Salem Witch Hunt begins

Salem Witch Hunt begins

In Salem Village in the Massachusetts Bay Colony, Sarah Goode, Sarah Osborne and Tituba, an enslaved woman from the Barbados, are charged with the illegal practice of witchcraft. Later that day, Tituba, possibly under coercion, confessed to the crime, encouraging the authorities to seek out more Salem witches.

Trouble in the small Puritan community began the month before, when nine-year-old Elizabeth Parris and 11-year-old Abigail Williams, the daughter and niece, respectively, of the Reverend Samuel Parris, began experiencing fits and other mysterious maladies. A doctor concluded that the children were suffering from the effects of witchcraft, and the young girls corroborated the doctor’s diagnosis. With encouragement from a number of adults in the community, the girls, who were soon joined by other “afflicted” Salem residents, accused a widening circle of local residents of witchcraft, mostly middle-aged women but also several men and even one four-year-old child. During the next few months, the afflicted area residents incriminated more than 150 women and men from Salem Village and the surrounding areas of Satanic practices.

READ MORE: The Mysterious Enslaved Woman Who Sparked Salem's Witch Hunt

In June 1692, the special Court of Oyer, “to hear,” and Terminer, “to decide,” convened in Salem under Chief Justice William Stoughton to judge the accused. The first to be tried was Bridget Bishop of Salem, who was found guilty and executed by hanging on June 10. Thirteen more women and four men from all stations of life followed her to the gallows, and one man, Giles Corey, was executed by crushing. Most of those tried were condemned on the basis of the witnesses’ behavior during the actual proceedings, characterized by fits and hallucinations that were argued to be caused by the defendants on trial.

In October 1692, Governor William Phipps of Massachusetts ordered the Court of Oyer and Terminer dissolved and replaced with the Superior Court of Judicature, which forbade the type of sensational testimony allowed in the earlier trials. Executions ceased, and the Superior Court eventually released all those awaiting trial and pardoned those sentenced to death. The Salem Witch Trials, which resulted in the executions of 19 innocent women and men, had effectively ended.

READ MORE: 5 Notable Women Hanged in the Salem Witch Trials

Motherland: Fort Salem follows the story of Raelle Collar (Hickson), Abigail Bellweather (Williams), and Tally Craven (Sutton), who are enlisted in the U.S. Army.

The trio use their supernatural powers and witchcraft to fight and are highly trained in "combat magic."

They also use their vocal cords to enact "seeds," which create powerful spells.

The series is entirely fictional but has its roots in one of the most infamous periods of U.S. legal history.

Motherland: Fort Salem is set in an alternate universe, where the U.S. signed the 'Salem Accord' after the end of the Salem witch trials.

In the series, the Salem Accord is a deal to end the persecution of witches. In exchange, witches were conscripted to fight in America's wars.

In the series, the Accord is at odds with a terrorist organization known as the Spree, a group of witches who are against the military conscription of witches.

Although the show is not based on a single true story and the Salem Accord is not a real document, the historical background the show is set against is very real.

The Salem Witch Trials

Motherland: Fort Salem poses the questions: What if the innocent women accused of witchcraft at the Salem witch trials were actually real witches, and what would have happened had they lived?

The Salem witch trials took place between February 1692 and May 1693 in Salem, Massachusetts, and saw over 200 people accused of witchcraft.

After a series of hearings and trials, 30 people were found guilty and 19 were executed by hanging.

Fourteen of those executed were women. The Salem witch trials quickly became the deadliest witch hunt in the history of colonial North America.

The trials began when young girls in Salem began accusing others of witchcraft.

The mass panic began after Betty Paris, age nine, and her cousin Abigail Williams, age 11, were described as having fits "beyond the power of epileptic fits or natural disease to effect" by John Hale, the minister of the nearby town of Beverly.

However, when they were examined by a doctor, there was no physical evidence of any health condition.

Soon after, Sarah Good, Sarah Osborne and Tituba were arrested for witchcraft. The trio were all stereotyped as witches: Good was unmarried, Osborne did not attend church and Tituba was a slave.

One month later, several others were accused of witchcraft.

Giles Corey, an 81-year-old farmer, refused to enter a guilty plea at his trial in September. He was later pressed to death.

The accused were found guilty using spectral evidence, false confessions, moles of blemishes on the body known as witch's teats, and pots of ointments in their homes.

