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Example research essay topic: Salem Witch Trials Ergot Poisoning - 2,111 words

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... quite promising. He compared their behaviors from that of ventriloquists, to highly accomplished actresses (Upham, 1978, p. 345). All three of the first women accused of witchcraft made prime candidates for the girls to place such blame upon. Tituba, Sarah Good, and Sarah Osbourne were all of questionable character in town, which made it easier for the girls to escape blame for themselves. Sarah Osbourne was an elderly, widowed woman who had not gone to church in about one year, which was considered a Puritan sin.

Sarah Good was a poverty stricken woman who begged from door to door. Goods life brought her two prominent misfortunes. One misfortune was the death of her dad, John Start, who committed suicide. Because he killed himself, it disgraced the family, in the eyes of Puritans. The second misfortune was two failed marriages. Goods first husband died, and when her second husband died, he brought her to poverty through bad credit.

Because Tituba was Parties slave, and well known to the girls it is not surprising that they named her a witch (Rice Jr. , 1992, pp. 32, 36). The dissenting reputations of the first three women accused along with their low social class made them believable subjects for the crime of witchcraft, and make the fraudulent claims of the accusers therefore more believable. After the afflicted girls had named possible culprits of their so blatant torment, an investigation of the charges was the next step. As Earl Rice Jr. explains, John Hawthorne directed the examination of the three women first accused, and spoke like a prosecuting attorney.

Tituba confessed to witchcraft, under the basis that anyone that confessed to witchcraft spared execution, but Sarah Good and Sarah Osbourne maintained their innocence, that soon after landed them in jail (Rice Jr. , 1992, pp. 87, 93). In opposition to the theory of fraudulent claims, Historian Chadwick Hansen writes: Indeed, these courtroom fits were so convincing that most of the indictments were for witchcraft committed during the preliminary examination, rather than for the offenses named in the original complaint the direct cause of these fits in the courtroom or out of it, was, of course, not witchcraft itself, but the afflicted persons fear of witchcraft. If fits were occasioned by fear of someone like Brigit Bishop, who was actually practicing witchcraft, they might also be occasioned by fear of someone who was only suspected of practicing it (Rice Jr. , 1992, p. 70). Although Hansen's theory which states that fear initiated the peculiar behavior in the afflicted girls, it is questionable when taking into consideration the confession of Ann Putnam, years after the trial. Earl Rice Jr. reveals that in August, 1707, thirteen years after the trials, Ann Putnam Jr. , age twenty six, gave a letter of confession to the Reverend Joseph Green to read aloud to the congregation of the Salem Village church.

It read: I desire to be humbled before God for that sad and humbling providence that befell my fathers family in the year about 1692; that I then being in my childhood, should by such a providence of God, be made an instrument for the accusing of several persons of a grievous crime, whereby their lives were taken away from them, whom now I have just grounds and good reasons to believe they were innocent persons but what I did was ignorantly, being deluded of Satan. And particularly as I was a chief instrument of accusing of goodwife Nurse an her two sister, I desire to lie in the dust, and to be humbled for it, in that I was the cause, with others, of so sad a calamity to then and their families; for which cause I desire to lie in the dust, and earnestly beg forgiveness of God, and from all those unto whom I have given just cause of sorrow and offense, whose relations were taken away or accused (Rice Jr. , 1992, p. 100). The above information provides specific evidence to prove how fraudulent claims could possibly prove to be a valid cause of the Salem witch trials. As to why the fraudulent claims and accusations continued after the jailing of the first three condemned witches, is still in constant debate today. However, it is possible through investigations to conclude that the afflicted girls suffered from hysteria. The second theory that explains the causes of the Salem witch trials is public and mass hysteria.

Hysteria can have varying meanings pertaining to the Salem witch trials. In Earl Rice Jr. s terms, hysteria is unmanageable fear or emotional excess (103). Hansen proposes the use of the word hysteria in a literal, medical sense, as being mentally ill.

Hysteria is a unique and abnormal mental disease. What makes it so interesting is that it causes physical symptoms that someone would not normally experience. Mental conflicts are unconsciously converted to symptoms that appear to be physical, but for which no organic cause is found. Hansen insists that witchcraft was truly practiced in Salem Village.

He states that the mental illness, hysteria, of the girls was occasioned by guilt from their practices of fortune telling at their secret meetings (Hansen, 1969, p. 45). It is possible that the people of Salem were so swamped in the superstitions of the community that they convinced themselves that evil forces had bewitched them. These mental stresses would consume their minds and convert into physical manifestations. When the emotional disturbances set in, the hysteria began. As Upham explains, the victims were able to perform the unnatural twisting motions without feeling the pain (Upham, 1978, p. 396).

It cannot be said that all of the afflicted were hysterical, as some were most likely able to create affliction on queue, in order to get attention, or to justify the problems of the community. Among other reasons, historians have often attributed the Salem witch-hunts to the psychological phenomenon of widespread hysteria. Hysteria is a mental condition marked by disturbances of psychological and physical functioning. Frances Hill, in her book A Delusion of Satan, says hysteria often manifests itself in fits that the victim cannot control.

Hill writes, "What its [hysteria's] victims have in common is powerlessness. " Some historians say it is not surprising that Elizabeth and Abigail felt powerful when they accused others of witchery. And yet there are other explanations have been offered for what happened in Salem. In 1976, a University of California graduate student, Linda Caporael, suggested that a fungus called ergot triggered the witch-hunt. Ergot produces a highly poisonous mold that thrives in certain weather conditions -- particularly when a cold winter is followed by a wet, warm summer, as was the case in Salem in 1692. Rye, the main crop grown in Salem at the time, is particularly susceptible to ergot disease.

