One hundred fourty-four people accused, the hanging of 19, the pressing to death of one man, 5 deaths in custody including an infant. Accusing fingers were pointed every where; whom could you trust? This was the result of witchcraft, this was the devil’s snare; this was Salem village in 1692.

It all began one innocent January day in Salem Massachusetts 1691 in the house of Reverend Samuel Parris. Strange fits seemed to have possessed his daughter and niece, Betty Parris and Abigail Willams. Their limbs were twisted and pulled into exotic angles. They claimed to be tortured by pinching and pricking. They were overtaken by a power that made them run into fire, try to drown themselves in the river. People in the village were very much frightened by these afflictions and had a physician consulted. He said that he had never seen any illness such as this before, nor had he heard of it. This reply brought confusion and fear upon the occupants of this small town. If not illness, what was it? What were these odd sicknesses? Being deeply Christian, they turned their blame upon the devil, the evil hand of treachery. But since the devil could not appear himself who exactly was causing these afflictions? The answer was that of darkness and horror, a place where people wish their minds not wander; but what other explanation could there be? It seemed as if the devil’s cackling chuckle rose above all to yell “witches, you fools! Witches have come to haunt you!”

Dismay was roused about all of Salem. The very thought of witches even existing sent an icy shudder down the spines of many. But now, they were here, in their very town. Who were they ? Was there more than one? Curiosity finally got the better of Mary Sibley, a neighbor of Samuel Parris. She consulted Tituba (an Indian slave owned by Parris) to make a witch cake. A witch cake was considered an old wive’s tale, saying that if a child was afflicted by an unidentified witch, to bake a bread using the afflicted childs urine and rye meal, bake it in ashes, and feed it to the family dog that the afflicted child would then discover the witches identity; the one who tortured them.

Tituba baked the cake and fed it as instructed. The Parris household was then filled with shrieks from Betty and Abigail that “Tituba did torment them! She pinched and poked them, and they could see her where no one else could! Tituba was the witch that tormented them so!”

So, the witch had been named, placed in a title of utter disgust, Parris was horrified that his own servant could be such a horrendous demon. He quickly brought together a group of local village men to consult and decide what step they would take next. What do you do with a witch? Hang her immediately? No, they must have a trail first. They must not be too hasty and do an action that they would later regret. Tituba was jailed until a trail could be arranged.

But how should the town’s folk react when Betty shrieked and yelled in torment that “Goody Osbourne and Goody Good did prick her so!” Three witches had now been named.

Now having three accused at hand, the villagers decided that action must be taken. On March first, Goody Good (Sarah Good), Goody Osboume (Sarah Osbourne) and Tituba were brought before a crowded court room to be judged. First went Sarah Good and Osboune. Accusations were thrown at them, as well as unfair questions such as “what spirit have you familiarity with?” and “Have you contact with the devil?” and “Why do you hurt these children?” These questions were asked as if the accused were already sentenced to have practiced witchcraft, already the user of evil magic. But the afflicted girls insisted that the two standing before them were the ones who tortured them. Sarah Good’s own husband, Willam, claimed to have doubts about his wife.

Next came examinations which proceeded as follows: First, the accused were stripped naked. Then the examiners would search over the body in search of witch marks such as moles, scares, warts, etc. These were thought to be extra teets, used to suckle their animal familiar, or a kind of pet that accompanied them in their work with the devil, a partner. Such marks were found upon Good and Osboume. They were both jailed for witchcraft.

It was now Tituba’s turn. At first, Tituba claimed only to be associated with witchcraft, for her former master had been a witch, but she herself had not participated in anything of the sort. But when pressed about how she new how to make the witch cake and being bombarded with so many accusations, Tituba confessed. Tituba claimed that the devil had come to her and bid her serve him. He had her sign a red book in her own blood. While serving him, she was aquatinted with Good and Osboum, saying she had seen them afflict the children. Tituba also claimed to have tortured the girls also, for she had been trying to get them to sign the devil’s book and work for Satan. Tituba also accused 2 others of witchcraft.

After these first trials, accessions started being placed on many people, at least once a day. The number of afflicted went from two to seven. Whenever a sickness was taken upon a villager, a witch was automatically thought to be the cause. Old, widowed women who’s moods were solitary and depressive were the main targets for accusers, for they fit the criteria of a witch. But younger women were also accused, mostly those with backgrounds of relatives who were believed to be associated with witchcraft.

Terror swept into every household, to every corner, bringing shadow. People would be afraid to even speak, for what if they said something wrong? They knew their names would then sign the long list of suspected witches. People kept watchful, on guard, for who would be the next witch? The blacksmith? Your neighbor? Your own sister? The villagers always had to be on awares.

Trials remained unfair; questions were asked as if those being judged were already condemned. Birth marks could be mistaken for teets (such was Rebecca Nurse). Even if the accused were regular attendants to church, it was thought only as a method to cover up their guiltiness.

One such as John Procter believed falsity in the girls fits. He told a master of one of the afflicted about his theory. Deciding to experiment, the master beat his afflicted servant every time she had a fit. The girl stopped having fits, for (as Procter had hypothesized,) that if the girls were faking their afflictions that when threatened to be beaten when starting fits, that they would not wish to be beaten and stop pretending to have fits, proving they were lying. However, Procter’s actions were only seen as a route to cover up his guilt. He was therefore accused of witchcraft.

