bishop was asked about her coat, which had been awkwardly "cut or torn in two ways".
This, along with her "immoral" lifestyle, affirmed to the jury that Bishop was a witch. She went to trial the same day and was convicted. On June 3, the grand jury endorsed indictments against Rebecca Nurse and John Willard, but they did not go to trial immediately, for reasons which are unclear. Bishop was executed by hanging on June 10, Immediately following this execution, the court adjourned for 20 days until June 30 while it sought advice from New England's most influential ministers "upon the state of things as they then stood.
Hutchinson sums the letter, "The two first and the last sections of this advice took away the force of all the others, and the prosecutions went on with more vigor than before. Major Nathaniel Saltonstall Esq. According to Upham, Saltonstall deserves the credit for "being the only public man of his day who had the sense or courage to condemn the proceedings, at the start. Suspect Roger Toothaker died in prison on June 16, All five women were executed by hanging on July 19, In mid-July, the constable in Andover invited the afflicted girls from Salem Village to visit with his wife to try to determine who was causing her afflictions.
Ann Foster, her daughter Mary Lacey Sr. Elizabeth Proctor was given a temporary stay of execution because she was pregnant. Burroughs was carried in a Cart with others, through the streets of Salem, to Execution. When he was upon the Ladder, he made a speech for the clearing of his Innocency, with such Solemn and Serious Expressions as were to the Admiration of all present; his Prayer which he concluded by repeating the Lord's Prayer [as witches were not supposed to be able to recite] was so well worded, and uttered with such composedness as such fervency of spirit, as was very Affecting, and drew Tears from many, so that if seemed to some that the spectators would hinder the execution.
The accusers said the black Man [Devil] stood and dictated to him. As soon as he was turned off [hanged], Mr. Cotton Mather, being mounted upon a Horse, addressed himself to the People, partly to declare that he [Mr. Burroughs] was no ordained Minister, partly to possess the People of his guilt, saying that the devil often had been transformed into the Angel of Light. And this did somewhat appease the People, and the Executions went on; when he [Mr. Burroughs] was cut down, he was dragged by a Halter to a Hole, or Grave, between the Rocks, about two feet deep; his Shirt and Breeches being pulled off, and an old pair of Trousers of one Executed put on his lower parts: he was so put in, together with Willard and Carrier, that one of his Hands, and his Chin, and a Foot of one of them, was left uncovered.
In September, grand juries indicted 18 more people. The grand jury failed to indict William Proctor, who was re-arrested on new charges. On September 19, , Giles Corey refused to plead at arraignment, and was killed by peine forte et dure , a form of torture in which the subject is pressed beneath an increasingly heavy load of stones, in an attempt to make him enter a plea. Four pleaded guilty and 11 others were tried and found guilty. On September 20, Cotton Mather wrote to Stephen Sewall: "That I may be the more capable to assist in lifting up a standard against the infernal enemy", requesting "a narrative of the evidence given in at the trials of half a dozen, or if you please, a dozen, of the principal witches that have been condemned.
Noyes turning him to the Bodies, said, what a sad thing it is to see Eight Firebrands of Hell hanging there. Dorcas Hoar was given a temporary reprieve, with the support of several ministers, to make a confession of being a witch. Mary Bradbury aged 77 managed to escape with the help of family and friends. Abigail Faulkner, Sr. Mather quickly completed his account of the trials, Wonders of the Invisible World  and it was given to Phips when he returned from the fighting in Maine in early October.
Burr says both Phips' letter and Mather's manuscript "must have gone to London by the same ship" in mid-October. I hereby declare that as soon as I came from fighting After Phips' order, there were no more executions. All were found not guilty. Grand juries were held for many of those remaining in jail.
Charges were dismissed against many, but 16 more people were indicted and tried, three of whom were found guilty: Elizabeth Johnson Jr. When Stoughton wrote the warrants for the execution of these three and others remaining from the previous court, Governor Phips issued pardons, sparing their lives.
All were found not guilty but were not released until they paid their jail fees. Lydia Dustin died in jail on March 10, John Alden by proclamation. It heard charges against a servant girl, Mary Watkins, for falsely accusing her mistress of witchcraft. They dismissed charges against all but five people.
