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Salem Witch Trials There is a hint of winter in the air. Dead leaves cover the ground. The wind whistles through bare tree branches. The moon shines with an unnatural brightness amid dark clouds. Soon it will be Halloween -- the annual holiday when sidewalks and streets fill with small (and not so small) goblins, ghosts, and witches.
Witches are often figures of fantasy and imagination today. But there was a time in this country's history when witches and their craft were seen as real threats to society. That time was 1692. The place was Salem, Massachusetts. Imagine a cold January night in the Salem home of the Rev. Samuel Parris.
On such nights, the minister's 9 -year-old daughter, Elizabeth, and 11 -year-old niece, Abigail Williams, might have listened to tales of the Caribbean told by Tituba, Parris's West Indian slave. Tituba, a full-blooded Arawak Indian is said to have told the girls stories that involved magic and traditional Arawak spirits. The girls probably listened to Tituba's stories with rapt attention. In Puritan New England, life for young people, especially girls, was filled with restrictions. Dancing and singing were forbidden. Children were expected to spend their few idle moments studying the Bible.
The Caribbean woman's strange tales may have fired the girls' imagination. Elizabeth found it harder and harder to sleep after hearing Tituba's tales. She would have nightmares about demons and witches. During the day she would suddenly cry and sometimes could not speak. Abigail began having seizures and occasional screaming fits.
Reverend Parris, seeing the girls in such a condition, called on local physicians to diagnose the ailments. The doctors had no trouble finding a cause. "Witchcraft, " they told the minister. In 1692, mental and emotional disorders were not well understood and were often explained as the work of witches or evil spirits. To most people, the devil and his followers were living, breathing creatures. Witches, especially for devout Puritans, were real threats -- agents of the devil himself. People believed that by casting spells or "possessing" a person's body, witches sought to claim that person and their soul for Satan.
When local officials questioned the girls, they named Tituba, Sarah Good, and Sarah Osborne as witches. Sarah Good and Sarah Osborne denied the charges. But Tituba confessed to having seen the devil, who appeared to her "sometimes like a hog and sometimes like a great dog. " What's more, she testified, there was a secret group of witches at work in Salem itself. In late February 1692, John Hathorne and Jonathan Corwin, two magistrates (similar to judges), rode into Salem. Both men were determined to wipe out the evil of witchcraft.
On March 1, Tituba, Sarah Good, and Sarah Osborne appeared before Hathorne and Corwin at the Salem meeting house. According to eyewitnesses, a large crowd attended. In the front row sat the accusers -- the "possessed" girls. When the three accused women entered the room, the girls fell to the floor, screaming.
They claimed the invisible spirits of the three witches were torturing them. The magistrates decided that all three women were guilty and sent them to jail. The verdict threw Salem into an uproar. More and more people were denounced as witches and were questioned by the judges. Neighbors accused neighbors.
No one was safe. Accusers pointed to seemingly solid citizens of Salem, such as Rebecca Nurse, Giles Corey, Philip English, and John Proctor, as secret witches. The judges grilled more than 300 townspeople suspected of practicing witchcraft. The witch-hunt continued for months. From June through September, 19 people were hanged for witchcraft. Giles Corey, who refused to plead either guilty or innocent, was crushed to death with stones -- an ancient form of execution.
Four others, including Sarah Osborne, died in jail awaiting trial. Sarah Good was hanged, but Tituba, because she confessed, was released from jail. She and her husband were purchased by another master, and she disappeared from history Above I briefly reviewed the account of famous events of Salem Witch Trials. However, the multitude of question are still are subject to fierce controversies. Historians, scholars and simply those people who are interested are constantly trying to develop new theories related to the Trials.
So, let us go to the very beginning and try to reanimate the events of the past while making references to various scholarly opinions. Salem Village, now Danvers, Massachusetts, was at one time the setting for one of the most controversial trials in American history. Seventeenth century Puritanical New England encompassed strict laws, harsh punishments, and politics that coincided with religion. In 1692, a group of adolescent girls residing in Salem Village broke out with symptoms causing unexplainable fits, after hearing tales told by a West Indian slave. When questioned, the afflicted girls denounced several local women as being the culprits of their bizarre torment. The people of Salem Village were astounded by these accusations, but not too surprised because witchcraft was spreading rapidly throughout America and Europe in the 17 th century.
The town officials received word of the ill girls and their tormentors, who supposedly inflicted them with the works of the devil through witchcraft. In response, the officials convened a court to hold hearings and trials for the people accused of the crimes. One source indicates the result of the trials held the afflicted girls accountable for the following: 200 arrests, of which 30 were sentenced to death, 19 hanged, one pressed to death, two died in jail, one escaped, two excused for pregnancy, and five confessed after their sentences. The aftermath of the trials was a time for deep regret and painful guilt for punishing innocent people for crimes never committed. By October 1692, the madness had run its course. Accusations of witchcraft drew less and less attention.
On October 29, the Massachusetts Bay Colony's governor, William Pics, dissolved the witch trials. Earl Rice Jr. explains, in 1697, Massachusetts Bay Colony officials declared a day of public fasting. The people of Massachusetts believed that God had bestowed upon them many newfound misfortunes such as failed crops, shorter harvests, and many sudden deaths because of the unfair persecutions they so hastily placed upon innocent people. On the day of the fast, twelve participating jurors singed a petition admitting their guilt for taking the lives of innocent people under such insufficient spectral evidence, as well as their sorrow and guilt for their decisions (Kingston, 1976, p. 98).
