Salem Witch Craft Trials Of 1692

An account of the witchcraft hysteria of 1692 in Salem, Massachusettes and the people lost their lives as a result of these trials.

When one visits the town of Salem, Massachusetts one feels like they are stepping back in time. This is mainly due to the historic preservation of the memory of the famous Salem witch trials of 1692. Townsfolk were tried, convicted, imprisoned and in many cases executed with evidence that would never be admitted in a modern court because of its absurdity. No one accused was burned, as the common images depict, however, 19 were executed and many others imprisoned. The following is the account of this travesty of justice.

In 1629 Salem was settled. Later in 1641 English law made witchcraft a capital crime. That law existed on the books without any need for prosecution until 1688, when Martha Goodwin, a local teen, following an argument with a laundress named Goode Glover, began exhibiting bizarre behavior. Days later her brother and two sisters exhibited similar behavior. A laundress was arrested and tried for bewitching the Goodwin children. Reverend Cotton Mather met with Goode Glover, the laundress, following her arrest in an attempt to persuade her to repent her witchcraft. Goode Glover was hanged. Mather took Martha Goodwin into his house. Her behavior became more irrational and suspicious. A landmark that forshadowed the trouble was when Cotton Mather published "Memorable Providences, Relating to Witchcrafts and Possession." Shortly after the new year in 1692, eleven-year old Abigail Williams and nine-year-old Elizabeth Parris begin behaving much as the Goodwin children acted four years earlier. Soon Ann Putnam Jr. and other Salem girls began acting similarly. Then, in mid February, 1692 a doctor, at a loss to explain the strange behavior of the girls, attributed it to Witchcraft. Shortly after, Tituba, a slave woman, baked a "witch cake" and fed it to a dog. Elizabeth identified Tituba as the catalyst for her odd behavior. The girls later accused Sarah Good and Sarah Osborne of witchcraft. Arrest warrants were issued for Tituba, Sarah Good and Sarah Osborne. John Hathorne and Jonathan Corwin examined Tituba, Sarah Good, and Sarah Osborne for "witches teats." Tituba confessed to practicing witchcraft and indicted Goode and Osborne. Ann Putnam Jr. showed symptoms of affliction by witchcraft. Mercy Lewis, Mary Walcott, and Mary Warren claimed to be affected as well. Ann Putnam Jr. accused Martha Cory of witchcraft. Abigail Williams accused Rebecca Nurse as a witch. Judges Hathorne and Corwin examined Martha Cory. Deputy Samuel Brabrook then arrested a four-year-old girl, Dorcas Good. Corwin and Hathorne examined Rebecca Nurse Hathorne and Corwin interrogated Dorcas. Elizabeth Proctor was the next person accused of witchcraft. Sarah Cloyce, after defending her sister, Rebecca Nurse, was accused of witchcraft. Hathorne and Corwin examine Sarah Cloyce and Elizabeth Proctor. On the same day Elizabeth's husband, John, who tried to interfere with his wife being indicted, became the first man accused of witchcraft and is thrown in jail. The Proctors' servant Mary Warren admited lying and accused the other girls of lying. Ann Putnam Jr. accused Giles Cory of witchcraft and said that a man who died at Cory's house also visited her as a ghost. Abigail Hobbs, Bridget Bishop, Giles Cory and Mary Warren are examined. Deliverance Hobbs confessed to practicing witchcraft. Mary Warren then reversed her statement made in early April and went back to her original story. Mary Easty, Rebecca Nurse's sister, was examined by Hathorne and Corwin. Hathorne and Corwin also examined Nehemiah Abbott, William and Deliverance Hobbs, Edward and Sarah Bishop, Mary Black, Sarah Wildes, and Mary English. Some of the hysterical girls also tried to accuse former Salem minister George Burroughs of witchcraft. Hathorne and Corwin examined Sarah Morey, Lyndia Dustin, Susannah Martin and Dorcas Hoar. George Burroughs were arrested in Maine. George Burroughs was returned to Salem and placed in jail. Corwin and Hathorne examined Burroughs and Sarah Churchill. Burroughs was moved to a Boston jail. Corwin and Hathorne examined George Jacobs, Sr. and his granddaughter Margaret Jacobs. Sarah Osborne died in prison.

