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Salem Witch Trials
 In January, 1692, Reverend Samuel Parris’ daughter, Betty, and niece, Abigail Williams, fell victim to an illness that no one could name. They exhibited strange behavior, in which they would scream blasphemously, had convulsive seizures, and went into trance-like states and mysterious spells. Doctor after doctor had no explanation, but finally Dr. William Griggs concluded that the girls “were under an Evil Hand.” Eventually, more girls, including Ann Putnam and Elizabeth Hubbard, became afflicted. Parris conducted prayer services and community fasting to try to save the girls from the evil forces that plagued them. Prayers and fasting had no effect and the desperate community needed an answer. Under all this pressure, the girls named Tituba, Parris’ servant, Sarah Good, and Sarah Osborne as their tormentors.
 The three accused women were sent to the magistrates, John Hathorne (ancestor of Nathaniel Hawthorne) and Jonathan Corwin, to be examined. Tituba confessed that she was in league with the devil, but Sarah Good and Sarah Osborne refused to confess. All three were sent to prison. In Tituba’s testimony, she confirmed the village’s fears that the devil was among them. After her confession, the witch-hunt began in earnest. Over the next weeks, community members started accusing their neighbors of witchcraft. They said they had been harmed and saw strange apparitions of some community members. Many started accusing those who were close to them. Giles Corey testified against his own wife, and Margaret Jacobs testified against her grandfather, George Jacobs, Jr. Those accused were first arrested and examined and then tried in court.
 During the witch trials, the judges relied on intangible evidence such as confessions, the girls’ reactions, and supernatural attributes, such as witchmarks. There was some controversy over this, especially when the girls said they saw the accused persons’ spirit. Some people reasoned that the Devil might take the shape of innocents.
 Many of those accused were loyal church members and prominent members of the community. Martha Corey was the first church member to be accused, but not the last. She was an outspoken skeptic about the existence of witches in Salem Village and later was excommunicated. Ann Putnam’s mother, Ann, joined the afflicted girls and together with the girls, they accused seventy-one-year-old Rebecca Nurse who was known for her goodness and piety. Her accusation provoked the most protests. During her trial, she was acquitted by the jury, but the judges asked them to reconsider. Later, Nurse was found guilty of witchcraft and hanged.
 One of the girls, Mary Warren, wanted to confess to the courts about the lies that the girls told. The girls found out before Mary could confess and told the judges that the Devil has penetrated the accusing circle. The judges had her arrested and sent to court. She was so intimidated by the judges and the girls that she returned to her fits. She lost her credibility and could not return with the girls, but eventually she once again became part of the circle.
 By the end of May, there were over 40 people arrested, and Sarah Osborne was the first to die in jail. In June, Bridget Bishop was the first to be pronounced guilty of witchcraft and hanged. After her death there were more accusations, but there was also more protests against these trials. Petitions were signed on behalf of the accused.
 Later, the girls started accusing those outside Salem Village and those accused had to travel to the village to be tried. Those accused and hanged were now a variety of people. It no longer mattered whether they were outside the community or church members. Eventually, the girls went as far as accusing the judges’ wives and even the wife of the governor of Massachusetts, Lady Phipps. By October, nineteen people were hanged, and a man was pressed to death because he would not accuse his neighbors.
 Many prominent persons began to criticize the trials. Increase Mather, who at first was in support of the witch trials, delivered a sermon, which cast doubt on the validity of spectral evidence, which was the girls’ and other accusers’ claim of seeing spirits. He said, “It were better than ten suspected witches should escape, than that one innocent person should be condemned.” Thomas Brattle, who was well known for his criticism of the witch-hunts, wrote an eloquent letter criticizing the trials. He believed that it was irresponsible of the courts to rely on common gossip, confessions, and especially the pretensions of young girls. This letter had great impact on the governor, Sir William Phipps, so he ordered that spectral and intangible evidence could not be used in the trials. He later also forbade further imprisonments for witchcraft. In due course, the witch-hunts died down, and in May, 1693, those in jail were released, on payment of their fees. After the trials, many people did feel guilty and apologized for their involvement in the trials. These included jurors, Judge Samuel Sewell, John Hale and a few others, but two judges, Hathorne and William Stoughton, never expressed any regret and stood behind their actions.