The Salem witch trials have fascinated and perplexed Americans for countless generations. Because no one knows for sure what really caused the trials of 1692, numerous hypotheses formulated attempt to explain the occurrence, yet a sense of doubt and bewilderment pervades most historians perspectives on the subject. Although no single explanation can ever account for the delusion; from specific evidence it is logical to conclude that the Salem witch trials were the causes of spectacular, but fraudulent claims, public and mass hysteria, and ergot poisoning. Certainly one of the most significant events of the trials was the Ann Putnam's public apology. In order to fully comprehend the validity of the possible causes of the Salem witch trials, it is necessary to have a brief history and understanding of the time period prior to and during the events. Jeremy Kingston states that prior to 1962, plagues of locusts, and successions of droughts, which caused destruction of crops, were tragedies the people of Massachusetts faced.
They also endured a fire in Boston in 1691, which destroyed a lot of their town. The same year, the people of Massachusetts felt the aftermath of an earthquake in Port Royal, Jamaica, which killed about 2, 000 people, most of which were relatives and friends (Kingston, 1976, p. 82). Earl Rice Jr. comments as well, saying that the Puritans faced small pox, Indian raids, and loss of self-government (Rice, 1992, p. 14). Incognizant, were the people of Salem Village to know what tragic events lie ahead for them. It all started with the long winter of New England.
Like any other adolescents, boredom can be a problem during the winter months. The cold weather and snow causes concern for illness and mischief, and that is exactly what happened to a group of adolescent girls in Salem Village. Because the Elderly women were used to doing in-house tasks, the cold weather did not affect their daily lives as much as the young girls, Rice Jr. explains. To the teenage and younger girls of Salem Village, winter represented month upon month of close confinement and unremitting drudgery. Winter, in a word, was boring (Rice, 1992, p. 17).
Because Salem life was so boring during the winter months, reading was a popular pastime for the inhabitants. There were interesting books about prophecy and fortune telling throughout New England during this time. As Samuel Eliot Morison explains, Reverend Cotton Mather, a member of the New England Clergy contributed a book called Memorable Provinces. The book described a case of alleged witchcraft in Boston; for which a poor old womans execution took place, and told about how Mather handled the accusing children to prevent the witch hunt epidemic from spreading. The second edition how to do it version of the book, filled with data on the possessed behaviors, fell into the hands of a group of Salem girls (Mather, 1689, p. 125).
The group of eight to ten girls ranging in ages from nine to twenty years old, including Elizabeth Parris, daughter of Reverend Samuel Parris, increased curiosity focused their attention to a West Indian slave residing in the Parris parsonage. As Kingston characterizes, the half Carib, half-African slave, Tituba, had knowledge of obeah, West Indian sorcery derived in Africa from her ancestors. Tituba entertained the girls with stories of witchcraft demons, and mystic, animals (82 - 82). Although the girls consciences manifested small feeling of guilt, as the girls fascination grew, their circle expanded and they continually egged Tituba on to elaborate on stories and fortune telling. One experiment, perhaps the most prominent of all, led to the accusations of witchcraft. When the girls met with Tituba to read their fortunes, they dropped raw egg whites into a bowl and read their future from its shape.
When the egg whites took the shape of a coffin, Elizabeth Parris displayed symptoms of odd behavior by say she felt like some one was pinching her. The other girls followed her with unusual symptoms. When the family doctor, Dr. Griggs was unable to find any physical symptoms of aliment, he concluded the girls were bewitched. At that time, it was not reasonable for Dr. Griggs to diagnose witchcraft.
During the Colonial period, the people had a limited understanding of their environment and medicines. Therefore, the people looked to other solutions to explain the unexplainable questions that bewildered them so greatly such as supernatural forces, or spirits. The girls behavior, whether fraudulent or realistic were consequences of this experiment. This historical summary of events prior to and leading up to the Salem witch trials must be taken into account in order to conclude that the causes of the trials were fraudulent claims, public and mass hysteria, and ergot poisoning. The first theory formulated to explain the causes of the Salem witch trials is the theory of fraudulent claims. Various interpretations of the girls behavior diverge after the discussion of its origins.
Ashley E. Lowman confirms that in accordance with all Puritan beliefs, the Puritan people of Salem Village believed in witches and witchcraft. They believed that witchcraft was entering into a compact with the devil in exchange for certain powers to do evil. Thus, witchcraft was not only a sin because it denied Gods superiority, but considered a crime because it called upon the Devil to do harm to others. The afflicted girls of Salem knew they were in for trouble and desperately needed a way out.
Throughout the Salem witch trials, the girls took on such behaviors as fits, hysterical crying, disordered speech, and disturbances of hearing. More intense symptoms would include acute burning sensations caused from such invisible flames, and pricking or pinching feeling, as if from numerous pins or nails. Other physical behaviors portrayed twisting movements, stretching, unusual posture of body, rolling on the ground, running aimlessly, barking, immobility, pressure on the chest, and insults or physical assault towards their families. Upham appeared to accept the view that the girls may have perpetrated fraud to protect themselves from punishment, or to gain notoriety as their magic sorcery became the topic of rumors throughout the town. Upham also described the skills of the children to be...
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