Salem Witch Trials Essay, Research Paper
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 to ?get off? from the charges. ??They told me if I would not confess I should be put down into the dungeon and would be hanged, but if I would confess I should have life?, was what Margaret Jacobs, one of the accused had said. Some women were even let free, but because of protest from victims, they were forced to be arrested for a second time. That was the case for Mary Easty (Salem Home Page).
The Puritans of Massachusetts were the first to enforce a sense of political correctness. There were led by God, ran inquisitions, and created the ?witch-hunt? of Salem. The Salem witch trials is just one example of types of hunts that have gone on in American history. The McCarthy trials and Watergate are other forms of hunts in the political spectrum (American Fanaticism).
From the Spring of 1692 to the Fall of 1692, men and women were tried and convicted of being witches. The new Governor, Sir William Phips, who was sent from England, set up a special Court of Oyer and Terminer to hear and decide the remaining witchcraft cases. Appointed as judges were Lt. Governor William Stoughton, Nathaniel Saltonstall, Bartholomew Gedney, Peter Sergeant, Samuel Sewall, Wait Still Winthrop, John Richards, John Hathorne, and Jonathan Corwin. These magistrates based their judgments on intangible evidence, such as forced confessions, so called ?witchmarks?, and reactions of the afflicted girls (Salem Home Page).
The first person to be tried in the Court of Oyer and Terminer was Bridget Bishop. She was found guilty and condemned to death. As Bridget Bishop said, ?I am no witch. I am innocent. I know nothing of it? (Salem Home Page). Soon after her trial, Nathaniel Saltonstall resigned from the court. He was dissatisfied with the proceedings. After the execution of Bishop, accusations of witchcraft escalated. Many townspeople signed petitions opposing the trials. In a letter written by Governor Phips dated the twelfth of October 1692, he tells of his findings of all the proceeding happening in the town of Salem. He argues that it is too late for him to do anything because it has gotten to be a little out of control. He understood that they were to be put on trial, but the evidence was ridiculous and it had to be stopped (Petitions Relating to Rebecca Nurse).
??If it be possible no more innocent blood be shed?I am clear of this sin? (Salem Home Page). Just as everyone was sick of the trials, especially were the people who were on trial. After receiving a letter from Thomas Brattle, Governor Phips ordered the Court of Oyer and Terminer be closed down and no longer be able to hold trial. The General Court of the colony created a Superior Court to try the remaining witchcraft cases. This time no one was convicted (Salem Home Page).
The Salem Witch Trials took place during the seventeenth century in the Massachusetts Bay Colony. During this time, there was a strong belief in the devil and feeling of superstition. These were some of the reasons that the hysteria started in the first place. Years went by, and apologies were given and restitution was also given to the families. This incident in American history has left a great impression on present day lives.
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