The Salem witch trials happened during the colonial Massachusetts in 1962. Approximately two hundred people were faced with charges of practicing witchcraft and twenty of them executed. The trials were certainly full of uncertainty and controversy. Close to one hundred people were found guilty on these charges. Prior to these, the Puritan residents had migrated from their homes fleeing from religious persecution. Two sets of people made up the town namely those who wanted to stay and those who wanted to leave. The trials are famous because of their too much basis on spectral evidence and several confessions that aided the accusations grow. Often the marginalized and the poor are victims of witchcraft accusations. However, in this case even ministers such as George Burroughs was charged and executed.
Reasons why the trials occurred
Salem Village had a good history before the trials. It was not that prominent as a home of tranquility in England. The reason was its over six hundred families who were separated into two sides; those who wanted to leave Salem town and those who wanted to stay. Those who wanted to separate were farmers who resided towards the eastern side near Salem town. Those who wanted to stay in Salem town were tied economically to its thriving harbors. Most of the farmers had beliefs that the thriving economy in Salem made it individualistic. Such individualism was in protest to the communal structure mandated by Puritan. Hence, they had lost touch with Salem Village. Specifically one family that felt so was the Putnams therefore many reasons contributed to the trials as highlighted below;
Some researcher’s belief that this began as a result of the village girls being bored. Obviously, there was not so much one could do in Salem. Furthermore, the Puritans had stringent norms which forbade several kinds of entertainment for both children and adults. For girls, it was more strict as the limitations for them were quite severe than it was for boys. For girls, attending small circles that involved fortune and storytelling as well as reading books were the main source of entertainment.
Strong belief in the Occult
Most people in Salem had strong beliefs in the existence and reality of witches and witchcraft. As per their beliefs, witches were attributed to the devil giving witches the power to cause havoc. They were blamed for all misfortunes and troubles from failed crops, illnesses, bad weather as well as other things that could be rationally justified. As a result of the strong belief in occult, the people of Salem were tempted to favor the most unreasonable explanations. For many of them the biggest threat was witches and witchcraft.
Disputes, Rivalries and Personal Differences
Most of the families accused of witchcraft had unsettled businesses with their accusers or were perceived as a real threat to the values of Puritan. Close to fifty persons were either indirectly or directly accused by people of the Putnam family which adhered to the Puritan beliefs and customs strictly as well as rallied behind Reverend Samuel Parris, the source of the witch hunt. Porters who were a rival family to the Putnams attempted to convince the villager’s against the trials. But their attempts felt into deaf ears as nineteenth of their members were also victims of the witch hunt.
There are people who also believed that the tragedy may have been due to the cold weather, particularly a pursuit for someone or something to blame for the troubles like crop failure. There is also evidence indicating that the years before the Trials were specifically cold. Furthermore, the despicable trials took place in the so called Great Witch Craze period where it actually coincides what is referred to as the Little Ice Age, a time of unusual climate change between the 14th and 19th centuries.
The consumption of the rye grains mixed with some ergot fungus is also a reason why the witch trials occurred. When consumed, the fungus could lead to convulsions and hallucinations same as those that were recorded as experienced by the allegedly bewitched girls.
Contract ministers at the period in Salem earned a modest salary, use of free firewood and a free house. The Rev. received even much more above what was expected to be given to him at the time. This angered many residents especially those who wanted to remain as part of Salem town. Those in Salem Town openly refused to worship at the meetinghouse thus not giving their taxes. These created a conflict as the taxes helped in paying the ministers salary.
The Salem Trial Process
The court of Over and Terminer held four sessions in Salem town with every session lasting for one or two weeks. Though a crowned attorney helped organize the cases, no defense or prosecuting attorneys existed. A panel of judges spearheaded the Trial, then reviewed the evidences brought forward and decided whether or not to indict. A twelve member jury determined trial verdicts. Initially, there was presumption of not guilty until a guilty verdict is made. But then, the judges also felt that the witch conspiracy threatened Massachusetts and thus tried as much as possible to convict.