But out of all of those accused, only two truly put up a fight, demanded justice and innocence. One was Rebecca Nurse. When accused of witchcraft and brought before court,she was prepared to defend herself. Her and her family gave collected evidence both for Rebecca and against her accusers, along with a petition that had been signed by 39 who declared to have never seen Rebecca act or do anything involving witchcraft or any of the accusations tried against her being known as true. But all the same, she was condemned.

Imagine how that must have felt. You stand before your accusers, knowing that you’re innocent; the ony thing you can do is speak truth and pray to God they believe you. Imagine the rage and Frustration of striving, proving, and being truth itself, yet still the judges look upon you as if your lips have not parted at all. Imagine the pulling fear on your soul, anguish flooding from your eyes as you yell and beg for them to understand that you speak the right. Yet they only see a pitiful slab of a witch, weeping selfishly for her life. They only see a speck of annoying dust to be swept away. They only let themselves see evil. Imagine how powerless you are,

The other amazing story is that of Giles Cory,an elderly man who was accused of the evil craft. When he did not confess to witchcraft, the jugdes threatened to press him with stones until he admitted his guilt. He refused to admit anything but his own innocence. So a coffin shaped hole was dug, Cory was placed in it and heavy stones loaded onto him. The loaders of the rocks would stand by and every few minutes ask “will you confess now, Cory?” and every time Cory replied simply in two words “more weight.” and each time they would load more weight on. One time Giles did not reply. Slowly and painfully, hearing each crack of every bone in his body, Giles Cory had been pressed to death by stones.

It was around this time that the Governor of Massachusetts, Willam Phips, returned from a trip from England. Can you see his reaction when he discovers all the jails filled with witches awaiting trial? He immediately took action and started proper trials on May 1, 1692. If condemned this time, those accused would be sentenced to death, which many were.

The first hanging was on June 10, 1692 of Briget Bishop. Her last sight was jeering, accusing faces looking up at her superiority. Her last sound was that of the drum roll to prepare for her death. Her last feeling was the noose tightening about her neck. The last sound she ever heard was that other own mutilated gasps for breath, the beating of her pulse; pump, pump….pump…….silence.

The accusations and trials still continued on. Even when given proven evidence that the afflicted girls were lying, the judges told them to “be silent!” and “stop telling lies!” Take for instance Rebecca Nurse’s trial. Nurse’s daughter, while sitting in the stands, saw one of the afflicted reach into her coat, take out pins, hide them between her fingers, and then placed her hand on her knee and yelled that Nurse had pricked her. Another case is when one of the afflicted claimed to have been stabbed by one of the accused and even had a piece of the knife to prove it. But a man in the audience said that that was his knife that he had broken the day before and thrown away. Yet, and with all this evidence, the judges still refused to believe any of this evidence.

Still, accusations were made one after the other. Nineteen people were hanged before Governor Phips finally decided that the mad trials must come to an end for they had gone too far. He formed a new law saying that no person could be condemned to death based solely on the afflicted girls’ visions. With this new law, only three out of fifty-four were hanged, for the three bait-confessed to witchcraft. Slowly and silently, the accusations began to fade like smoke in the wind. Very slowy it all came to a stop. There were no more accusations, hangings, or witches. However, those who were still in jail for witchcraft could not be released for they had not paid their jail fees. But, having the problem that the sherif took all of their possessions when they were condemned, they had nothing to pay with. They remained in jail for many years alone and forgotten.

Now, for many years historians have asked this; why did this start in the first place? Many have overlooked an unseen connection in history that the Salem witch trials had with the first and second Indian wars. The connection is this; when Wabonaki Indians in the early 1600’s attacked settlements along the coast, it brought to question how well the settlers could defend their country. Also, since the Wabonakis and their French allies were Catholic, it suggested that maybe their Christian God was not as superior or triumphant as they had long assumed.

It was around this time that the girls started to have fits, believed to be the act of the devil. Since the devil could not do anything without God’s permission, the Salem villagers thought that God was punishing them for not being Christian enough. To show that they were truly Christen, they would kill all of the devil’s sidekicks to show that when attacked by the devil, they would remain true to God and prove their faith. So, you see, without the Indian war, the Salem witch trials could not have happened.

There is also the question of the afflicted girls; did they really see things? The most likely explanation for the majority of the “afflicted” is that their statements were made up, especially that of the children’s. If there were visions at all, they were caused by deluded minds and hysteria.

And so concluded the Salem witch trials, a time of utter ignorance, falsity, and death. But we can now look back upon this dreadful year of 1692 and realize our mistakes. We now give rightful just to anyone despite their gender, color, Religion, or culture. Wisdom now thrives through our minds that this was wrong and this was a tragedy. Hanging someone and watching them swing upon the gallows does not bring triumph or victory. It only brings darkness and cold. As Robert Pike said, “It is better to let 10 guilty live, then kill one innocent.”

To learn more about the Salem witch trials, check out these books!

* Beyond the Burning Time by: Kathryn Lasky

* In the Devil’s Snare by: Martha Beth Norton


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