Salem Witch Craft Trial

History of the mass hysteria behind the Salem witch craft trials of 1692.

In 1692 a mass hysteria occurred in the town of Salem, Massachusetts that continued through 1693, one hundred and forty arrests, nineteen hangings, one rock crushing and several people dying in jail while awaiting their trial. Everything that occurred was done in the name of ridding Salem of its supposed witches.

A merchant who also served as a pastor in the town of Salem, by the name of Samuel Parris had dealings in Barbados and upon his return to Massachusetts brought back two slaves. One of these slaves was named "Tituba" and was acquired to care for his nine-year old daughter Elizabeth and his eleven-year old niece Abigal.

The Reverend Parris is reported to have been a harsh man who allowed the girls virtually no entertainment. In response, they turned to Tituba and listened avidly to her stories about the voodoo practices of her native island.

The girls became fascinated and told some of their village friends and together, they started playing with the voodoo Tituba described. They began telling each other's fortunes and trying to find information about who would be their future husbands.

Then in January1692, Elizabeth and Abigail started having strange fits in which the doctor became convinced was caused by witchcraft. Then on the last Sunday of January during a church service Elizabeth screamed, and started writhing on the floor. Then the other girls fell to the floor and started having odd types of fits while making strange, sometimes animal like noises. The congregation became frightened and begged the girls to tell them who was causing the torture. The girls finally cried out three names, Tituba the slave, Sarah Good a homeless woman and Sarah Osborn, a woman who had married her servant.

Both Sarah Good and Sarah Osborn held to their innocence but Tituba confessed of being a witch after a beating by Rev. Parris. She also told the magistrate that there was other witches in Salem led by a tall man who had a white beard. She also she had been ordered by a black dog to hurt the girls and that she could ride through the air on a pole to attend the witch's meetings.

Sarah Good, Sarah Osborn and Tituba were all moved to the Boston prison where Sarah Osborn died in chains. With Tituba's confession and admittance of there being other witches, pressure was placed on the girls to tell the names of them.

The girls started pointing fingers at various people from Rebecca Nurse a grandmother to four-year old Dorcus Good who would spend months chained to a wall in the town jail.

Spirits of the supposed witches would visit the girls and torture them while by June, over a hundred of Salem's prominent people would be incarcerated.

Ann Putnam with prodding from her mother, pointed at a member of the Salem Village congregation by the name of Martha Corey. During her trial, Martha maintained her innocence but the girls in attendance cried out in fits of supposed torment and anguish. Believing the girls, her own husband testified against her.

The next victim of the hysteria was Rebecca Nurse, a prominent member of the church and community. She was accused by Ann Putman's mother who was also named Ann, as she had apparently afflicted by the same powers as the girls. Shortly after Rebecca the child Dorcus Good was accused as well.

In the months that followed, local tavern owners John and Elizabeth Proctor (who had been vocal about their opposition to the trials), as well as Rebecca Nurse's sister Sara Cloyse.

While these three awaited trail, arrests were made of Mary Warren, Bridget Bishop, Abigail Hobbs, and Giles Corey.

Giles Corey would be pressed to death under a pile of rocks because he refused to stand trial.

Abigail Hobbs was known to be mentally unwell but the magistrates still believed her admissions of being a witch as well as her accusations against Nehemiah Abbot, William and Deliverence Hobbs, Sarah and Edward Bishop, Mary Ester, Mary Black Sarah Wilds and Mary English. These nine would be arrested on April 21, 1692

The girls recanted Abigail Hobbs' accusation against Nehemiah Abbot but none of the others were as lucky. They continued to grow into a powerful force of Salem until they finally accused the wife of Governor Sir William Phips. It was at this time the other ministers took a stand and the trials were halted.

In all, nineteen people were hanged, one pressed to death and four others died in prison awaiting trial. In 1703, the colonial legislature of Massachusetts issued amnesties to all those who had been convicted as well as those who where executed.

For those who had been accused, they continued to suffer until their deaths. Many of them had lost their property, all money but retained the stigma of being a possible witch.

Ann Putmam was the only one of the girls to publicly address her part in the witch trials by standing in front of the Salem congregation and saying "it was a great delusion of Satan" that had caused her to act as she had.

The majority of the other girls left the past and Salem behind, married and had children of their own.

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