What Caused the Salem Witch Trial Hysteria of 1692?
The Salem Witch Trials of 1692 represent a part of New England history that is unique in the entire history of the United States of America and, in some respect, also in the history of witch hunts all over the world. These trials were a series of hearings before local magistrates followed by county court of trials to prosecute people accused of witchcraft. People were being accused of practicing witchcraft and were told, to confess or be killed. Some confessed, while others were persecuted. Many people were killed during the Salem Witch Trials and most of them were innocent to begin with.
During the 1600’s a large number of English immigrants arrived in New England. The leaders of these settlers were Puritans. Puritans were Protestant Christians who were unhappy with their church in England and decided to come to New England so they could practice Christianity in a pure way. Puritans believed in predestination, the idea that God elects or chooses before birth who will go to Heaven and who will not. Puritans were also fundamentalists. They believed that every word in the Christian Bible was the true word of God and was to always be followed. What the Bible said, Puritans believed, and the Bible spoke of the devil and of witches. The devil was indeed clever with the ability to enter a normal person’s body and turn that person into a witch (Background Essay). The Bible states that “Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live.” They should kill the witches- they have no right to live. Since the Bible said it, it must be true, and the Puritans believed it (document 1).
In the 80-year period from 1620 to 1700, 16 colonists outside of Salem were put to death for witchcraft. But this was a small number compared to the number executed in Salem. In just a 15-week period from June 10 through September 22 of 1692, nineteen men and women, all having been convicted of witchcraft, were carted to Gallows Hill, a barren slope near Salem Village, for hanging. Another man by the name of Giles Corey was over eighty years and was pressed to death under heavy stones for refusing to submit to a trial on witchcraft charges. As another stone was added, his last words were “More weight” (The Crucible by: Arthur Miller). Hundreds of others faced accusations of witchcraft. Dozens languished in jail for months without trials. Over the course of 5 days, 20 people were hanged for being accused witches. On June 10, Bridget Bishop was hanged. On July 19, five more witches met the same fate. And so it continued until September 22, with a mass hanging of eight accused witches (document 2).
The Trouble in Salem first began when two young girls, Betty Parris, age 9, and her 11-year-old cousin Abigail Williams, asked an Indian slave woman named Tituba to help them know their fortunes. Over the next several months the two girls began to show strange behavior. Betty’s father, the Reverend Samuel Parris, was puzzled by the girl’s peculiar behavior and found out about the sessions with Tituba and decided that the girls were under the Devil’s spell. Soon the strange behavior spread to other girls in town. On February 29, 1692, the girls identified two local white women and the slave Tituba as the witches who were causing them such pain. The three accused women were carted off to jail in Boston and only Tituba confessed to practicing witchcraft, in which her life was saved. Over the next few weeks, the odd behavior of the girls continued and accusations kept increasing. The Salem witch hunt was under way and people were determined to not stop until they’ve found every last witch in Salem. (The Crucible by: Arthur Miller).
During the Salem Witch Trials was an honorable minister named Cotton Mather. He told the people living in Salem that “These evil spirits are all around….Go tell mankind, that there are devils and witches… New England...
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