Salem Witch Trials and the Bill of Rights

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The Salem Witch Trials and the 6th Amendment

History 115
Thomas Richards
April 11, 2012
A little 9-year-old girl named Betty and her older cousin giggle as they hurry home. It's getting late and it looks like it might snow. They whisper back and forth about what they have recently learned. The local fortuneteller had just informed them of the trade in which their future husbands would be employed. But they must hurry back before someone notices their absence, or worse yet, discovers where they've been. Betty is especially worried that her father might find out what she has been up to. You see, Betty comes from a devout Puritan family and her father is a Reverend. This type of behavior would be seen as most scandalous because this is Salem, Massachusetts in 1692. Is it possible that these seemingly innocent acts taken by someone so young could escalate and end up impacting the drafting of the 6th Amendment of the United States Bill of Rights. What Happened in Salem?

The most popular historical perspective of what occurred is that in early 1692, the Rev. Samuel Parris’s 9-year-old daughter Betty and his 12-year-old niece Abigail, “began to fall into horrid fits”. There has been debate as to whether these fits were real, or if the girls were just acting. The village doctor could not explain these bizarre “fits”, and blamed it on the supernatural. One must understand that these were Puritans, their belief system at that time gave a great deal of power to the spiritual world. If something good happen to somebody they were said to be in God's good graces. If something bad happened to somebody, it was said to be the devil's work.

Betty and Abigail continued experiencing these bizarre “fits”. They screamed, threw things, made strange sounds, and contorted their bodies into strange positions. Rumors in the village began to spread of witchcraft. Shortly thereafter an 11-year-old girl named Ann experience similar symptoms. On February 29, 1692, two of the local magistrates Jonathan Corwin and John Hathorne interrogated the three girls. They demanded that they disclose the source of this “witchcraft”. The afflicted girls named Sarah Good, Sarah Osborne, and Tituba as their tormentors. Sarah Good was a homeless beggar and did not hold much standing in the community. Sarah Osborne was an elderly impoverished woman who again did not hold much sway in the community. The third person named was the Rev.’s Caribbean slave, Tituba. It was at this time that the girls confessed to the secret fortune telling sessions that they had participated in with Tituba.

On March 1, 1692, the local magistrates immediately ordered the three women to be brought before them. They were detained and interrogated for several days. Sarah Osborne and Sarah Good maintained their innocence. However, Tituba confessed, “the devil came to me and bid me serve him.” She described elaborate images of black dogs, red cats, yellow birds and a “black man” who wanted her to sign his book. She admitted that she signed the book and said that there were several other names listed that were plotting to destroy the Puritan faith. Needless to say all three were put in jail. Word quickly spread regarding the possibility of other witches within the community.

Wild paranoia and fear prompted a stream of accusations of witchcraft. Over the next few months over 200 people were accused, arrested, and jailed. Nineteen of these people were hung, and one-man was crushed to death with heavy stones. Even two dogs where accused of witchcraft and then killed. Those afflicted by these so-called “witches” claimed they could identify their tormentors through visions. This type of evidence was called “spectral evidence”, this was the only proof required to find someone guilty of witchcraft. It seemed no one was above reproach. Charges were brought against Martha Corey, an upstanding member of the church. They even accused and arrested Sarah Good’s...
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