Judge Hathorne Essay, Research Paper
The Salem witch trials were one of the most infamous events to take place in early American history. Through the actions of two young girls and an overpowering magistrate, twenty people lost their lives that did not have to. Throughout the trials, more than one hundred people were accused of witchcraft and arrested. Almost all of the accused were unjustly prosecuted and sentenced, much of which was the fault of Judge John Hathorne. John Hathorne played a major role in the Salem witch trials, a ruthless role that ended the lives of twenty people. The story behind the Salem witch trials started on January 20, 1692. Nine year old Elizabeth Parris and eleven-year-old Abigail Williams began to show strange, abnormal behavior such as blasphemous screaming, convulsive seizures, trance-like states, and mysterious spells. Because of this strange behavior, the people of the town became suspicious as to what the cause might be. Around mid-February they concluded that the girls were under the influence of Satan. Reverend Samuel Parris, who attempted to remove Satan’s influence on them, tried to help the girls. He conducted fasting and prayer sessions for them, among other things. Others tried too, including a man named John Indian who baked a witch cake made of the supposedly affected girls’ urine and rye meal to help to expose the witches’ identities. Finally, the girls named three women: Tituba, the Parris’ Carib Indian slave; Sarah Good; and Sarah Osborne. All three women were soon arrested on February 29. Osborne and Good both refused to admit that they were witches, but Tituba admitted that she had seen the Devil before. Judges Hathorne and Corwin examined the three of them and Tituba admitted to practicing witchcraft. Soon afterwards, many of the townspeople testified that they saw strange related things occurring. Trials followed after over one hundred accusations and arrests were made, and. As a result of these trials, between June 10 and September 22, 1692, nineteen people were hung. (1) One of the primary instigators, Ann Putnam, confessed her fraud fourteen years later, at the age of twenty-six. She had her minister read the confession at Sunday service, saying: “It was a great delusion of Satan that deceived me in that sad time whereby I justly fear I have been instrumental to bring upon myself and this land the guilt of innocent blood.” Unfortunately for those who lost their lives, the whole thing was a story, and never should have happened. Although Hathorne was not the instigator of the whole affair, he did, however, have a strong negative effect on the trials. One such example is that of Rebecca Nurse. Nurse had been accused and arrested on the belief that she was practicing witchcraft. The jury in her trial saw that she was innocent and granted her a reprieve. Hathorne, however, disagreed and refused to accept the verdict. He then went a step further and convinced the jury to change their verdict. (2) This is a perfect example of why he is known as Salem’s “witch hanging judge” today. Acts like this can be attributed to his strong belief that the devil could use witches to destroy the purpose of the church and do harm to the people. Because of this belief, Hathorne took the complaints about supposed witches very seriously. As a justice of the peace, Hathorne would conduct initial examinations of these people, although he usually seemed to act more as a prosecutor than an impartial questioner.
Another account of his ruthlessness was exhibited in the trial of John Alden, a resident of Boston. Alden was accused of witchcraft by the young girls of Salem and brought to trial. When Alden approached them in court, the girls fainted and fell to the floor. Alden turned to Judge Hawthorne and said, “What’s the reason you don’t fall when I look at you?” Hawthorne could think of nothing and did not respond to the question, yet still imprisoned him. Alden was lucky, and escaped death three months later by escaping from jail, and fortunately he was never caught again. (2) The story of Giles Corey is another one that displays the atrocity of the witch trials. Corey was an eighty-year-old man executed for the crime of witchcraft on September 19, 1692. When asked what his plea was, Corey remained silent in court, refusing to plead either innocent or guilty. Many of his friends believed he did this because, by doing so under English law, he could leave his property to whomever he wanted, otherwise the sheriff would confiscate it. By remaining silent, Corey’s sentence was to have heavy stones piled on his stomach until he gave a plea. (3) This is an act of extreme torture, and even though it was an English law, it should not have happened. His death was an act of protest- the most dramatic protest of all against the courts. If Hathorne had not been such a ruthless man, this would never have occurred. The cases of the hung witches suddenly began increasing in number until they were completely out of control. Not until Governor Phips stepped in did they cease. By this time, 134 people had been accused and imprisoned, and thirty-four were accused and in various jails awaiting trial when he released all prisoners. If Hathorne had been a reasonable man and not influenced his decisions with his personal opinions and beliefs, things would have been far different. Even his own family was ashamed of his actions. Nathaniel Hawthorne, great-grandson of John Hathorne, added a “w” to his last name as to not be associated with his grandfather. Hathorne went to the extremes with his involvement in the Salem witch trials, and many innocent people paid for it with their lives. Bibliography 1. Retrieved February 10, 1999 from the World Wide Web: http://www.salemweb.com/memorial/default.htm Dialogue based on the examination of Sarah Good by Judges Hathorne and Corwin, from The Salem Witchcraft Papers, Book II, p.355 2. Retrieved February 10, 1999 from the World Wide Web: http://ourworld.compuserve.com/homepages/JOHNBERRY/d3494.htmSource: ‘Salem Possessed, The Social Origins of Witchcraft’, 1974, Paul Boyer & Stephen Nissenbaum, p 149, 200. ‘A Genealogy of the Nurse Family for Five Generations’, 1892, John D. Ames, p 96-100. 3. Retrieved February 10, 1999 from the World Wide Web: http://fillmore-west.montgomery-floyd.lib.va.us/compages/cechurch/coreyg.htm Source: The Salem Witchcraft Papers: Verbatim Transcripts of the Legal Documents of the Salem Witchcraft Outbreak of 169, Vols. I-III, transcribed in 1938 by Works Progress Administration under supervision of Archie N. Frost, Ed. by Paul Boyer and Stephen Nissenbaum, Da Capo Press, NY, 1977