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Witchcraft

The Salem witch trials of the late 1600's have become legendary through the centuries and have been the subject of much research. Accounts of various testimonies, along with scholarly studies, seem to indicate that the phenomenon of the trials can linked to both cultural and historical context.

In 1692, a witch panic that escalated to epidemic proportions swept through the county of Essex, Massachusetts, resulting in formal charges of witchcraft being brought against some one hundred and fifty-six people from twenty-four different towns and villages in that year alone (Rape pp). By the time governor William Phips brought a halt to the trials, "nineteen people had been hanged, one man had died under interrogation, and over one hundred suspects were languishing in jail" (Rape pp). More than half the accusations originated in the two communities of Salem Village and Andover (Rape pp).

The panic began when several girls in Salem Village began to suffer from strange "fits" and "distempers" and after being examined by the local physician, William Griggs, were declared to be "under an Evil Hand" (Rape pp). Villagers turned to Samuel Parris for guidance, ofr he was not only the minister of Salem Village, but was the father of one of the girls and the uncle of another (Rape pp).

At first response was to pursue a regimen of prayer and fasting, however, by late February, and possibly under encouragement from villagers and church members, he instructed his daughter and niece to name their tormentors and advised his neighbors to do the same (Rape pp). Based on the girls' accusations, arrest warrants were issued for three women, "Tituba, a Caribbean slave in Parris' service, Sarah Good, a homeless and destitute woman who had been begging for food and shelter in the village, and Sarah Osborne, a native of Watertown who had come to live in the village thirty years before" (Rape pp).

Within weeks, the girls began to denounce other villagers and accusations soon spread from Salem Village to neighboring communities and beyond, until the entire county had become involved in the crisis (Rape pp).

Although there had been witch trials throughout New England for decades prior to 1692, it is only by viewing the immediate history can one understand why the citizens of Essex County reacted so strongly to the "afflictions" that ailed Salem Village (Rape pp).

During the last quarter of the seventeenth century, New England was under attack, physically, politically and spiritually, and these dangers intruded upon the colonies as emissaries of a hostile outside world (Rape pp). A series of external forces and events had assaulted the colonists, endangering the community as a whole and even their very survival (Rape pp). The cumulative impact from this chain of events resulted in a common trauma, "which they expressed in a common language" (Rape pp).

New Englanders had lived in relative peace with the Dutch in New York and Canadian French, and conflicts with native Americans had been minimal (Rape pp). However, after the conviction and death of local tribesmen and increased pressure to convert to Christianity, the Wampanoags' chief, Metacomet declared guerilla warfare on the colony and although by 1676 had been defeated, the colonists had sustained considerable losses, including the death of one out of every sixteen men of military age, as well as countless other men, women, and children who were either killed in raids, captured, or died of starvation and exposure (Rape pp). Furthermore, a smallpox epidemic claimed hundred more from 1677-1679, so that eventually twelve towns were completely destroyed and more than half of the other New England towns ere severely damaged (Rape pp). Then a few years later in 1684, Britain revoked Massachusetts' charter and incorporated all eight colonies into the Dominion of New England, thus stripping the colonists of power and giving it to royal officials (Rape pp). A few years later, the colonists overthrew Edmund Andros, governor of the Dominion, and re-established its local government, yet this was followed by the French declaring war on the vulnerable colonies, resulting in renewed attacks by the native Americans (Rape pp). Then in 1690, another small pox epidemic spread, ravaging the villages (Rape pp). All of these events occurred during a…[continue]

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