The salem witch trials Essay

Submitted By Kjh616
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Pages: 10

Salem Witchcraft

Puritans believed in witches and their ability to harm others. They defined witchcraft as entering into a compact with the devil in exchange for certain powers to do evil. Thus, witchcraft was considered a sin because it denied God’s superiority, and a crime because the witch could call up the Devil in his/her shape to perform cruel acts against others. Therefore, in any case when witchcraft was suspected, it was important that it was investigated thoroughly and the tormentor(s) identified and judged. Unknown to Samuel Parris, Mary Sibley ordered Tituba and her husband, John Indian, to bake a "witch cake" in order to help the girls name their tormentors. A witch cake is composed of rye meal mixed with urine from the afflicted. It is then feed to a dog. The person(s) are considered bewitched if the dog displays similar symptoms as the afflicted. The girls were at first hesitant to speak, but Betty eventually spoke and named Tituba. The other girls soon spoke and named Sarah Osborne and Sarah Good.

All three women were prime candidates for the accusations of witchcraft. Sarah Osborne was an elderly lady who had not gone to church in over a year, and poor church attendance was a Puritan sin. Sarah Good was a homeless woman who begged door to door. If people failed to give her alms, she would utter unknown words and leave. Residents would often attribute her visits to death of livestock. They believed the mumbled words she spoke under her breath were curses against them for not showing her charity. Since Tituba was Parris’ slave and well known to Betty and Abigail, it is no surprise then that her name was the first to be called out by Betty. The negative reputations and low social standing shared by these three women clearly made them believable suspects for witchcraft.

Now that three Salem Village residents stood accused of witchcraft, an investigation of the charges was in order. Two magistrates from Salem Town, John Hathorne, the great-grandfather of famed writer Nathaniel Hawthorne (Nathaniel added a "w" to his name to help disassociate himself from this great-grandfather) and Jonathan Corwin, traveled to Salem Village to investigate the cases of witchcraft. Their investigation of Sarah Osborne, Sarah Good and Tituba was conducted in the Salem Village Meetinghouse. During the questioning of the three accused, Betty, Abigail, and six other girls would often scream and tumble on the floor of the meetinghouse. Even with the harsh questioning by the two magistrates and the unusual actions of the afflicted girls, Sarah Good and Sarah Osborne maintained their innocence. Tituba, however, confessed for three days.

During Tituba’s confession, she talked of red rats, talking cats, and a tall man dressed in black. She stated that the man clothed in black made her sign in a book, and that Sarah Good, Sarah Osborne and others, whose names she could not read, had also signed this book. It is not exactly clear why she confessed to witchcraft. She might have thought that she was guilty since she practiced fortune telling, which was considered a form of "white magic," or perhaps thought that the judges would be lenient if she confessed. Whatever her reason, a confession was not likely obtained from her by torture. Although physical torture was employed in Europe to elicit confessions from accused witches, there are no confirmed cases of it being used in Colonial America for the same purposes as New England law did not sanction it. When Tituba finished her lengthy confession, she, Sarah Good and Sarah Osborne were taken to a Boston jail. Sarah Osborne would later become the first victim of the Salem witch trials when she died two months later of natural causes while still in jail.

The accusations of witchcraft continued despite the jailing of three accused witches. Why the accusations continued is still debated to this day. A recent small pox outbreak, the revocation of the Massachusetts Bay Colony charter by…