There are many factors contributing to the beginning of the Salem witch trials, crossing political, religious, social class, and gender lines.

At the time, New England had recently been settled by the Puritans and had a highly fractious and religious population.

The Puritans opposed many traditions of the Church of England and had traveled to colonial North America to establish their own society, settling in the Massachusetts Bay.

Across early modern Europe and colonial North America, almost 80% of people accused of witchcraft were women.

Puritanism preached women were inherently sinful and more susceptible to damnation as they were weaker than men.

They also held the belief that men and women were not equal in the eyes of the Devil and were only equal in the eyes of God.

Speaking recently to Assignment X about the second series of Motherland: Fort Salem, creator Eliot Laurence teased: "I wanted to really create a storyline that raised the question of, "What is a witch?" So, in Season 2, there is this idea of the new witch [played by Mellany Barros], and soon enough, there are going to be testing centers, and some people don't want to relinquish their daughters, and soon enough, it becomes a matter of great and mounting national tension."

Witchcraft in Salem

On March 1, 1692, Salem, Massachusetts authorities interrogated Sarah Good, Sarah Osborne, and an Indian slave, Tituba, to determine if they indeed practiced witchcraft. So began the infamous Salem Witch Trials of 1692 External . Over the following months, more than 150 men and women in and around Salem were jailed on charges of exercising “Certaine Detestable Arts called Witchcrafts & Sorceryes.” Nineteen people, including five men, were eventually convicted and hanged on Gallows Hill and an additional male suspect was pressed to death. Others died in prison. Today they are seen as victims of a tragic mistake.

Petition for Bail from Accused Witches, ca. 1692. John Davis Batchelder Autograph Collection. Manuscript Division

Cousins Abigail Williams and Elizabeth Parris, ages eleven and nine, respectively, began to enter trance-like states and to suffer from convulsive seizures in January 1692. By late February, prayer, fasting, and medical treatment had failed to relieve their symptoms, or to quiet the blasphemous shouting that accompanied their fits. Pressured to explain, the girls accused the three above-named women of afflicting them.

A recent epidemic of small pox, heightened threats of Indian attack, economic uncertainties, and small town rivalries may have all primed the people of Salem and its surrounding areas for the mass hysteria that fueled the witchcraft trials. Although social status and gender offered little protection from accusations, historians note that single women particularly were vulnerable to charges of practicing witchcraft, while pre-adolescent girls were likewise most vulnerable to affliction. Sarah Good, Sarah Osborne, and Tituba, for example, all lacked male protectors, while three of the signatories to the bail petition pictured above are widows.

Regni Annae Reginae Decimo…An Act to Reverse the Attainders of George Burroughs and Others For Witchcraft. Boston: B. Green, 1713. Printed Ephemera: Three Centuries of Broadsides and Other Printed Ephemera. Rare Book & Special Collections Division

Acting on the recommendation of the clergy, civil authorities created a special Court of Oyer and Terminer to try the accused witches. As the number of imprisoned people approached 150, however, public opinion shifted against the proceedings. On October 29, 1692, Massachusetts Governor William Phips dissolved the special court, releasing many suspects and preventing further arrests. When the remaining witchcraft cases were heard in May 1693, the Superior Court failed to convict anyone else. Legislation passed in 1711 restored the rights and good names of those who had been accused.

In the 1950s, Arthur Miller‘s play, The Crucible, explored the Salem witchcraft trials. Written during a period when concern about “subversive activities” ran high, Miller used his play to protest the red scares of the postwar era. Once again, Miller implied, innocent people were sacrificed to public hysteria. Called before the House Un-American Activities Committee in 1956, Miller refused to supply names of people he met years before at an alleged communist writers’ meeting. The resulting contempt conviction was overturned on appeal.


Though not the only significant series of witch trials to take place in this period, the Salem witch trials of 1692 were ultimately the most intense and devastating witch hunt to take place in colonial America. Living hundreds of years later, we still search for answers, wondering what caused these strange and tragic events to take place. Over time, historians have proposed a diverse array of theories, each identifying different factors and events that warrant serious consideration.

While there will most likely never be one single answer to explain the actions of this dark year, it is important to understand the events and circumstances that led to 1692. Religious, social, political, and environment factors created an environment of growing fear and tension. Significant conflict was building in both Salem Village, and on a larger scale, the Massachusetts Bay Colony, in the years leading up to the Salem witch trials. Here we have a timeline of significant events taking place in both England and its colony in the years before the Salem trials. It is helpful, if not essential, to consider these factors when studying the events that took place in Salem in 1692.

