Salem Witch Trails

The events that led to the Salem Witch Trails happened in a small parish of Salem Village – now Danvers, Massachusetts (“About the Witches”). From June to September of 1692, a mass hysteria brought nineteen men and women to the gallows after being tried of witchcraft (Linder, “Salem Witch Trials 1692”). A man of eighty years was pressed to death by large stones for not submitting to a trial on witchcraft trials (Linder, “Salem Witch Trials 1692”).

In the village of Salem, Betty Parris, nine years of age, and her cousin Abigail Williams, eleven years of age, were the daughter and niece of Reverend Samuel Parris. The girls began to show rather odd behavior. They often screamed and threw things, uttered bizarre sounds and contoured themselves into abnormal positions (Roach, “The Salem Witch Trails”). The girls covered their ears while in religious services during Reverend Parris’ sermons. A doctor examined them, assumed to be William Griggs, and had no explanation of their symptoms and concluded that they were bewitched (Linder, “Salem Witch Trials 1692”). His conclusion may have been influenced by Cotton Mather’s work: Memorable Providences Relating too Witchcrafts and Possessions, 1689.

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The affected girls said their resident slave, Tituba, entertained them. Tituba was of African descent (Breslaw, “Tituba, Reluctant Witch of Salem”). Ann Putnam, Sarah Good, and Sarah Osbourne were the first three to be accused of witchcraft, as well as the slave Tituba. Ann Putnam was twelve years old. Sarah Good and Sarah Osbourne were both irritable women and could be why they were accused. Tituba was probably targeted due to her race and non-puritan religion (Linder, “Salem Witch Trials 1692”).

Many others were to be accused, including Martha Corey, Rachel Clinton, Dorothy Good, and Rebecca Nurse. Martha Corey was outspoken and skeptical about the credibility of the accusers and the trial. Dorothy Good was the daughter of Sarah Good and only four years of age. It was said she was easily manipulated by the magistrates to say untruthful things that would be taken as a confession and implicating her mother (Linder, “Salem Witch Trials 1692”).

The main source of evidence for these trials came by way of “spectral evidence;” that is, the testimony of the victims who claimed to have seen the apparition of outline of the person who was allegedly committing the offense against them (Linder, “Salem Witch Trials 1692”).  The conflict in using this evidence was the idea of did a person have the right to give the Devil permission to use their shape or body features to hurt others.  Those opposing the whole “Witch Trial” scenario contained that the Devil did not need one’s permission to use them; however, the Court felt otherwise.  They said the Devil did, indeed, need someone’s permission to use their shape for afflicting others.  So by this deductive reasoning, the Court decided that if the victims claimed to have seen the shape of a certain person causing havoc, then that person must be in cohorts with the Devil (“About the Witches”). Increase Mather and other ministers sent letter to the Court to urge them not to convict these accused based solely on this spectral evidence.

Throughout the Witch Trial procedures, Reverend Francis Dane stood strong in supporting those that were accused. He petitioned both the Governor and the Court to condemn the trials on basis of unfounded accusations (“About the Witches”).  The last of the trials came to an end in May of 1693. However, those already found not guilty of witchcraft but were still being held in jail were not released until their jailer’s fees had been paid.

Despite the trials coming to an end, many descendants of the accused sought some form of reparations.  The House of Representatives of Massachusetts passed a bill to outlaw the use of spectral evidence (“About the Witches”).  Based on this, claims made against Abigail Faulkner, Elizabeth Proctor, and Sarah Wardwell, the three who had been convicted but not executed, were overturned.  Legal retribution continued to be sought until those accused had been justified.  In May of 1709, the Court received yet another petition in which descendant sought reversal of the original conviction and financial compensation for potential earned wages (“About the Witches”).  The first pardon came by way of Ann Putnam writing an apology in 1706.  She announced that she had acted out of malice and was being manipulated by Satan into accusing innocent people including mentioning Rebecca Nurse (“About the Witches”).  Following her letter, the pastor who kicked Rebecca Nurse out of the church formally cancelled the excommunication in 1712 (“About the Witches”). By October 1711, 22 of the people listed in the 1709 petition received reversals on their original conviction.  Then monetary reparations were finally made by December of 1711 (“About the Witches”).