Essay on Salem Witch Trials
One of the most controversial and discussed topics of the 1600s was the Salem Witch Trials. In total, 20 people were murdered 14 women and six men. 19 were hung near Gallows Hill, while one was tortured to death. However, over approximately 200 villagers were accused of witchcraft but ultimately were pardoned or not thoroughly investigated by the authorities.
This all begun in January of 1692, when two young girls named Elizabeth Parris and Abigail Williams began exhibiting strange, supernatural behaviors. They suddenly began to do odd things like screaming, contorting their bodies in strange ways, and throwing objects. (In these dark times, the believability for supernatural occurrences was much higher and many people wanted them to occur.) The girls insisted that an invisible figure was persistently biting, grabbing, and scratching them. Around this time, many other girls began to experience these same things. In February of the same year, the young girls accused three women for being the cause of their weird behavior.
Their names were Sarah Osborne, Tituba the Witch, and Sarah Good. Sarah Osborne and Sarah Good never admitted anything, however, Tituba did. However, some people believe that Tituba was forced to confess. She admitted that she had used witchcraft to cause the girls to act strangely and said that she was serving the devil. In her testimony, she said that there were other witches working together to harm the people in Salem. This caused them to have a mission and purpose to find those who were using witchcraft. Over time, many more people including, men and women, were accused of being witches before eventually being murdered. The Salem Witch Trials finally ended in May of 1683. Eventually, the colony apologized for these injustices of murdering potentially innocent villagers and said that the witch trials were overall just a mistake. There are several main possible theories as to why this happened.
A common theory as to why the Salem Witch Trials happened was that the people accused of witchcraft were potentially exposed to a fungus called ergot. If this was eaten, it could cause hallucinations, muscle contractions (similar to seizures), tingling sensations, and even vertigo. All of these symptoms seem to match up with what the accused witches were going through. According to the woman who came up with this theory, Linnda Caporael, all the conditions in the environment were “just right” for the fungus to grow. Rye was being commonly grown in villages at this point in time and there was some moisture in the air. Additionally, rye has to be stored for a long time, which would increase the amount of time that the ergot had to infect the rye.
However, some other symptoms this disease brings did not match up to what the girls were experiencing. Other horrific symptoms include burning fingertips that would eventually disintegrate. This is definitely not the most trusted theory, however, it provides a reasonable explanation that aligns with the economic times.Another theory suggests that the climate in which the witch trials went through could have had something to do with the behaviors of the people. In the years of 1550 to the 1800s, there was a “Little Ice Age” occurring and it especially intensified between the years of the Salem Witch Trials. During this period, crops were failing due to the cold weather and brought many hardships to people in villages and colonies who had to grow their own crops and use what the land offered them. This sense of failure and regret made many people rudely blame others for what they were going through. During the Salem Witch Trials, there was another event going on that became known as a ‘Great Witch Craze”. In this time period, many people were desperate to find witches and hunt them down.
As you can tell, during this time, people were absolutely desperate for people to blame and proof that witches are real. The brutal weather combined with the unusual need to hunt witches could have easily contributed to everyone’s lack of judgment. One theory suggests that Reverend Samuel Parris (the minister during the witchcraft) actually used the witch trials for his own socio-political gain. This theory is quite convincing as it came from a Salem merchant named Robert Calef, who was one of the people in the community during the witch trials. He proposed that Parris forced his slave Tituba to confess to using witchcraft on the young girls and cause mass hysteria. Then, he could use the resulting paranoia to take back his diminishing role of power in the Salem village. Tituba’s testimony is the longest and most detailed out of all of the testimonies of the Salem Witch Trials. In her testimony, she spoke about seeing visions of eerie animals in various colors and that she went blind as a result of the devil punishing her for speaking about him so honestly and effortlessly.
During her whole testimony, she was especially accommodating to all of the judges. If Reverend Parris did force her to confess, then it definitely would make sense since her testimony described many things that became the push that the colony needed to start their hunt for witches. A more controversial theory states that the girls had suffered from a disease called encephalitis lethargica and had been wrongfully diagnosed as possession of witchcraft. In this theory, presented in a book called, “A Fever in Salem”, the author states that when the young girls began exhibiting these odd behaviors, the doctor couldn’t find a specific cause or illness that they were experiencing so he concluded that they had been possessed. During this time, this was a common diagnosis since it was difficult for them to figure out what was happening if there weren’t physical or common symptoms showing since they were limited to resources they could use. The doctor that went to treat the girls was the only doctor in the Salem Village and he could most likely read, but not write. This furthers the lack of knowledge that there was to provide a proper diagnosis.