1603-1625: Reign of King James I in England. Consolidating Scotland and England under his rule, this reign creates the unified Kingdom of Great Britain.

1625: Reign of King Charles I begins in England.

1620: Puritan migration begins. Though often used interchangeably, the terms Puritan and Pilgrim, describe two groups within the early New England settlers. Pilgrims are English separatists who heavily criticize the corruption within the Church of England and seek to form independent local churches. In contrast, Puritans hope to “purify” the Church of England through reform.

1626: Naumkeag (Salem) is founded by Roger Conant from Cape Anne.

1629: King Charles I grants a charter to the Massachusetts Bay Company.

1630: Massachusetts Bay Colony is settled by a group of approximately 1,000 pilgrims. John Winthrop and Thomas Dudley are appointed Governor and Deputy Governor respectively. Governor Winthrop declares, “There shall be a city on a hill.”

1642-1651: Period of English Civil Wars. Conflicts between King Charles I and opposition within England, Scotland, and Ireland result in his execution and the exile of his son. Oliver Cromwell rules as lord protector during the republican Commonwealth, promoting the Puritan religion until his death in 1658.

1645-1715: Coldest period of the Little Ace Age. Stretching from approximately 1500 to 1850, there are highly irregular weather patterns across the Northern Hemisphere. In colonial America, there are freezing winters and brutally hot summers.

1660- Following the fall of the Commonwealth, the English monarchy is restored, resulting in the return of King Charles II. Dying with no legitimate heir in 1685, he is succeeded by his brother, James II.

1666: A number of Salem farmers petition to hire their own ministers, due to the arduous hike, especially through the harsh conditions of winter ice and snow, to Salem Town’s meeting house.

1669-28: Villagers refused to pay taxes for the Salem Town meeting house, demanding contributions to their meeting house. At a stalemate, matters are taken to the court.

1672: Salem Town allows Salem Village to build a meeting house and hire their own minister, though the Village is still technically part of the Salem Town church. Villagers still have to go to Salem Town to receive sacraments and accept new members. Factions begin to emerge opposing the minstrel candidates. This year, James Bayley is appointed the first minister of Salem Village.

1673: People living on the boundary of Salem Village, tied to Salem town church, feel they have the right to hire and fire ministers. In Salem Village, the faction opposing Bayley’s ministry increases. As a result, his salary is not paid.

1675-1676: King Phillip’s War in Southern New England and Maine escalates with the Indigenous inhabitants. This conflict results in massive causalities on both sides. Given the close proximity of Essex County, and Salem specifically, to the northern frontier, many refugees settle in this area.

1676: King Phillip’s War continues to produce enormous casualties on both sides. Several individuals involved in the later Salem trials survive raids during this time. During this year, Wabanaki attacks in Falmouth Maine force one-year-old Mercy Lewis and her parents to flee to an island at Casco Bay. Both Mercy’s grandparents and other family members are killed during the raids. The year prior, the nearly two-years-old Susanna Sheldon also became a war refugee.

1680-1683: The factional dispute continues in Salem Village. George Burroughs, a refugee of the northern Native American wars, replaces James Bayley as minister of Salem Village.

1683- After protracted salary disputes, George Burroughs also resigns as minister of Salem Village and returns to Maine. Deodat Lawson becomes the third ministerial candidate in Salem Village.

1684- King Charles II revokes all charters under English dominion, including the Massachusetts Bay Colony charter, only renewing them after a demonstration of loyalty to the crown. The independent nature of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, built upon a foundation of Puritan ideology, makes King Charles particularly hesitant to reissue a charter. Under the original charter, the Massachusetts Bay Colony was remarkably autonomous, more so than any other colony. It allowed the colonial government to establish its own legal code, that, while based in English law, was specific to the colony. Without a charter, the colony loses considerable autonomy, including the ability to elect their own governing officials. This also jeopardizes land ownership, as the removal of the charter voids existing land titles. Of even greater concern is the fear that the revocation of the Puritan influenced charter marks the downfall of the great Puritan experiment. Distraught by the thought that the work of their forefathers would come to naught, many worry the City on a Hill will never be attained.

1685: Charles II dies. James II becomes king of England.