Breslaw, Elaine G. Tituba, Reluctant Witch of Salem. New York: New York UP, 1996.
There has not been a lot written about Tituba because of her ethnic background. Breslaw found that Tituba was an American Indian, as well as her husband, and there is no evidence that she had any African background. Tituba played a major role in the witch trials, but because of her ethnic background, she attracted little serious attention from historians. Tituba was a likely target because of Puritan fear of American Indians. She was arrested, and she did confess. Her confession led the Salem villagers to believe that the Devil was in their midst. She was a storyteller and elaborated in her confession. This initiated the legal process that led to over 150 accused. She was only trying to resist abuse from her master, Samuel Parris. She was the one who supposedly led the circle of girls in practicing sorcery. There has never been any proof of this, but she became the icon of Puritan fears. They believed she took part in occult rituals, danced in the woods, drank blood, and stuck pins in dolls.
Gragg, Larry. A Quest for Security: The Life of Samuel Parris 1653-1720. New York: Greenwood P, 1990.
This book is about the life of Samuel Parris, and a few chapters are about his time in Salem, Massachusetts. A new Church was placed in Salem Village in 1689, and Parris was ordained as pastor of the new congregation. In February 1692, his daughter, Elizabeth, and his niece, Abigail Williams, suffered from violent fits, which no doctor could explain. The two girls were not the only ones afflicted. There were other girls in the town who also suffered from these convulsions. It was found that the girls experimented with little sorceries lead by Tituba, Parris’ servant. Dr. William Griggs concluded that the girls “were under an Evil Hand.” The Puritans believed in the power of witchcraft and were not surprised by this diagnosis. This began the hunt for witches.
The first accused were Sarah Good and Sarah Osborne who were the kind typically accused of witchcraft. They were the outcasts, those who most likely would cast spells on their neighbors. Eventually, most of those accused were prominent citizens of the village. Parris was naturally affected by these trials, because it evidently started from inside his home when his daughter and niece were afflicted. Many people spoke about the Devil’s plan to destroy Salem by starting at the Minister’s house. Because of these personal experiences, Parris accepted evidence from the accusers uncritically. From all these testimonies, Parris concluded that they had uncovered a plot to destroy Puritan society.
After more and more people were accused, many became skeptical of the proceedings. Many church members were among the accused, including Martha Corey and Rebecca Nurse. There were debates on the possibility that the devil was taking the shape of an innocent. Parris was among those who believed that even those who were a part of the church could be influenced by the devil. There were complaints about the trials. People criticized the consulting of the afflicted children and using evidence supplied by the afflicted. Also criticized was the lenient treatment of the people of prominence. Even with all this criticism, Parris still remained satisfied with the holding of the trials. Finally, in October, Parris recognized that it was no longer to his advantage to support the trials. On October 12, 1692, the Massachusetts General Court intervened and put a stop to the witch trials.
Hill, Frances. A Delusion of Satan: A Full Story of the Salem Witch Trials. New York: Doubleday, 1995.
The girls were not the only schemers because everybody wanted in on the action. Ann Putnam’s family was closely involved with the witch-hunt. Ann’s mother was actually one of the only adults afflicted with the girls. She began pointing fingers and claimed Rebecca Nurse murdered several children. Her husband was also enthusiastic about the witch-hunts because he made more complaints about possible witches than any other person. He would have also been pressuring his daughter to make more accusations. Mary Walcott, who was just as conniving, paired with her father to make up more lies. Mary supposedly had visions of a white man, and her father claimed to have tried to grab the man and torn off a piece of his white cloth.
These persons’ motivations for accusing others might have been revenge, but why did the girls suddenly start accusing those from other villages? The girls had seen none of them before, but they were at least personally known to the girls’ adult relatives. They had never seen those people they accused and had even mistakenly pointed to the wrong man whom they named earlier. Elizabeth Cary of Salem Town was summoned to court for her hearings. The girls did not recognize her by sight, but once she was identified, the girls went into hysterics and pointed her out. In October 1692, the trials ceased. The girls continued having fits, but they were ignored.
Hoffer, Peter Charles. The Devil’s Disciples: Makers of the Salem Witchcraft Trials. Baltimore: John Hopkins UP, 1996.
