Oppression of Women in Salem Witch Trials

A “witch” a word derived from old English that was placed in this world especially for women. Women were the main victims of the lynching and homicidal crimes of 1692. After being described as witches and the devil’s spawn, women were the main target of the people of Salem; Tituba was the fatal spark to the actual witchcraft after being seen doing critical magic/voodoo (Ray, Benjamin C. pp. 190-203). The Salem Witch Trials oppressed women in a variety of ways and was a result of many factors, including the religious and patriarchal atmosphere of the time period.

Tituba was a slave who had worked for the Samuel Parris during the Salem Witch Trials of 1692. Tituba became one of the first women accused of performing witchcraft during this time.Sarah Osborn and Sarah Good were also accused of witchcraft. Some sources suggest Tituba was accused of being a witch because she allegedly practiced voodoo and taught the Salem Village girls how to see the future and fortune telling, but there was no concrete evidence of this or references to this in the court records. Even with no evidence against her, Tituba confessed to these accusations and went on to describe conversations she had with evil pigs, dogs, and rats. She also confessed to personally witnessing Sarah Good and Sarah Osborne transform into strange, winged creatures. There are many reasons why Tituba might have made these dramatic confessions. Several sources, including Tituba, indicate she was forced to confess after being beaten by her slave owner Samuel Parris. Also, as a slave she had no social standing, money, or personal property in the community. Tituba really had nothing to lose by confessing to this crime and probably came to the conclusion that a confession could possibly save her life. The religion Tituba practiced was unclear, but if she was not a Christian then she would not be fearful of going to hell for confessing to being a witch, unlike the other accused witches. Since Tituba confessed to the accusations, her case didn’t go to trial and she was spared by the gallows. Tituba remained in jail but as the witch trials continued, she retracted her confession. Tituba remained in a Boston jail due to her owner Samuel Parris refusing to pay her jail fees, for unknown reasons. It is possible that he wanted to get rid of her because she reminded him of the witch trials or because she angered him with the recanting of her confession. In April of 1693, Tituba was sold to an unknown buyer for the cost of her jail fees. It is also it is assumed that her husband, John, was sold with her. It is unknown as to what happened to them after this date.

Many women, including those such as Sarah Good and Sarah Osborne, were accused of practicing witchcraft alongside countless other presumably innocent women (History.com). It is important to note that each of these women, including Tituba, were likely accused because of their status in Puritan society (Rosen, 23-24). As previously mentioned, Tituba was merely a slave woman, albeit to a man believed to be the most powerful in Salem. However, Sarah Good was a beggar woman and Sarah Osborne was an elderly (and by many accounts, very bitter) woman. Surely, the younger girls who had found themselves tied up in the accusations of witchcraft viewed each of these women as easy targets (Rosen, 24). Oppression of women is oppression of women, whether it is men or women doing the oppressing (Rosen, 25). In this case, these three women were primary targets simply because of their outsider status, as well as their age and socioeconomic status (Rosen, 28). To test whether or not these supposed witches were actually possessed by the devil himself, a few testing methods were employed. In some cases, the young women were asked to recite the Lord’s Prayer (“Witchcraft”). Successful recitation of the prayer would indicate pureness of heart, while difficulty (such as writhing in pain, falling to the ground) was a positive indication of possession. Other tests included the water-float test and Witch’s Marks tests (Andrews). The water-float test required that the accused be submerged into water with only their underclothes on. It was believed that those who were possessed/practicing witchcraft would float to the top, while those who would sink were innocent and pure of heart. There was also the witch’s mark test, which was basically so vague that any blemish, mole, or birthmark on the accused’s body was believed to be a mark of the devil. Essentially all of the tests that were administered were designed to find guilt in each of the accused (Andrews).