1686: King James appoints Sir Edmund Andros as Governor of the Dominion of New England. The new governor has dominion over territories of Maine, Plymouth, Rhode Island and Connecticut. Governor Andros enthusiastically alters laws, passes new taxes, and founds the first Anglican church in New England, Boston’s South Church. Under his rule, Quakers And Baptists are allowed worship freely. Many interpret this action as a spiritual crisis and threat to the City on a Hill.

1688-1689- The Glorious Revolution begins in England. Roman Catholic King James II enacts policies of religious intolerance that lead to the successful invasion of the Dutch Prince William of Orange. King William III and his wife, Mary II, are made joint monarchs of England. When news of the revolution reaches Boston, an uprising overthrows the unpopular Andros government. A temporary government based on the original charter is established to retain order in the wake of this upheaval.

1688-1697: Fighting between colonists and Native tribes resumes. This conflict is known as the Second Indian Wars or King William’s War. In addition to the rising causalities, taxes are increased to meet the mounting costs of the war, leading to a rise in inflation. This conflict leads to another large influx of refugees to Salem and the surrounding areas. Abigail Hobbs, Susannah Sheldon, Sara Churchwell, Mercy Short, all refugees from Maine, are later witnesses during the Salem witch trials. Having experienced the loss of family members, their communities, and homes, one can understand how these young women and children may have feared the devil lurking in the wilderness all around them.

1689: Samuel Paris becomes the first ordained minister of Salem Village. Though popular with certain prominent family’s in the Village, including the influential Putnam family, others oppose his appointment. Joseph Porter, Joseph Hutchinson, Daniel Andrew, Joseph Putnam and Francis Nurse vote not to pay Paris’s salary for a year. Salem Village falls into a deeper factional crisis, divided between those for and against Samuel Parris.

1692: There are many factors that contribute to the rise in fear, paranoia, and tension in the years leading up to the witch trials. One must consider how outbreaks of smallpox, Native attacks, wars, religious disputes, and harsh weather conditions would be interpreted by the people of this time. For the Puritans, this trouble is a cosmic sign. Behind it all is the belief the devil is lurking around every corner, seeking to ignite a moral panic and conspiracy of witches.

In this fearful climate, the daughter and niece of Reverend Samuel Parris suddenly fall ill with strange and frightening symptoms. By mid-February, a local physician diagnoses this behavior as the result of bewitchment. As word of the illness spreads throughout Salem Village, and eventually Essex County, others begin to fall ill with the same alarming symptoms. The afflicted complain disembodied spirits stab and choke them and report terrifying visions. Soon, the afflicted identify these specters, naming neighbors, acquaintances, and total strangers as witches. Those who do not act in accordance with accepted social norms, such as outsiders and beggars, are the easiest to suspect. In Salem Village, the first accusations name a slave, a woman who married beneath her station, and a beggar. As fear continues to spread, those who are not obvious suspects are also accused, in many cases driven by old family feuds and rumors.

Because Massachusetts law is still uncertain, an emergency court is established. This special court, the Court of Oyer and Terminer, is led by elite members of the colony. Though the court attempts to conform to existing English law, the legal limbo posed by the freshly appointed charter leaves the court to make determinations based on their own research and judgment. For this reason, the controversial spectral sightings are used as admissible evidence for a conviction.

This unique court, combined with the years of infighting in Salem Village and massive tension across the colony, lead to the largest and most intensive witch-hunt to take place in the colonies. By the time the trials come to an end, 25 people are dead—five die in prison awaiting trial, 19 are executed by hanging, and one man is pressed to death after refusing to recognize the authority of the court.

The History Of The Salem Witch Hunt

The most significant Witch hysteria ever to be seen in America was that of the Salem Witch trials. They occurred in Salem, Massachusetts in 1692 when 19 people were hanged and one person was “pressed to death” on account of Witchcraft. Approximately a further 13 died in jail. In total 185 people were accused of Witchcraft and Salem jail was full to bursting point. By 1711 all were pardoned of their alleged crimes and no convicted Witch was ever executed in America again.

Puritanism and the climate of fear

To understand what happened in 1692, one needs to understand Puritan ideals and way of life.

Puritanism is a Christian religion which started in the 1600s in England. Puritans differed from ordinary Christians in one significant way they believed that a person’s life was predestined from birth to lead either to salvation or condemnation in Hell after death. Moreover, if one had been condemned to Hell from birth, no amount of goodly deeds would save him or her. Puritans were expected to be devout and faithful in order to ensure their eternal life, but they must always have wondered if they were predestined for Hell’s fire.

