The Creepy but True Story of the Salem Witch Trials:
It was a much simpler time in our country’s history. A time when the people were God-fearing, strongly superstitious and largely uneducated. Neighbors relied upon each other for support and assistance, and there was no room for individualism among the puritans of the Massachusetts Bay Colony.
The nights were long and dark, lit only by the feeble light of the homemade tallow candle. The forests and countryside were dark and unfriendly. The native inhabitants often hostile, were a constant threat. Life was hard and survival difficult. Everywhere there was fear, darkness and death.
Salem Witch Trials Timeline:
* Salem Village in the Massachusetts Bay Colony, is settled by 5 farmers who moved to the area in the 1630s and it becomes a separate parish with its own meetinghouse and minister in 1672.
* In 1689 Samuel Parris,a minister, moves to Salem village with his family and 2 slaves, Tituba and Indian John.
* In January of 1692, Parris’ daughter, Elizabeth Parris, Jr., known as Betty, falls ill.
* It is Betty’s illness which begins the “witch hunt” and subsequent Salem Witch Trials in Salem village.
Factors Leading to the Witchcraft Hysteria in Salem Village:
Witchcraft trials had been going on for several centuries throughout Europe, with the approval and support of the Church. Countless thousands of men and women had been tortured and executed for alleged witchcraft and devil worship.
The Puritans were a very strict and serious minded religious group, that did not condone, singing,dancing or recreational (non-work related) activity. Such activity was considered idleness and the influence of the devil.
Some of the actual factors leading to accusations in the Salem Witch Trials, included petty jealousies and feuds, property, several of the accused witches were well-off and if convicted of witchcraft, their property was forfeit. Other reasons included their failure to attend church regularly, and perceived opposition to the minister, Samuel Parris, as well as any odd (for the time) behaviors.
The Salem Witch Trial Proceedings:
January 1692, “Betty” becomes ill, the Reverend Samuel Parris consults with the town doctor, William Griggs. The doctor can find nothing wrong with the girl, and under some pressure from the minister, blames the girl’s illness on witchcraft. This very unmedical diagnosis began the witch hunt hysteria in Salem.
The town was already anxious, due to a recent smallpox outbreak. In their religious belief this outbreak was also a sign of the devil’s presence in their community.
For reasons which will never be fully known, the minister’s daughter Betty and several of her friends began calling out the names of people in the village, who were said to be bewitching them. Soon the town jail was filled with 150 people from Salem and surrounding villages, who had been accused.
The Salem Witch Trials began in June 1692 and were presided over by Chief Justice William Stoughton. The first to go to trial and be hanged was Bridget Bishop. Thirteen women and four men, would follow her to the gallows over the summer. An additional man Giles Corey was “pressed,” crushed to death with large heavy stones, as he steadfastly refused to plead guilty to the witchcraft charge against him.
In October of 1692, the trials suddenly ended, when the court was dismissed by the Governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, William Phipps, who ruled that so-called “spectral evidence” was not allowable. The accused still in custody were immediately released and those found guilty and waiting on “death row” were pardoned and released.
In following years, apologies were issued, but the wounds to the Village of Salem ran deep. The Salem Witch Trials became an example of what fear, superstition, and petty jealousies can do to a tight knit society.
Many accused and convicted persons continued to languish in jail after the trials ended, because they could not afford the money required for their release.
Many of the released,but convicted persons ended up poor and destitute, since all their property was seized and would not be returned to them.
There was a food shortage in Salem, as the fields had been neglected due to the turmoil of the trials.
The Reverend Parris and his family were forced to move away from Salem by April 1696, due to community pressure. His son Noyes died insane.
The Puritan Religion began to fade-out and lose influence as a direct result of the Witch Trials. Colonial society began to question the outmoded and superstitious beliefs of the Puritans.
Following the Salem Witch Trials, there was never another witch trial or witch execution in the American colonies.