In February 1692, Betty, Samuel Parris’ daughter became ill, and her father prayed for her day and night, but to no avail. Betty’s pain was to her consuming and inescapable in a way that it would not be for a boy her age. Girls did not have the outlets for reduction of tension which boys had. The absence of alternatives to the few restricted roles available to young women in Puritan society confined the spirit of girls like Betty. More important for the events that would follow, her ailments were not diagnosed by women but by men. Trancelike states, numbness, and other physiological abnormalities were taken as symptoms of both hysteria and witchcraft, and this belief began the hunt for witches.
Betty told her parents that the girls had been approached by a man in black who promised cities of gold and baubles to hold. When they rejected the Devil’s offer, his witches began their assault on the girls. Abigail Williams and Betty then named their tormentors, Tituba, Sarah Good, and Sarah Osborn.
Even in treason trials, wherein the whole apparatus of government was bent to the persecution of a crime, conviction was never so sure, certain, and deadly as it was that Spring and Summer in Salem. Judges played a leading role in the colonial criminal court. A judge could demand that juries find the defendants guilty. In the Salem witch trials, the judges were a group of able men from other walks of life, but no law was cited or debated in the court. Instead, the judges relied on hearsay, spectral evidence, and folk witch-finding techniques like the touching test and examination for witch marks.
After many of the accused were convicted, a flood of petitions followed. At first, the petitioners’ aim was to ease the suffering of those in jail. Eventually, the General Court passed a bill that banned spectral evidence. Later, in Boston, a small chorus of criticism of the judges and the court arose. This brought controversy and eventually the end of the trials.
Schrecker, Ellen. Many are the Crimes: McCarthyism in America. Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1998.
Arthur Miller's original play was written in direct reaction to McCarthyism. In the name of protecting the internal security of the United States against the threat of communism, in the 1940’s and 1950’s, the broad coalition of politicians, bureaucrats, and other anticommunist activists punished thousands of people by making them lose their jobs, putting them in prison, or in other ways, because these people were accused of being involved with the communist party. All of this was secretly taking place within the government and Senator Joseph McCarthy came along and made a mockery of their efforts, because he openly accused many Americans and government officials without proof. Accusing those in government eventually brought the end to McCarthy’s career. Schrecker believes that the McCarthy Era was misunderstood. McCarthyism encompassed much more than the career of the Wisconsin senator who gave it a name. It was the most widespread and longest lasting wave of political repression in American history. To identify McCarthyism only with the outrageous charges and bizarre behavior of a single politician overlooks how much McCarthy shared with the rest of the political world. It trivialized what happened by treating the anticommunist crusade as a passing aberration instead of the mainstream movement it was.
Starkey, Marion L. The Devil in Massachusetts: A Modern Inquiry into the Salem Witch Trials. New York: Anchor Books, 1949.
The witch trials all started when girls in the Salem Village suddenly became ill. They suffered from fits, which went beyond just epileptic seizures. Many of the doctors didn’t know what to make of it, until finally a doctor diagnosed that the girls were under the Devil’s influence. Starkey believed the girls did what they did because they were in an oppressed society where young females had no voice.
Starkey wrote a whole chapter about Mary Warren, one of the accusers. She was a maidservant in the Proctor house and was the one who did not want to accuse the Proctors. She later wanted to confess to the courts because she did not want to participate in the “child’s game” anymore. Under pressure from the girls and the judges, during her confession, she was racked with convulsions. Eventually, she was forced to accuse John Proctor.
Many of the chapters were about many of the accused. The girls accused a variety of people no matter their status in society. They went so far as to accuse Rebecca Nurse who was known for her good deeds. Because Nurse was accused, all the good deeds that she had done were called hypocrisy.
After the trials were over in October 1692, the village was unsettled and somehow divided. There were uneasy feelings between neighbors especially those who did not come to the aid of others or who actually tattled. The trials coincided with planting and harvesting, and this caused an economic problem in Salem. Even though the trials were over, problems kept continuing.
Boyer, Paul, and Stephen Nissenbaum. Salem Possessed. Cambridge: Harvard UP, 1974.
Budick, Miller E. “History and Other Spectres in Arthur Miller’s The Crucible.” Modern Drama 28 (1985): 535-52.
Demos, John. Entertaining Satan. Oxford: Oxford UP, 1982.
Hansen, Chadwick. Witchcraft at Salem. New York: Braziller, 1969.