In New England, the Puritans ensured they kept close to the state and thus exerted some influence over it and the peoples’ religious welfare. Puritan ideals could have been said to provoke a great deal of fear in God and thus in the Devil also. Such was the desire to be one of the “Elect”, chosen for salvation after death (even though, according to their philosophy you were either elect or you weren’t), the terror of evil would have been great. In the modern mind this might not be easy to imagine, but in 17th Century Puritan New England the Devil would have been a tangible threat, a hideous reality.

Adding to the climate of fear at this time, there had been a smallpox outbreak, a series of military setbacks in Massachusetts, frontier attacks from the French and violent assaults on settlers by the Wabanaki Indians in neighbouring towns. These factors helped to create a rising feeling of anxiety in Salem and other similar towns, the fear centring on God’s punishment for the wicked. In such uneasy times, it is possible to see how imagination and speculation could start to take hold and eventually become a mass hysteria.

Moreover, there must have been very little for young girls to amuse themselves with in the winter of 1692. Salem town was miles away and many of the usual childhood games were forbidden because they were unseemly, or even worse, they allowed the Devil’s idleness to gain the upper hand. Reading and sewing would have been acceptable pastimes but there would have been very little else apart from the usual household chores. Therefore, it is easy to see how the imagination of young girls could be allowed to take flight in the face of desperate boredom.

The case of Tituba, Sarah Good and Sarah Osborne

However, the most popular books young girls read at the time were on subjects such as fortune telling which must have seemed very exciting. It was commonplace for girls to have a circle of friends with whom they would practise divination as a diversion from their tedious existence. A young girl by the name of Betty Parris formed a circle of this sort with her friends only for the occasion to spiral out of control into mass hysteria. Betty and the girls partook in a method of divination whereby an egg is cracked and the white is left to float in a glass of water. The shape of the egg white would symbolise the future. It was on one occasion in January 1692 that Betty claimed she could see the shape of a coffin. Terrified, she had hysterics. Betty was already a sickly child and the fear of death was always around during their harsh winters.

During February Betty continued to have the most terrifying fits and convulsions. Betty’s friends similarly started to display similar symptoms which included loss of different senses such as hearing, speech, memory loss, hallucinations and feelings of being pinched and bitten by spectres. In February 1692, they were examined by a doctor who could find nothing wrong with them physically. However, a recently published book at the time called “Memorable Providences” by Cotton Mather described in detail the symptoms of bewitchment and demonic possession. The doctor pronounced that the girls’ fits must have arisen from Witchcraft. This was readily accepted as a diagnosis.

In order to discover from whence this bewitchment came, a friend of the family, Mary Sibley, told the family’s slave named Tituba to bake a “Witchcake” which was made from rye and the urine of the afflicted and then fed to a dog. If the dog displayed similar symptoms, then the afflicted then bewitchment was beyond question. Dogs and other smaller animals were thought to have often been employed as Witches’ familiars.

Unfortunately for Tituba, this provoked the girls into making accusations of Witchcraft against her. The fact that the girls had enjoyed their initial experiments with divination and Tituba’s stories did not stop them from making this very serious accusation. It is also ironic that Mary Sibley had instigated the Witchcake episode which in itself must have been a form of sorcery, yet she was never accused. Tituba, being but a poor slave, was a vulnerable scapegoat.

Two other Salem scapegoats were accused at the same time and on the 1st March two magistrates - John Hathorne and Jonathan Corwin - started cross-questioning three women Tituba, Sarah Osborne and Sarah Good – the latter two being eccentric social outcasts neither of whom attended Church.

The girls were now having frequent fits and convulsions which they demonstrated with great aplomb at Ingersoll’s Tavern, the place where the three women were examined. They claimed that the spectres of the women were appearing to them and torturing them by biting and pinching. That no one else could see the spectral “evidence” did not concern the assembled. Many people had come to watch and some of them came forward to say their milk had gone sour or that a cow had become sick which was further evidence of Witchcraft.

It was clear the magistrates already believed the women were guilty and asked the same three questions to each “Are you a Witch?”, “Have you seen the Devil?” and “How do you explain the afflictions of these girls?”

