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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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Salem Witch Trials The event of Salem witch trials happened in the year 1692 in the Suffolk and Middlesex counties of Massachusetts. The case was highlighted due to property disagreements, hysteria and jealousy. All because of personal vendettas, a dozen or more people were hanged even though there was no evidence but only stories and assumptions by the town's women and girls. The case was stretched for more than a year
In this sense, the only category of convicts which were burned to death was that of the so-called "satanic Blacks" as this was considered to be the only way of destroying their 'evilness.' In Puritan New England ideology, Blacks were associated with Satan. This belief was the remnant of an old European image of Satan as a black man which dated back to long before the contact between Africans
The trial began March 1, 1692, all but Tituba pleaded innocent. Tituba confessed and claimed there were other witches within the community. This cascaded a series of accusations, people like Martha Corey, Sarah Good's 4-year-old daughter, and eventually, Bridget Bishop. Bishop was known for her gossip and promiscuity and despite her pleas of innocence, she was found guilty and on June 10th, was the first person hanged on Gallows
The children described, each one of them separately, seeing Sarah and the other women flying as specters through the night. The children, despite the threats they must have received from the women, they were brave and told the truth about what had happened. Other townspeople came forward with evidence I hadn't even heard of -- milk and cheese going rotten after a visit from one of the witches; animals
As the Puritan leadership took the stand that their decisions were made directly from the scripture (indeed there was an absolute marriage of Church and State within these communities) any challenge to their processes (such as a newcomer objecting to the financial controls placed upon them) could be then perceived as evidence of a person who is not in alignment with God. Newcomers were more likely to propose challenges
And their could be other, more personal reasons for the accusations. For instance, John Westgate's testimony includes a tale of how Mary Parker came to a tavern and chastised her husband for drinking. When John Westgate called her unseemly for coming to the tavern, as he himself testified, "she came up to me and called me rogue and bid me mind my owne busines…." Late 17th century men were not
Salem Witch Trials In the months of June to September 1692, nineteen men and women were hung near Salem Village, Massachusetts, for the crime of witchcraft. One man, Giles Corey, close to eighty years of age at the time of the accusations, was crushed to death under heavy stones for refusing to be tried. Hundreds of other people also faced accusations of witchcraft, and a large proportion of the accused