The Salem Witch Trials

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The Salem Witch Trials The Salem Witch Trials cost many people their lives, planted a seed of paranoia

around the world, and affected many people. The Salem Witch Trials began in

Massachusetts between 1692 and 1693. The trials lasted only a little less than a year.

Trials started when two young girls claimed to be afflicted by very violent convulsions,

or strange fits that unabled them to hear, see, or speak. These witch trials led to twenty

executions and nearly two hundred people were accused of witchcraft and imprisoned.

This was the largest witch hunt in American history.

Salem 1692, Betty Parris, who was nine years old and her eleven year old cousin

Abigail Williams, both related to Reverend Samuel Parris, became victims to fits

“beyond the power of epileptic fits or natural diseases.” said John Hale in his book, A

Modest Enquiry into the Nature of Witchcraft (1702). As recorded the girls were said to

scream, throw things, murmur strange sounds, crawl under furniture and contort

themselves. They also complained they felt as if they were being pricked with a pin or cut

with knives, and when Reverend Parris would preach they would cover their ears. When

a doctor, believed to be William Griggs, said the girls had to be bewitched.Soon others

exhibited the similar symptoms in the village. It has been said that Griggs had been influenced by Memorable Providences Relating to Witchcrafts and Possessions (1689),

which is one of Cotton Mathers works. In his book he talks about the strange behavior of

four children of a Boston mason.

During February of 1692, residents of the Salem Village held fasts and prayers for

the afflicted. The residents of Salem wanted the influence of the devil to be completely

removed from their community and many members of the community pressured the girls

into giving up some names. The first three people accused of afflicting a young twelve

year old girl named Ann Putnam was Sarah Good, who was a beggar. The second was

Sarah Osburne an old woman and the third was Reverend Parris’s slave, Tituba. Tituba

was a very easy target because she was a slave and from another ethnicity. Many

accounts claimed that she told stories and spells to the young girls while she worked.

Sarah Good was always seen begging for food she was said to be quick to anger and

mutter under her breath, and many thought these mutterings were curses. Sarah Osburne

was considered an outcast because she married her indentured servant. None of the three

women attended church either, which was look down upon. All three women were

viewed as being different to others in their society, and thus were highly vulnerable

targets. The accused were held in prison then brought before the magistrates. The trials

rested only on the testimony of those who were afflicted. Another record said that the

afflicted claimed to see different apparitions or shape of the person who caused them

their pain. But then, a theological dispute broke out about the use of this claimed

evidence because it was supposed that the devil could not take on the shape of the person

without that person’s permission. The court did conclude that the devil needed permission

from the person. Then when the accusers or the afflicted claimed they had actually seen

the person in their “visions”, that person would be charged with consorting with the devil.

Increase Mather and other ministers wrote a letter to the court, The Return of Several

Ministers Consulted, which urged the magistrates to not convict or rely on the testimony

evidence alone. If the accused offered no confession, they were then turned over to the

superior court. In 1692, the accused had to wait several months in prison before a new

governor arrived and established a court of Oyer and Terminer to handle such cases. The

environment of the