Tituba initially claimed she was innocent, but for some never-discovered reason she then confessed that she, Osborne and Good had entered into a pact with the Devil. Moreover, she said that a tall, dark man had approached her and asked her to sign his book. This man was of course the Devil and he occasionally appeared to her in animal forms. Her confession lasted three days.

All three women were imprisoned in the county jail pending trial. Ultimately, Sarah Good was hanged for her alleged crimes Sarah Osborne died in jail but Tituba survived because she had confessed. The few who did confess to being Witches escaped the gallows for their “honesty”.

Guilty until proven innocent

Over the summer months, hundreds of people were accused and the prisons were full to bursting point. The Governor of Massachusetts at the time, Sir William Phips, returned to Boston in 1692 after being in his native England to find jails full to bursting point and that Salem was in chaos.

Then the “touch test” was introduced. If any of the accusers could be temporarily cured of their writhings and groanings from the touch of an accused person, then this was also entirely legitimate, if not damning evidence, of Witchcraft. This method was tried in a number of the trials and inevitably the girls immediately desisted their fits upon being touched.

The accused had no form of defence counsel, could have no witnesses to support them and had to rely solely on their own verbal skills of defence. Given that the people arrested tended to be poor or of little influence they often lacked the wit, speed of thought and eloquence so necessary for defence in any courtroom.

The turnaround

By the autumn of 1692, the Witch-hunt began to lose momentum. The deaths of many more men and women as a result of dubious claims started to worry the citizens of Salem who were becoming more and more concerned about the authenticity of these “Witches”. Spectral evidence was now doubted by many. Perhaps many of the people knew that the accusations were falsehood but dared not speak out until this point.

By October most knew that innocent lives had been lost. The educated people of the Town urged members of the court to exclude spectral evidence as unreliable, not to mention the nonsensical touch test. A new court was formed to deal with the prisoners and it was ordered that they should be protected. There were further trials but no further deaths – all remaining prisoners were finally released on 9th May 1693.

After the release of so many people and the crisis ebbing away, it was as though the clouds had parted and the light of truth showed with terrible clarity what had really taken place. It had been no more or less than a delusion and not one of the dead could have reasonably been called a Witch. There had been no Witches in Salem. If Satan had wished to cause trouble in that part of New England, the pious, good ministers and judges had already done the work for him. The only evil was the evil they had created within their own community.

Witch Hunts in America: From Salem to McCarthy

As troves of Europeans moved to America, so did their superstitions.

Contrary to popular belief, the earliest witch hunts in America actually took place in Hartford, Connecticut, not Salem, Massachusetts. In 1642, Connecticut made witchcraft a crime punishable by death, and, in 1647, a woman named Alse Young became the first supposed witch executed in America.

The second woman executed for witchcraft in the colonies, Mary Johnson, was detained and tortured for years before admitting &ldquofamiliarity with the Devil.&rdquo (In light of the brutality that this woman faced, one might ask who the real devil was in this situation.)

The period from 1647 to 1670 became known as the Hartford Witch Panic. During this time, about three dozen people were charged with witchcraft, and eleven were hanged. Nine of the victims were women, and the two men who were executed were killed alongside their wives.

Five years later, the Salem Witch Trials would begin, and 20 witches would be executed in Massachusetts in less than four months. Made infamous in Arthur Miller&rsquos The Crucible, this hysteria began when two young girls began experiencing &ldquofits,&rdquo and blamed homeless beggar Sarah Good, social outcast Sarah Osborne, and a slave woman named Tituba.

Salem Witch Hunt Begins – March 1, 1692

In Salem Village in the Massachusetts Bay Colony, Sarah Goode, Sarah Osborne, and Tituba, an Indian slave from Barbados, are charged with the illegal practice of witchcraft. Later that day, Tituba, possibly under coercion, confessed to the crime, encouraging the authorities to seek out more Salem witches.

Trouble in the small Puritan community began the month before, when nine-year-old Elizabeth Parris and 11-year-old Abigail Williams, the daughter and niece, respectively, of the Reverend Samuel Parris, began experiencing fits and other mysterious maladies. A doctor concluded that the children were suffering from the effects of witchcraft, and the young girls corroborated the doctor’s diagnosis. With encouragement from a number of adults in the community, the girls, who were soon joined by other “afflicted” Salem residents, accused a widening circle of local residents of witchcraft, mostly middle-aged women but also several men and even one four-year-old child. During the next few months, the afflicted area residents incriminated more than 150 women and men from Salem Village and the surrounding areas of Satanic practices.