The next events followed in May 14, 1692, when Increase Mather and Sir William Phipps, the newly elected governor of the colony, arrived in Boston. They brought with them a charter ending the 1684 prohibition of self-governance within the colony. Mary Easty was released from prison. Following protest by her accusers, she was again arrested. Roger Toothaker was also arrested on charges of witchcraft.

Things really heated up in Salem when on May 27, 1692 Phipps issued a commission for a Court of Oyer and Terminer and appointed as judges John Hathorne, Nathaniel Saltonstall, Bartholomew Gedney, Peter Sergeant, Samuel Sewall, Wait Still Winthrop, and Lieutenant Governor William Stoughton. Hathorne, Corwin and Gednew examined Martha Carrier, John Alden, Wilmott Redd, Elizabeth Howe and Phillip English. English and Alden later escaped prison and do not return to Salem until after the madness was over. Bridget Bishop was the first to be tried and convicted of witchcraft. Shortly after this, Elizabeth Booth showed symptoms of affliction by witchcraft. Bridget Bishop was hanged. Following the hanging, Nathaniel Saltonstall left the court and was replaced by Corwin. Cotton Mather wrote a letter requesting the court not use spectral evidence as a standard and urging that the trials be speedy. The Court of Oyer and Terminer decided to make the trials go faster but still allow spectral evidence. Roger Toothaker died in prison. Rebecca Nurse, Susannah Martin, Sarah Wildes, Sarah Good, and Elizabeth Howe were tried, pronounced guilty and were sentenced to hang. Rebecca Nurse, Susannah Martin, Elizabeth Howe, Sarah Good and Sarah Wildes were the next to be hanged at Gallows Hill. George Jacobs Sr., Martha Carrier, George Burroughs, John Willard and John and Elizabeth Proctor were pronounced guilty and sentenced to hang. Later that summer, George Jacobs Sr., Martha Carrier, George Burroughs, John Willard and John Proctor were hanged on Gallows Hill. Elizabeth Proctor was not hanged because she was pregnant. Margaret Jacobs recanted the testimony that led to the execution of her grandfather George Jacobs Sr. and Burroughs. Shortly following, Martha Corey, Mary Easty, Alice Parker, Ann Pudeator, Dorcas Hoar and Mary Bradbury are pronounced guilty and were sentenced to hang. Giles Cory was accused of witchcraft. Then in September 17, 1692, Margaret Scott, Wilmott Redd, Samuel Wardwell, Mary Parker, Abigail Faulkner, Rebecca Earnes, Mary Lacy, Ann Foster and Abigail Hobbs were tried and sentenced to hang. Giles Cory was pressed to death with heavy stones after refusing to enter a plea to the charges of witchcraft against him. His only comment as they were crushing him was "more weight" to make it go faster. This the court did not oblige and it took Cory two days to die. Martha Cory, Margaret Scott, Mary Easty, Alice Parker, Ann Pudeator, Willmott Redd, Samuel Wardwell, and Mary Parker were hanged. Hoar escaped execution by confessing. Finally on October 3, 1692, The Reverend Increase Mather, President of Harvard College and father to Cotton Mather, denounced the use of spectral evidence. Governor Phipps ordered that spectral evidence no longer be admitted in witchcraft trials. Later that fall, Phipps prohibits further arrests, releases many accused witches, and dissolves the Court of Oyer and Terminer. Around Thanksgiving, The General Court established a Superior Court to try remaining witches. Judge Stoughton ordered execution of all suspected witches who were exempted by their pregnancy. Phipps denied enforcement of the order and Stoughton left his position as judge Finally, 49 of the 52 surviving people brought into court on witchcraft charges were released because their arrests were based on spectral evidence. Tituba was released from jail and sold to a new master.

The following Spring, Phipps signed pardons for those accused still in prison. It took until 1697 for the court to admit wrongdoing. The General Court ordered a day of fasting and soul-searching for the tragedy at Salem. The General Court declared the 1692 trials unlawful. During the early 1700s Salem passed a bill, saying that those accused had their good name and rights as citizens restored, a bit late for all those already dead in the religious crossfire of the witchtrials. If one visits Salem today, one can see that the memory of the trials are kept alive by public sites like the famous Salem Witch Museum and tourist shows where some of the famous trial moments are reinacted as well as in books like Arthur Miller's "The Crucible."

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