People were arrested and then the court began with those who had strongest cases against them. The strongest case against the first accused who was twice widowed and living with the third husband, included complains by neighbors of mysterious deaths, disappearance of money, spectral evidence as well as the ability to transform into an animal. Physical evidence also existed on the discovery of a witch’s sucked blood and hence gained sustenance within physical examination by a panel of midwives and a physician.
A carpenter also testified that some years after while repairing her stone cellar, he found dolls and poppets used to harm people via magic. In addition to the active participation of the afflicted during trials, where their writhing and screaming reinforced evidence, it sealed the fate of the Bishop. She was sentenced to death and subsequently hanged.
After the Bishop’s execution the accusations slowed down. But later returned and grew in number spreading outward into eminent members of the society. Even respectable church members stood accused. Rebecca a nurse was convicted even despite the support of thirty-nine neighbors and friends to discredit her accusers. The third round of trials was marked by the trial of Reverend George Burroughs. Many members of the society doubted that a Harvard educated Puritan could be a minion of Satan. But for some he was the perfect witch.
His resistance to baptizing his children made the Puritans doubt him. He had gained a lot of enemies in his tenure at Salem Village even others seeing his strength as supernatural. He was also hanged among others. Accusations heightened and at some point 40 alleged witches were formally charged. Tituba was the first to confess to witchcraft, this was followed by others. At some point all those who pled not guilty were tried and convicted swiftly and executed soon.
Those who pled guilty remained alive as they were deemed useful in naming other witches. Many of those who pledged guilty therefore survived conviction and went on to live in Salem, but many innocent victims were charged and convicted without a just process. Generally, the process did not truly seek justice as many were convicted based on malice and a mindset already predetermined by the judges.
The aftermath of the trials was dire. Even after the trials, many people were left in Jail as they could not afford to pay for their release. According to the law, those in jail still had to pay for their freedom. Furthermore, those convicted of witchcraft had their property taken by the government at the time leaving them and their families with no money or homes for some. The trials also strained the surrounding structures and land. Fields and houses were left unattended for long and there were interruptions to the planting season. Those who had already planted did not have time to cultivate or harvest. The Salem meetinghouse was also left unattended and in poor condition as a result of distractions from the trials.
Epidemics and crop failures also continued to affect Salem for a longer period after the trials. To many, they felt that these events were a result of God punishing them for the innocent life’s lost. The structures and land among other things such as politics needed change after the trials. The Essex County Court ordered that the Village Committee was derelict it its actions, and declared for fresh elections.
The Rev. Samuel Paris also felt in Jeopardy of losing his Job from the outcome of the fresh elections. After his mediation sermon things worsened between him and the community and moved from Salem village. He was replaced by Joseph Green to aid the community heal the scars left by the trial on the community. Some healing seemed to have occurred as Rebecca the Nurse family, Thomas Wilkins and John Tarbell rejoined the congregation.
Other families who had been accused of witchcraft left Salem and moved to Massachusetts. Some like Philip English never forgave his accusers for the loss of his reputation and property. He sought heavy compensation for his losses. He later founded his own church. It’s not clear though on what happened to the afflicted girls. Information suggest that Ann Putnam brought up her siblings when her parents died. She also died single and buried in an unmarked grave similar to that of his parents. However, the community never forgot their participation with the witch trials.
After that, no one in America lost his/her life again as a convicted witch. This also became the last of the religious based witch hunts. Salem town and Salem Village are separated later growing up to Danvers. Nevertheless, the separation did not completely wipe the history of the trials away. For close to three hundred years, sociologists, historians and psychologists kept on researching about them to date, this remains a memory of how family disagreements, politics, economics, religion and imaginations of people could lead to dire consequences to communities.
The world also continues to look at the Salem trials to worn against consequences of emerging conflicts across the world. Those practicing witchcraft have now been left to do it without control only occasionally being warned by the courageous. It has also led to the expansion of witch craft across the world.