In June 1692, the special Court of Oyer, “to hear,” and Terminer, “to decide,” convened in Salem under Chief Justice William Stoughton to judge the accused. The first to be tried was Bridget Bishop of Salem, who was found guilty and executed by hanging on June 10. Thirteen more women and four men from all stations of life followed her to the gallows, and one man, Giles Corey, was executed by crushing. Most of those tried were condemned on the basis of the witnesses’ behavior during the actual proceedings, characterized by fits and hallucinations that were argued to be caused by the defendants on trial.

In October 1692, Governor William Phipps of Massachusetts ordered the Court of Oyer and Terminer dissolved and replaced with the Superior Court of Judicature, which forbade the type of sensational testimony allowed in the earlier trials. Executions ceased, and the Superior Court eventually released all those awaiting trial and pardoned those sentenced to death. The Salem witch trials, which resulted in the executions of 19 innocent women and men, had effectively ended.

Witch Hunting in Salem

Their parents began searching for the witches, and hysteria mounted, especially as pastor Samuel Parris proclaimed, "In this very church, God knows how many Devils there are!" A public witch-hunt led to the arrest of 150 people 19 were hanged for witchcraft, and one man was executed for refusing to testify.

Christian History asked historian David D. Hall to explain what motivated these troublesome proceedings. Dr. Hall is professor of American religious history at The Divinity School, Harvard University, and author of "Worlds of Wonder, Days of Judgment: Popular Religious Belief in Early New England" (Knopf, 1985).

Some twenty years before the Salem witch-hunt, a young woman living in the household of the minister of Groton, Massachusetts, began to "carry herself in a strange and unwonted manner." According to the minister, Samuel Willard, 16-year-old Elizabeth Knapp saw apparitions and experienced violent "fits" over a period of three months.

In the midst of one fit, she spoke in a "hollow" voice, and called the minister "a great black rogue" who "tell[s] the people a company of lies."

Willard answered back, "Satan, thou art a liar and a deceiver, and God will vindicate his own truth one day." Others in the room took up the confrontation, telling the Devil that "God had him in chains."

The answer came back, "For all my chain, I can knock thee in the head when I please."

Meanwhile, in her own voice Elizabeth told how the Devil had promised to make her a "witch" if she would sign a "compact" .

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Virtual Field Trips

Current virtual classroom opportunities include an hour-long presentation hosted by a Salem Witch Museum educator. Most of these sessions consist of a 45-minute presentation followed by a 15-minute Question and Answer segment. Additionally, we are thrilled to announce a new virtual experience co-hosted by the educational organization Histories/Hi-Stories.

Details of available virtual field trips are listed below. Cost is based on the desired program and number of students registered for the session. To book a virtual field trip, please email [email protected] . In this email, please include the number of students, desired date for the event, and select a topic from the list below.

The Salem Witch Trials Recommended for Grades 6-12

In the year 1692, the daughter and niece of Reverend Samuel Parris were plagued with a mysterious and alarming illness. Soon, inhabitants of Salem Village were faced with their very worst nightmare—confirmation that witches had arrived in Essex County. Over the span of just one year, the colonists experienced the most severe and devastating witch-hunt to ever take place in North America. During this program, we will discuss how and why a witch-hunt broke out in Salem, describe the events of that dark year, and consider why the Salem witch trials are such a unique moment in early American history. Participants will see images of the sites around Essex County that have direct connections to the Salem witch trials, including the land where the court house, jail, and meeting house stood, as well as some of the artifacts from our museum’s collection.

The Crucible Fact vs. Fiction Recommend for Grades 9-12

Arthur Miller’s play The Crucible is perhaps the most famous literary portrayal of the Salem witch trials to date. Most contemporary audiences have heard of, read, or seen the film adaptation of this renowned play. While this is a beautifully composed and thought-provoking literary classic, this play is a work of fiction and is largely an inaccurate portrayal of what took place in Salem in the year 1692. In this program, we will dive into the historical inaccuracies presented by The Crucible, separating fact from fiction. By comparing the real story of the Salem witch trials with Miller’s account, students will be asked to consider how history can be reinterpreted and reimagined when it is translated into a creative medium. Additionally, by considering the sociopolitical environment of this period, this presentation will examine how and why Arthur Miller became inspired to write about these events. Participants will be asked to consider the formula for a witch-hunt “fear + a trigger = a scapegoat.” This formula is included in our current exhibit, Witches: Evolving Perceptions, and represents an integral part of our institutional mission to bring attention to the root cause of witch-hunts from 1692 to the present day. An interactive component of this exhibit is available through our website, and asks contemporary audiences from around the world to apply this formula to other examples, both from history and the modern-day. If desired, students will be given the option to submit their own examples, which will be added to the virtual exhibit on our website