After someone concluded that a loss, illness, or death had been caused by witchcraft, the accuser entered a complaint against the alleged witch with the local magistrates. If the magistrates at this local level were satisfied that the complaint was well-founded, the prisoner was handed over to be dealt with by a superior court. In , the magistrates opted to wait for the arrival of the new charter and governor, who would establish a Court of Oyer and Terminer to handle these cases. The next step, at the superior court level, was to summon witnesses before a grand jury.
A person could be indicted on charges of afflicting with witchcraft,  or for making an unlawful covenant with the Devil. Several others, including Elizabeth Bassett Proctor and Abigail Faulkner, were convicted but given temporary reprieves because they were pregnant. Five other women were convicted in , but the death sentence was never carried out: Mary Bradbury in absentia , Ann Foster who later died in prison , Mary Lacey Sr. Foster's daughter , Dorcas Hoar and Abigail Hobbs. Giles Corey , an year-old farmer from the southeast end of Salem called Salem Farms , refused to enter a plea when he came to trial in September.
The judges applied an archaic form of punishment called peine forte et dure, in which stones were piled on his chest until he could no longer breathe.
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After two days of peine fort et dure, Corey died without entering a plea. As convicted witches, Rebecca Nurse and Martha Corey had been excommunicated from their churches and denied proper burials. As soon as the bodies of the accused were cut down from the trees, they were thrown into a shallow grave, and the crowd dispersed.
Oral history claims that the families of the dead reclaimed their bodies after dark and buried them in unmarked graves on family property. The record books of the time do not note the deaths of any of those executed.
Salem Witch Trials
Much, but not all, of the evidence used against the accused, was spectral evidence , or the testimony of the afflicted who claimed to see the apparition or the shape of the person who was allegedly afflicting them. Opponents claimed that the Devil was able to use anyone's shape to afflict people, but the Court contended that the Devil could not use a person's shape without that person's permission; therefore, when the afflicted claimed to see the apparition of a specific person, that was accepted as evidence that the accused had been complicit with the Devil.
Cotton Mather's The Wonders of the Invisible World was written with the purpose to show how careful the court was in managing the trials. Unfortunately the work did not get released until after the trials had already ended. Increase Mather and other ministers sent a letter to the Court, "The Return of Several Ministers Consulted", urging the magistrates not to convict on spectral evidence alone. A copy of this letter was printed in Increase Mather 's Cases of Conscience , published in The publication A Tryal of Witches , related to the Bury St Edmunds witch trial , was used by the magistrates at Salem when looking for a precedent in allowing spectral evidence.
Since the jurist Sir Matthew Hale had permitted this evidence, supported by the eminent philosopher, physician and author Thomas Browne , to be used in the Bury St Edmunds witch trial and the accusations against two Lowestoft women, the colonial magistrates also accepted its validity and their trials proceeded. Sometime in February , likely after the afflictions began but before specific names were mentioned, a neighbor of Rev.
She intended to use traditional English white magic to discover the identity of the witch who was afflicting the girls. No one was immune to charges, and women were imprisoned side by side with their husbands — entire families facing prosecution together. Her death is acknowledged as the first of the deaths in the witch trials of that year. Throughout July and August, more examinations and trials went on, and by September, another eighteen people had been convicted. One man, Giles Corey, who was accused along with his wife Martha, refused to enter a plea in court.
He was pressed beneath a load of heavy stones placed upon a board, in hope of this torture causing him to enter a plea. He didn't plead guilty or not guilty, but died after two days of this treatment. Giles Corey was eighty years old. Five of the convicted were executed on August 19, A month later, on September 22, another eight people were hanged. A few people escaped death - one woman was granted a reprieve because she was pregnant, another escaped from prison. By the middle of , it was all over, and Salem was back to normal. There are a number of theories about the Salem hysteria, including that it all began with a disagreement between families, or that the girls who were "afflicted" actually suffered from ergot poisoning, or that a group of young women in a very repressive society contrived to act out their frustrations in a manner that got out of hand.
Although the hangings were in , the effects on Salem were long-lasting. As adults, several of the accusers wrote letters of apologies to the families of the convicted. A number of the executed were excommunicated from the church, and most of those orders have been reversed by Salem church officials. In , the governor of the colony offered monetary compensation to a number of people who were imprisoned and later released. Dorcas Goode was four years old when she entered prison with her mother, where she remained for nine months. Although she was not hanged, she witnessed her mother's death and the mass hysteria that had consumed her town.
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As a young adult, her father expressed concern that his daughter was unable to "govern herself" and was acknowledged to have been driven mad by her experiences as a child.