In 1692 Salem was an unremarkable town in Massachusetts. In this Puritanical stronghold witch fever took hold and spread throughout the population; neighbour e denounced neighbour and children accused well respected townsfolk of hideous Satanic practises. Before the frenzy had evaporated it claimed the lives of 22 people and two dogs, who were also executed for practising witchcraft.
The furore was sparked in the minds of impressionable children. A group of girls habitually met in the home of the local minister.
Rev Samuel Parris had arrived in Salem from the West Indies and brought with him two slaves, John and Tituba. It seemed Tituba, who was half-Carib and half-Negro, was still attached to the rituals of her ancestors and told the girls all about the magic of her people.
The girls may have been genuinely affected by Tituba’s words and actions. Or, given the strict Puritanical upbringing of the girls which even deemed dancing as evil, they may have felt guilt at witnessing
un-Christian worship and believed that they would get into some serious trouble.
What is certain is that nine-year-old Betty Parris, her cousin Abigail Williams, 11, and their friend Ann Putnam, 12, went hysterical.
Symptoms of groaning, flailing and writhing convinced their parents that the girls were bewitched. In February 1692 the girls named a trio of women who they claimed were responsible for casting spells upon them. They were Tituba, Sarah Good, who was a beggar, and a widow by the name of Sarah Osburne.
None of the three were church-goers and the ruling Puritans disapproved of them all. Tituba was obviously an outsider, Sarah Good was a pipe-smoking outcast and Sarah Osburne had offended many by living in sin before marrying her second husband.
Under interrogation Tituba furnished the Puritans with an imaginative confession, vivid with devil idolatry, The authorities took no further action against her as anyone who willingly confessed and implicated others walked free. It was those who refused to confess and maintained their innocence that were sent to the gallows.
The purge in Salem escalated rapidly, fanned by the words of men like Rev. Cotton Mather of New England who had studied witchcraft and was convinced of its manifestation in the town.
Over 400 people were arrested, among them five-year-old Dorcas Good, daughter of the doomed Sarah, was chained up for more than seven months. Two people died in prison, including the sickly Sarah Osburne. Countless others fled.
Nineteen people were hung, including Deputy Constable John Willard after he refused to make further arrests. Among the victims was former
minister Rev. George Burroughs, accused of seducing young girls into witchcraft and said to have bitten the girls he molested. Burrough’s body was dragged to a shallow grave and buried with a hand, foot and his chin exposed, as was the custom with witches. Burroughs had been the Rev Parris’s predecessor and many of those accused were closely linked to the former parson.
Two women were hanged after numerous men in the town declared the pair transformed themselves into beasts and knocked on bedroom windows. The court proceedings were infected with hysteria. One court record tells how one of the accused ‘fell down and tumbled about like a hog’. When the courthouse roof collapsed one of the accused, Bridget Bishop, was thought to have put the ‘evil eye’ on it, forcing it to crumble with just one look.
Most disgraceful of all was the pressing to death of Giles Cory, who was in eighties. When he refused to plead he was pinned down in an open field and rocks were piled high on his chest to make him plead guilty or not guilty so he could be tried. Cory died rather than dignify the ludicrous proceedings with a plea.
By October 1692 the people of Salem wearied of bloodshed and hysteria and the persecution stopped. A day of mourning was declared and judges and juries apologised to bereaved families.
In : History
Tags: salem witch witches trial matthew hopkins witch hunter general
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