The Salem Witch Trials in the United State’s History
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The Salem witch trials were the most infamous witchcraft trials in the United State’s history. Taking place in colonial Massachusetts, the trials began in late February 1692 and lasted through May of 1693. There were at least twenty-five people who died: nineteen of which were executed by hanging, one person was tortured to their death, and there were at least five people who died in jail because of poor living conditions, including an infant who was bon in jail and died. By the end of the trials, more than 160 people were accused of witchcraft, but less than half confesses to practicing witchcraft, most were jailed, and many were deprived of their human rights. The witch trials were an example of conflict that affected the entire town. There was conflict among the people of Salem who have tried to settle on one reason for the events of the witch trials, yet still today we haven’t been able to come up with one cause. Many believe that jealousies or other forms of dislike could have played a role in the actions of some of those that were involved in the Salem Witch Trials, mostly among the accusers.
The events that took place in Salem and Salem village have been heavily researched by many people and discussed since they took place. Trying to discover the real cause of the trials has proven to be very difficult, even though extensive research has been done on this topic and the topic has been theorized many times, there is still no clear reason for the cause of the events. Theories of the events range from family feuds, ergot poisoning, mass Hysteria, and even Hypocalcemia, which is a condition where someone doesn’t have enough calcium in their blood(Healthline, web).
How it works
The Puritans settled in Salem Village because it was on the coast, and therefore good for fishing and trade. While there, a man named Samuel Parris took the position of Salem village minister after the former minister, Deodat Lawson left his position and hired Samuel. Before he moved to Salem, Samuel lived in Barbados and tried to become a merchant, but eventually he failed in doing so. From there, he moved his family to Boston so he could become a minister. Before Samuel moved to the village, there had been no cases of witchcraft. There were a few cases throughout New England, but none in Salem Village. The first to girls to have been affected by witchcraft were Betty Parris, Samuels nine year old daughter (History of Massachusetts- Betty Parris, web), and his niece Abigail Williams who was eleven (History of Massachusetts- Abigail Williams, web). The two girls fits began in the winter of 1661, but it wasn’t until February 24th, 1662 that the girls were diagnose to be under “an evil hand”(Roach, pg. 185) by Dr. William Griggs. Abigail accused a woman named Rebecca Nurse of being her tormenter (Boyer, 23), but when Nurse was brought into court, she denied having anything to do with the girls illnesses. In January of 1662, the girls grew even more terribly ill. The girls were said to move their bodies in unnatural ways, faint, be pinched when nobody was near them, have unintelligible speech, hallucinate, and even attempt to fly. Many others from the village started to come forward and claim they had been affected by witchcraft. After a while, Abigail started to name others who had taken part in her and Betty’s tormenting. One person being a man named John Willard, Abigail said she had been “almost killed by the apparition of John Willard”(Salem Witch Trials Papers, web). What had started with just two girls accusing other of witchcraft, turned into an all out witch hunt in Salem Village.
One of the most common theories about the cause of the Salem Witch Trials came from Pau Boyer and Stephen Nissenbaum. They believed that the witch trials was the result of two very powerful feuding families. The most powerful and wealthy families in the village were the Putnams and the Porters. The two families were believed to be fighting with each other ad decided to accuse the opposing family of witchcraft. The Putnams and Porters lived on opposite sides of the village, Putnams in the West, while the Porters were in the East. There was a possibility of the families trying to fight for power over the other which could be the explanation for why most of the accusers were from the Putnams side of the village.
A very interesting theory of the cause of the witch trials was a bad case of ergot poisoning. Ergot is Ergot is a type of fungus that affects rye. Rye was a staple crop at this time, and it was used to make breads. Ergot is very dangerous. When is ingested, it can cause many of the symptoms that Betty and Abigail were experiencing, like dizziness, and hallucinations(PBS, web).
Another theory about the events in Salem Village was hysteria. Hysteria is a “behavior exhibiting overwhelming or unmanageable fear or emotional excess”(Merriam- Webster dictionary, web). People who are experiencing hysteria aren’t faking their disorder, and it all seems very real to them.
Today, there is still no clear explanation for the exact cause of the Salem Witch trials, but there are a lot of theories. We may never know the real reason for the events in Salem Village, but we can continue to come up with theories.