While each of these tests were designed to prove the guilt of these supposed witches, it is important to recognize that those who were ultimately determining the guilt were men. The patriarchy had been alive and well for many years, dating back to the days of prehistoric man. This patriarchal system, paired with the Puritan beliefs and values were an unfortunate combination for the accused (Rosen, 28-29). Women in this time period, and specifically in the Puritan religion, had specific roles to fulfill. The two most important roles to fulfill were that of a wife and a mother. To be bold enough to go against these roles and challenge the preconceived notion of what defined a “woman” was viewed as going against Puritan religious beliefs (Rosen, 23-24). It was then that people (primarily men who were feeling threatened) began to use the term “witch” to describe these women. A woman who was bold and brazen enough to challenge the patriarchy surely must have been possessed by Satan himself. Men believed that women had no need for any positions of stature, that simply being a good wife, mother, and a faithful woman of God was sufficient. Anything beyond that was an indication that she was shunning the Puritan system that encouraged simplicity and humility, along with respect and obedience.

Sarah Good is the prototype of the victimized woman during the Salem Witch Trials. As mentioned previously, Good was forced to turn to begging in order to feed her family (a daughter, named Dorcas) and her socioeconomic struggle was her ultimate downfall. Had her family never lost their farm, Good would have likely survived without ever having been accused. However, in a time period where suspicions were running high, Good’s situation made her a likely suspect. Many neighbors had initially taken her in and offered her and her daughter shelter, but those same neighbors would be the ones to become her accusers (again, primarily women) (Rosen, 26). It was said that Good would torment the children, poking and pinching them, even “bending their bones” (Rosen, 26). Other women made claims of having seen Good flying through the air and dancing around naked while covered in blood. These accusations would eventually lead to Good being sentenced to death for practicing witchcraft. She would be hanged as a result of her “crimes.” Her daughter, Dorcas, was also sent to prison, accused of using witchcraft against those who had accused, convicted, and killed her mother (Rosen, 26).

Even the enslaved women who were taking care of the farms and feeding the children of the family were being accused of witchcraft; there were some that were watched closely to the point where they would be seen blowing out a candle by a child and would be accused of witchcraft. Religion played a major part in why woman of the age were called ” witches” because the church was mainly ran by men, and, in that age, they were the voice of the people and the women were seen as less than men therefore the word ” witch” would be seen as a way to degrade the women of the time (Murrin, David. pp.13-17). The devil pressured the women into the sorcery that caused them to lose their lives would be the person who watched them parish by the ignorance of all white males of the age.

The accusation of witchcraft caused multiple deaths and banishments due to the woman of the age suffering prosecution and damnation from the judgment of others by the sense of vision and word of mouth. Tituba, one of the first African American women accused of having the ability to use her mind to move things and read minds, was eventually put into one of the very few religious writings of the Puritan religion where a African American woman would be described as an “informal Devil” (Zubeda, Jalalzai. 417.)

As the judge talks about how his daughter would first be looked as a little sweet heart of the town and the people would worship her as a baby princess seeing nothing wrong, because of the passing around of the word “witch” the people who worshipped her were now charging her with the crime of sorcery ( Higginson 1). Women of the age were mistreated in multiple ways they were stopped by societies mindset of the seventeen hundreds, woman were damned from the beginning of the era not being able to voice their opinion or even be seen alone without the accusations of being a witch would be tossed around. This evolved into the general oppression of women causing a spiral that caused multiple murders to be accrued and a mass number of lynchings to be caused.

The Oppression of the women was catastrophic, women were never allowed to do anything other than being accused of the sorcery and being used for taking care of the kids. Each woman having a chance of being used as a template of the age where everything could be easily put on women and there would be no outside source second guessing them, even religion that was supposed to be protecting women even found a way to put them down, giving them no chance for survival of their time period. Perhaps the most catastrophic of all of this is the fact that it was women oppressing other women, not just men oppressing women. When one thinks of the oppression of women, the mind automatically imagines a powerful man overpowering a weak, submissive woman.

However, in this case, women were oppressing women. Perhaps this was still, in some way, being controlled by the men of the town. Ultimately, the women were making these accusations against one another in order to make themselves appear to be devout, pure hearted Puritan women. The men controlled the religion, the town, the courts, essentially every aspect of life. While religion was supposed to be a saving grace for people, in these women’s cases, it proved to be their downfall.

The era of time being the reason were treated this way, religion not being an outlet for women. One word single handedly disabling woman and causing death seems unrealistic, but very seldom for the town of Salem.

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