Salem is known as the city of witch. There were a lot of witch trials that occurred between 1692 and 1693 in here. More than 200 people were accused of practicing witchcraft and 20 of them were executed. After that, the story of the trials has become tantamount with paranoia and injustice. It continues to beguile the popular imagination more than 300 years later.
1. Context and origin of the Salem Witch Trial
Belief in the supernatural, especially in the devil’s practice of giving certain humans (witches) the power to harm others in return for their loyalty–had emerged in Europe as early as the 14th century. This was widespread in colonial New England. Besides, the harsh realities of life in the rural Puritan community of Salem Village at the time included the after-effects of a British war with France in the American colonies in 1689.
2. Salem witch trials
The Salem Witch Trials were a series of witchcraft cases brought before local magistrates in a settlement called Salem which was a part of the Massachusetts Bay colony in the 17th century.
- Setting the scene
The Salem Witch Trials began for the first time in February of 1692 when the afflicted girls accused the first three victims, Tituba, Sarah Good, and Sarah Osborne.
- Salem struggling
From the 1300s to the end of the 1600s, a "witchcraft craze" rippled through Europe. Most people executed were women. Although the Salem trials came on just as the European craze was winding down, local circumstances explain their onset.
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- Restoring good names
Artists and scientists alike continued to be fascinated by the Salem witch trials in the 20th century. Moreover, numerous hypotheses have been devised to explain the strange behavior that occurred in Salem in 1692.
The General Court ordered a day of fasting and soul-searching for the tragedy of Salem on January 14, 1697. While, in 1702, the court declared the trials unlawful. Until 1711, the colony passed a bill restoring the rights and good names of those accused and granted £600 restitution to their heirs. However, more than 250 years later, in 1957, Massachusetts formally apologized for the events of 1692.
- Salem witch trials executions
English law at the time dictated that anyone who refused to enter a plea could be tortured in an attempt to force a plea out of them. This legal tactic was known as “peine forte et dure” which means “strong and harsh punishment.”
The torture consisted of laying the prisoner on the ground, naked, with a board placed on top of him. Heavy stones were loaded onto the board and the weight was gradually increased until the prison either entered a plea or died.
- Trials conclusion & legacy
As the trials and executions continued, colonists began to doubt that so many people could be guilty of this crime. They feared many innocent people were being executed. Local clergymen began speaking out against the witch hunt and tried to persuade officials to stop the trials.
Around the end of September, the use of spectral evidence was finally declared inadmissible, thus marking the beginning of the end of the Salem Witch Trials.
Although spectral evidence, evidence-based on dreams and visions, wasn’t the only evidence used in court during the Salem Witch Trials, it was the most common evidence and the easiest evidence for accusers to fake.
Other evidence used in the trials included confessions of the accused, possession of certain items such as poppets, ointments or books on the occult, as well as the presence of an alleged “witch’s teat”.
- Salem witch trial victims
A total of 19 accused witches were hanged at Proctor’s Ledge, near Gallows Hill, during the witch trials. The others were either found guilty but pardoned, found not guilty, were never indicted or simply evaded arrest or escaped from jail.
The common myth often occurred in the trials is that the Salem Witch Trials victims were burned at the stake. There is the fact that no accused witches were burned at the stake in Salem, Massachusetts. Salem was ruled by English law at the time, which only allowed death by burning to be used against men who committed high treason and only after they had been hanged, quartered and drawn.
- Life after the Salem witch trials
Daily chores, business matters, and other activities were neglected during the chaos of the witch trials, causing many problems in the colony for years to come.
As the years went by, the colonists felt ashamed and remorseful for what had happened during the Salem Witch Trials. Since the witch trials ended, the colony also began to suffer many misfortunes such as droughts, crop failures, smallpox outbreaks, and Native-American attacks and many began to wonder if God was punishing them for their mistake.