McGill, William J., Jr. “The Crucible of History: Arthur Miller’s John Proctor.” New England Quarterly 54 (1981): 258-64.
Rosenthal, Bernard. The Salem Story. New York: Cambridge Press, 1993.
City Confidential: Secrets and Superstition in Salem. A&E Home Video, 1998. Not available for viewing.
Days of Judgment: The Salem Witch Trials of 1692. Peabody and Essex Museums, 1993.
This program was produced by Sylvania for the people of Essex County to commemorate the tercentenary of the Salem trials. It describes the society, culture, politics, religion and legal system that prevailed in colonial America during the Salem witch trials. Historians provide insights into the events and relate them to society today. (Unseen; information from WorldCat.)
Rediscovering America: The Salem Witch Trials. Discover Channel School, 1996.
The newly settled Puritan town of Salem, Massachusetts erupted in 1692 with accusations of witchcraft and devil worship. Before the fear and hysteria ebbed, dozens of women has been tried and executed as witches. (Unseen; information from WorldCat.)
Salem Witch Trials. A&E Television Networks,1998. Not available for viewing.
Witchcraft Hysteria 1692. Dir. Don Moore. Video Services Unlimited, 1991.
Examines the life of Rebecca Nurse, a 71-year-old woman who was a victim of the Salem witch-hunt, and explores how jealousy, prejudice, and intolerance can destroy a community. (Unseen; information from WorldCat.)
The Witches of Salem: The Horror and the Hope. Learning Corp. of America, 1972.
This film is a portrayal of the witchcraft trials in Salem, Massachusetts, in 1692. It attempts to give an understanding of the political, psychological, and religious background of the trials and the consequences of this episode. (Unseen; information from WorldCat.)
Arthur Miller’s The Crucible: Fact & Fiction
This web site provides facts and inaccuracies behind the film/play, The Crucible.
Some inaccuracies in the play are that there were those afflicted besides the girls, there were important persons not included in the film or play, and there was no wild dancing ritual.
The Crucible Project
This web site gives the whole background of the Salem witch trials and The Crucible from the history of the Puritans to McCarthyism and to the recent film. This is a student-based site created by two teachers. They tried to create the web site so that it would stimulate ideas about The Crucible and the Salem witch trials. They also provided questions so it would get students thinking.
Famous American Trials: Salem Witchcraft Trials 1692
This is a very extensive web page which delves into the Salem witch trials. Biographies are provided for many of those involved in the trials either as accusers, judges, or victims. It presents important documents such as petitions, arrest warrants, death warrants, letters from the governor, documents of examinations and evidence, and petitions for compensation.
Salem Wax Museum.
This site has the history of the witch trials, but what was interesting were the theories of why the girls accused others of witchcraft. One theory holds that the girls had eaten bread contaminated with a hallucinogenic fungus. Another contends that the accusations were the results of old jealousies among neighbors. Other theories held that the behavior of the girls was simply a fraudulent attempt of adolescents to call attention to themselves. The girls may have been bored and enjoyed the attention that they received and the power that they wielded. Some historians have suggested that the girls may have been inspired, stimulated, and encouraged by the Puritan clergy who used the hysteria as a means to reclaim their declining power in the community.
Salem Witchcraft Hysteria: An Original National Geographic Interactive Feature
This is an interactive site where you can follow the Salem witch story and become a character in the scene. It explains the emotions you are having such as your fear of witches and the devil. You go on a witch-hunt to find those in league with the devil.
Salem Witch Museum
Most of the web page is for the museum and gives information about museum tours. It also provides a “Frequently Asked Questions” section and the history of the Salem witch trials. It gives some theories on unanswerable questions such as reasons for girls’ behavior, location of victims’ bodies, and cause of hysteria. This page is recommended by the History Channel.
Witchcraft in Salem Village.
This web page provides verbatim transcripts of the legal documents of the Salem witchcraft outbreak of 1692 and background on the witch trials. Provides all text from The Devil Hath Been Raised, Introduction by Richard Trask; Cases of Conscience Concerning Evil Spirits by Increase Mather (1693); and Narratives of the Witchcraft Cases by George Lincoln Burr.
Copyright (c) 1999 by Tina T. Kao, Undergraduate at Lehigh University.
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