If a person eats bread made from ergot-infected rye flour, the result can be hallucinations, loss of bodily control, delusions, and even death. Caporael became interested in a possible physical cause of the witch madness during the 1970 s after reading Arthur Miller's The Crucible, a play about the 1692 witch trials. She suggested a possible connection between ergot poisoning and the "possessed" girls' afflictions after looking up symptoms of ergot poisoning in a medical dictionary. In a 1998 Boston Globe story, Caporael said, "After some research, I discovered the very unusual symptoms of [the accusing girls] matched the unusual symptoms of ergot poisoning. " Caporael's theory has not been generally accepted. Another researcher, Laurie Winn Carlson, wrote a book published last year titled A Fever in Salem: A New Interpretation of the New England Witch Trials. Although Carlson agrees with Caporael that the witch-hunt could have been triggered by a physical or environmental condition, Carlson attributes the cause to encephalitis, not ergot poisoning.

Encephalitis is an inflammation of the brain most commonly caused by a virus. The disease is usually transmitted by mosquitoes, which thrived in Salem's wet climate. Encephalitis symptoms include sudden fever, headache, vomiting, seizures, confusion, and paralysis -- all symptoms exhibited by many of the girls who accused others of being witches. According to Carlson, the "possessed" girls most likely could have picked up the virus in the summer, but symptoms may not have appeared until January. It is not uncommon, scientists say, for the encephalitis virus to lie dormant, or inactive, for months. Carlson further faults Caporael's idea because, "historically, epidemics of [ergot poisoning] have appeared in places where there had been a severe vitamin A deficiency in the diet.

Salem residents had plenty of milk and seafood available; they certainly did not suffer from vitamin A deficiency. " George W. Hudler, a professor of plant pathology at Cornell University, suggests a combination of theories might be closer to the truth of what happened in Salem. In the Boston Globe article, Hudler said, "I buy parts of [the ergot theory]. I think that the symptoms of ergot poisoning could have initiated the episode.

At the same time, I think some of the adolescent hysteria probably fed on some of those episodes, too. " Whatever is the causes, the witch-hunt in and around Salem remains one of the darkest times in U. S. history -- a time when mass fear and superstition ruled a community. After the trials, jurors and magistrates apologized, and, in 1711, the colony's governing body made some payments to the victims' families.

In 1992, an anniversary committee dedicated a memorial to the Salem witch trial victims. The memorial is in Salem, in a small park surrounded by a stone wall engraved with the victims' vows of innocence. The memorial stands as a reminder of the dangers of intolerance and oppression. There, visitors can read and remember the tragic consequences in the words of victims such as Mary East, who said, ."..

if it be possible no more innocent blood be shed... I am clear of this sin. " Annotated Bibliography: Earl Rice, Jr. Salem Witch Trials. New York: Random House Inc. , 1992.

The author gives the reader his perspective on the Salem Trials events. Kingston, Jeremy. Witches and witchcraft. Danbury, Ct. : Danbury Press, 1976. The theme of witches and numerous witchcraft practices in different historical periods is discussed.

Burr, George Lincoln. Narratives of the Witchcraft Cases, 1648 - 1706. Notable Trials Library, 1992. Detailed account of the Salem witchcraft cases in the 1648 - 1706 period.

Reverend Cotton Mather. Memorable Providence Relating to Witchcraft's and Possession (1689). The book describes witchcraft cases of early New England. The same descriptions of the afflicted's behavior, being pricked with needles, scratched and beaten by unseen assailants, and other sundry assaults, were recorded by Rev. Mather eight years before the incident at Salem Mather, Cotton. The Wonders of the Invisible World (1693).

In his next book, Reverend Mather expands the theme of witchcraft practices and how people perceive them. Ashley E. Lowman. Introduction to Puritanism and the trails as part of religious movements.

web The author presents his insight on the relationship of Puritanism and the trails to the dynamics of religious movements. Upham, Charles W. , Salem Witchcraft, With an Account of Salem Village and a History of Opinions on Witchcraft and Kindred Subjects. Volumes I-II. Frederick Ungar Publishing Company, New York (1978) (originally published in 1867).

Salem witchcraft; with an account of Salem village, and a history of opinions on witchcraft and kindred subjects Hansen, Chadwick. Witchcraft at Salem. Brazil lier: New York. 1969. Hansen takes the tack that witchcraft did in fact exist in colonial New England, although most of it was "white" witchcraft.

He also takes pains to point out Case's "insolence" toward the Mathers. Frances Hill. Delusion of Satan. Da Capo Press, 2002 / Almost everyone knows something about the infamous Salem witch trials, but few are privy to the chilling details that Hill, a British novelist and journalist turned scholar, reveals in her superb and boldly analytical study. Hill documents every grim particular of this travesty of justice and terrifying example of the power of suggestion, from the very first accusations to the last brutal executions Caporael, Linda. Science Magazine, April 2, 1976.

Convulsive Ergotism. Linda, Caporael, a University of California graduate student, reveals that the physical afflictions of the accusing girls might have been caused by "Convulsive Ergotism", a disorder resulting from the ingestion of contaminated rye grain George W. Hudler. Magical Mushrooms, Mischievous Molds. Princeton University, October, 1998. The role of fungi in the Irish potato famine, in the Salem Witch Trials, in the philosophical writings of Greek scholars, and in the creation of ginger snaps is just a few of the many great moments in history to grace this resource on mushrooms and molds.


Free research essays on topics related to: ergot poisoning, salem witch trials, salem witchcraft, salem village, witch hunt

Research essay sample on Salem Witch Trials Ergot Poisoning

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