Analysis of the Salem Witch Trials

The Salem Witch Trials were a progression of preliminaries endeavoring to discover, recognize, and slaughter every single known lady and men honing black magic. The preliminaries happened in Colonial Massachusetts from 1692 and 1693, and for the subjects there, all killings were a triumph as the residents trusted they were disposing of the underhanded spirits expedited by the demon, until the point that they swung to catastrophe when the natives acknowledged they had slaughtered honest blood. “As a country we have a long history of witch hunting, especially in the colonial period,” says Jason Coy, a professor of history at the College of Charleston who is an expert on witch hunts. (5 Facts about the Salem Witch Trials History.com) A thing to ask ourselves today, is for what reason did the Salem Witch Trials happen, who was charged and why, and what was the result of the trials.

In the late 1600’s, two young girls in pioneer Massachusetts, were analyzed and “diagnosed” that they were being controlled by a demon. They would begin to throw objects, had extraordinary fits described by minister John Hale as “beyond the power of epileptic fits or natural disease to affect” (Salem Witch Trials, Virginia University, January-15-2016), muscle spasms, hallucinations and spewing. When different young ladies began getting diagnosed to have “bewitchment,” warrants were issued for the Parris’ Caribbean slave, Tituba, and two other women the destitute hobo Sarah Good, poor people, and the elderly, such as Sarah Osborn, all who the young ladies professed to have possessed or bewitched them. The principal hanging that occured of the Salem Witch Trials was for Bridget Bishop.

Bridget Bishop had the first trial, and had the most informers and observers than any other “witch” because of her exceptional state of mind, been hitched 3 times and did not dress in usual Puritan norms. Bridget Bishop was hanged on June 10, 1692. That was far from the end of the Salem Witch Trials. Shortly afterwards, 13 people, from slaves to the wealthy, were executed for the use of witchcraft. One man, Giles Corey was executed by being crushed to death, one of the more violent executions of the trials. There could have been many causes regarding to the start of the Salem Witch Trials. “The Puritans strongly believed in the existence of witches and witchcraft. According to the belief, witches were in alliance with the devil that gave them power to do harm. They were blamed for all kinds of misfortunes from illnesses and failed crops to bad weather and other things” (List of 5 Possible Causes of the Salem Witch Trials, History Lists, 2012). Other reasons could have pertained to boredom, Ergot poisoning, disputes, rivalries, and the cold weather theory.

‘The people awaiting trial were often kept in dreadful holding cells, and many died before their trial even occurred. In the dungeons or cells, the accused witches would be chained to the wall, so their “spirits” escaping the prison, and attacking more civilians. The Salem Witch Trials, were held at the Salem Village Meetinghouse. Then, the witches would be taken in to the courtroom, in front of judge and jury and be questioned. They were allowed no legal counsel, and had to plead guilty or not guilty without counsel. This of course would lead to easily convicted people of witchcraft. This led to the conviction of Rebecca Nurse. Different from most convicted witches, she was a well respected member of the community. When she was arrested, the town even signed a petition asking for her release. When her trial began, she was found not guilty, until the “accusers” started to act out in the court. The judge at the time, Stoughton, asked the jury to rethink their verdict. This was a turning point for the Salem Witch Trials, because most witches were known to be ugly, lower class, slaves, weird, or anti-social, human beings, but this was the first trial that, at the time, proved, that anyone could be a witch.

A main component of the Salem Witch Trials, was the ability and freedom to use spectral evidence. During the trials, spectral evidence was the best proof you would have to indict a witch. The most popular and used one was “Live” spectral evidence. In one of the early trials, the two girls who accused the first witch would start to act uncontrollably and show all the “symptoms” they testified for. The prosecution would then be able to use that “evidence” stating that the person was using witchcraft at the time of the trial. Another form of evidence the could be used was “Dream” Evidence. If a “victim” testified that while in a dream the witch contacted and attacked them, the judge would convict them promptly. This is exactly the case for Sarah Good who testified that Sarah Osborne was possessing girls through dreams. As the trials progressed many people started disagreeing with the use of spectral evidence. It was not until 1693 when people started to protest the use of spectral evidence in court. , the court magistrates banned usage of spectral evidence, concluding that spectral evidence was insufficient proof to indict people. The banning of spectral evidence effectively caused the end of the witch-hunt. The reason it ended the witch-hunt was because spectral evidence was the puzzle piece needed to convict witches and without it, the witch-hunt was nothing.

How did the trials come to an end and who was killed? After multiple cases, most were thrown out by the court while others, 26 to be exact, were convicted of witchcraft and were executed shortly. The following convicted and executed witches were, Bridget Bishop (June 10, 1692), Rebecca Nurse (July 19, 1692), Sarah Good (July 19, 1692), Elizabeth Howe (July 19, 1692), Susannah Martin (July 19, 1692), Sarah Wildes (July 19, 1692), George Burroughs (August 19, 1692), George Jacobs Sr. (August 19, 1692), Martha Carrier (August 19, 1692) , John Proctor (August 19, 1692), John Willard (August 19, 1692), Martha Corey (September 22, 1692), Mary Eastey (September 22, 1692), Mary Parker (September 22, 1692), Alice Parker (September 22, 1692), Ann Pudeator (September 22, 1692), Wilmot Redd (September 22, 1692), Margaret Scott (September 22, 1692), Samuel Wardwell Sr. (September 22, 1692), and Giles Corey (September 19, 1692). All of these executions were counted as triumphs to the people of Salem and in their minds were getting rid of the devil and its spirits. After spectral evidence was no longer allowed on court, people started to realize that the trials were unfair.

Once 1692 ended, people started to realize that the Salem Witch Trials had no true evidence. Cotton Mather, son of the President of Harvard, also Mather’s father, who both supported that the Salem Witch Trials not be allowed to use spectral evidence and that they should be treated as any normal crime. “It would better that ten suspected witches may escape than one innocent person be condemned.” Amid waning public support for the trials, Governor Phips dissolved the Court of Oyer and Terminer in October and mandated that its successor disregard spectral evidence” (Salem Witch Trials, History.com) By May 1693, Governor Phillips pardoned all those being held or in process of trial. This action became the ending for the Salem Witch Trials. In January 1697, the Massachusetts General Court declared a day of fasting for the tragedy of the Salem witch trials; the court later deemed the trials unlawful, and the leading justice, publicly apologized for his role in the process. The damage to the community stayed, however, even after Massachusetts passed legislation restoring the good names of the condemned and providing financial restitution to their heirs in 1711. (Salem Witch Trials, History.com) the burden, and loss on the families stayed.

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