Causes of the Salem Witch Trials: Political, Religious and Social
Between the months of June to September of 1692, the infamous witch trials in Salem, Massachusetts resulted in the hanging of 19 men and women; the deaths of five others, including two children, while imprisoned in jail; the pressing to death of an 80-year old man, and the stoning of two dogs for collaborating with the Devil. Hundreds of others faced accusations and dozens more were jailed for months during the progress of the trials. For over three hundred years these events have not only captured the general publics' imagination, but that of the academic community. Beginning with Charles Upham, in 1867, historians have attempted to explain the mass hysteria that swept through Salem in 1692. These accounts vary both in their interpretation of the events and the aspects focused upon. For example, according to Upham, the afflicted girls, who were the principle witnesses against the witches, had deliberately lied. Succeeding generations of historians, however, had cited mass hysteria, rigors of puritan childrearing and ergot poisoning as explanations for the afflicted girls' behaviors. Furthermore, others have minimized the girls' involvement within the proceedings, focusing instead upon the issues surrounding the trialspolitical and economic factors, social concerns or interpersonal relationships between the accused and their accusers. Such authors as Enders A. Robinson, The Devil Discovered, Paul Boyer and Stephen Nissenbaum, Salem Possessed, and Mary Beth Norton, In the Devil's Snare, all provide compelling evidence as to why the witch hysteria erupted in Salem Village. However, no one narrative can, by itself, adequately explain why the hysteria was allowed to sweep across Salem Village and throughout Essex County virtually unchecked by the Puritan hierarchy or the royal government. In order to truly understand why these events transpired when and where they did, one must examine the witchcraft epidemic in its larger social context. It was not one
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