Witch-Busters: The Story of the Salem Witch Trials.

by Sarah Masih

“It would better that ten suspected witches may escape than one innocent person be condemned.”

In May 1692, 19 people were hung. 1 person was tortured to death. 7 people died in prison while they waited to be tried in court.

All of those people were accused of being witches. In New England of the colonial era during the 14th century, it was believed that the devil granted certain people the power to hurt others.

It all began when one young girl claimed to be possessed by the devil. She accused other women of witchcraft. To nobody’s surprise, this caused chaos throughout Massachusetts.

A special court met in Salem to discuss the situation. In June 1962, Bridget Bishop was hanged to death. Eighteen others followed Bridget. Over the span of the next few months about 150 men, women, and children were accused of having supernatural powers.

During this timeframe, the rural Puritan community of Salem Village (present-day Danvers) had developed extreme paranoia against outsiders.

They were facing the after-shock of a British war with France in the American colonies, a smallpox pandemic, attacks from Native American tribes, and a long-standing rivalry with Salem Town (present-day Salem).

All of this tension caused the residents to be suspicious of their neighbors.

You gotta cut them some slack, right?

In January 1692 a nine-year-old named Elizabeth Parris and 11-year-old Abigail Williams began having fits, where they would uncontrollably burst into screams. A local doctor named William Griggs diagnosed them with bewitchment.

Later the same year, Ann Putnam Jr., Mercy Lewis, Elizabeth Hubbard, Mary Walcott, and Mary Warren all displayed the same symptoms.

In February, Elizabeth’s slave Tituba was arrested along with a homeless beggar named Sarah Good and an elderly lady named Sarah Osborn.

As the three, Osborn, Good, and Tituba were tried- two of them pleaded as innocent and one as guilty. It is most likely that Tituba was trying to escape punishment by acting as an informer. She claimed that wasn’t the only one working for the devil. She told the court that there were other women in service of evil.

As panic spread through the community three others were accused- Martha Corey, Rebecca Nurse, and Sarah Good’s daughter. Following the trial of Tituba, several other people admitted that they were witches in court.

In May 1692, the governor of Massachusetts ordered the establishment of a special Court of Oyer and Court of Terminer to deal with the witch cases in the Suffolk, Middlesex, and Essex counties.

Presided over by Hathorne, Samuel Sewall, and William Stoughton, the court handed down its first punishment, against Bridget Bishop, on June 2.

Bishop was hung eight days later on Gallows Hill in Salem Town. Five more people were killed that July; five in August and eight more in September. In addition, seven other arrested “witches” died in jail.

Many, many people were falsely accused of participating in witchcraft. The stories of their trials were depressing and horrible, but like any good tale, they had a hero to save the day. Their hero was a minister named Cotton Mather.

Cotton urged the court to think properly before hanging the witches. His father Increase Mather demanded that the court seek as much evidence as they would in any normal case.

Governor Phips dissolved the Court of Oyer and Terminer in October and mandated that its followers overlook ghostlike evidence. Trials died down after that and by that time May Phips had pardoned and released all those in prison on witchcraft charges.

In January 1697, the Massachusetts General Court announced a day of fasting for the misfortune of the Salem witch trials. The court later deemed the trials unlawful, and Samuel Sewall publicly apologized for his role in the trials.

The trials were easily shut down, but the after-effects didn’t easily fade away. The Massachusetts Colony passed a bill to restore the good names of the people that had been killed. They even provided financial aid to the families of the accused.

In August 1992, to mark the 300th anniversary of the trials, Nobel Laureate Elie Wiesel dedicated the Witch Trials Memorial in Salem.

In addition to that, the Peabody Essex Museum houses the original court documents, and the town's most-visited attraction, the Salem Witch Museum.

I believe that it is safe to say that the Salem witch trials are an important lesson of world history.

It demonstrates how our irrational humans can be when we don’t understand something. So many families had to suffer because one little girl thought that she was cursed.

That’s the power that humans possess and the Salem Witch trials serve as an important reminder of the responsibility that accompanies that power.


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