Salem Witch Trials




Many of the American colonists brought with them from Europe a belief in witches and the devil. During the seventeenth century, people were executed for being witches and follower of Satan. Most of these executions were performed in Salem, Massachusetts in 1692. Mostly all of the accused were women, which makes some modern historians believe that the charges of witchcraft were a way of controlling the women who threatened the power of the men. During the witchcraft trials, hundreds of arrests were made, and some were even put to death on Gallow’s Hill (Karlsen 145).

In 1698, the villagers of Salem won the right to establish their own Church. They chose the Reverend Samuel Parris as their minister. Many of the villagers were then sorry that they had done so because of his harsh demands. They then vowed to force him out. There was much pressure surrounding the Parris family. The children of the family would entertain themselves by listening to stories told by Tituba, their slave (National Geographic).

January of 1692 is when the mass hysteria of the Salem witch trials first began. The Puritans of this time were very harsh, unyielding, and quick to judge. They condemned innocent women on the basis of intangible evidence, confessions, and such things as “witchmarks” (Hill). As Dorcas Hoar said, “I will speak the truth as long as I live” (Salem Home Page).

Nine year old Betty Parris and eleven year old Abigail Williams, the daughter and niece of Reverend Parris, were the first to start to display signs of strange behavior. Some of this behavior included profane screaming, convulsive seizures, trance-like stages, and unexplainable animal-like noises. Shortly after this, other Salem girls began to demonstrate this same behavior. (Salem Home Page). The girls’ torment “could not possibly be Dissembled”, stated Cotton Mather (National Geographic).

Unable to determine any physical cause for the symptoms and behavior, doctors concluded that the girls were under the influence of Satan. Prayer Services and community fasting were organized by the Reverend Samuel Parris in hopes of relieving the evil forces that supposedly plagued the community. Efforts to expose the witches were also performed.

The first three women to be identified as the source of the problem were Tituba, an Indian slave, Sarah Good, and Sarah Osborne. Good and Osborne maintained their innocence, but Tituba confessed saying the devil appeared to her “sometimes like a hog and sometimes like a great dog.” The deception of the witches of Salem was beginning.

Magistrates John Hathorne and Jonathan Corwin examined Tituba, Sarah Good, and Sarah Osborne in the meeting house in Salem Village. Tituba confessed. The magistrates told Tituba that Abigail and Betty saw her in their visions, and that she pricked and pinched them. It was impossible to tall is she was telling the truth or not, but that was not what mattered, there had been a confession, and that was what mattered (Hill 27). “The devil came to me and bid me serve him”, she stated in her confession (National Geographic).

Over the next few weeks, many other townspeople came forward to testify that they had also been afflicted or seen strange occurrences. As the hunt continued, many different types of people began to be accused. Most of the women accused were those whose economic situations were poor and they had social problems. Also, some had previous records of criminal activity, but still others were faithful churchgoers and people of high standing respect. “Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour” (1 Peter 5:8).

Many of the women who were examined only to see if they would be brought to trial. Yet mostly everyone examined, went to trial (Hill 42). The Magistrates would often question the accused in such a way that whatever they said, it would make them seem guilty. “Have you made no contract with the devil?”, “No”, answered Sarah Good (Hill 43). From the answer given by Sarah Good, it seems as if she has just said that she made a contract with the devil. So the record says, “so they all did look upon her and said this was one of the persons that did torment them” (Hill 44).

Some women would also do what they could