The Salem Witch Trials and Public Memory Recommend for Grades 9-12 and Higher Education Courses

Though the Salem witch trials were relatively mild when compared with the devastating witch trials that ravaged Europe during the early modern era, Salem has become one of the most infamous witch-hunts in Western European history. Today, Salem, Massachusetts has become a complex and unique example of public memory. In this program, we will discuss the history of witch trials, placing Salem in context of three hundred years of European trials. We will consider how and why Salem has become a powerful social metaphor, one that is still used to this day to denote fanatical, superstitious or unjust behavior. We will also consider how the city of Salem has struggled with its witch-related history, and has gradually changed over time, reflecting the drastically different and ever evolving popular conception the witch.

Witches: Evolving Perceptions Recommend for Grades 9-12 and Higher Education Courses

In the modern-day, the term “witch” encompasses an enormously diverse array of definitions and images. Despite its dark historical origins, when confronted with this word today, most envision a cartoonish green-skinned woman flying astride a broomstick or a beautiful, supernatural pop-culture heroine. Others still, such as those who practice Neopagan religions, may think of this as a sacred term and view this word as a spiritual designation. In this program, participants will hear about into the complex and fascinating evolution of the image of the witch, tracing this story from the early modern period witch trials to the modern-day.

Experiencing Salem: The Witch Trials through Creative Drama Recommended for Grades 6-12

Collaboration with Outside Education Organization Histories/Hi-Stories

This workshop is designed to engage both the mind and the body and allows students to get on their feet and step into history! Students explore the society of Salem in 1692 through active, thought-provoking theater-based learning. This interdisciplinary experience brings together history and theater and allows students to take on multiple perspectives from the events of the witch trials, examining the motivations and emotions of historical figures, embodying and empathizing with these historical figures, and thinking critically about how history is told and presented. Students will be on their feet throughout the workshop as they use physicality, frozen pictures, movement, and dialogue to deepen their understanding of the witch trials in all their complexity and ambiguity. No theater experience is necessary, as this workshop focuses on the process of drama in learning, not on performance. Instructor will interface with class through Zoom, whether your group is together in the classroom or learning remotely.

Doctor Who? Griggs and the Witch Trials

“In the latter end of the year 1691, Mr. Samuel Parris, Pastor of the Church of Salem Village, had a Daughter of Nine, and a Niece of about Eleven years of Age, sadly Afflicted of they knew not what Distempers and he made his application to Physicians, yet still they grew worse: And at length, one Physician gave his opinion, that they were under an Evil Hand. This the Neighbors quickly took up, and concluded they were bewitched.”
-Rev. John Hale, A Modest Inquiry into the Nature of Witchcraft

The story of the Salem Witch Trials describes a scene of young girls rolling on the floor, screaming in pain, and shouting at specters. A doctor visits and declares that witchcraft has caused these strange afflictions. The hunt for witches begins.
But what is the real scene and who is this doctor? No one knows. Primary sources give vague details on these first afflictions and never name the doctor who diagnosed witchcraft. There also remains a question of how soon after the start of the afflictions was the diagnosis of bewitchment and which person determined the nature of the girls’ suffering.

The first instinct of Rev. Parris and his wife were to pray for their daughter Betty and niece Abigail Williams when the afflictions began, but they also consulted local physicians. Rev. Hale’s account written in 1697 implies several doctors visited the Parris home to check on the girls before one ultimately diagnosed witchcraft. Without a source confirming the name of the doctor, speculation points to William Griggs, a physician living on the Salem Village-Beverly line. Every history of Salem that names the physician uses Griggs, as he was the only physician in the area of the afflicted in 1692, so this post is to give a biography made of the little information known about this man whose words start almost every narrative of the Salem Witch Trials.

William Griggs (?-1698) was in his late 70s in 1692. His second wife Rachel Hubbard was in her mid-sixties. They married in 1657. After their marriage they lived in Rumney Marsh (present day Revere, MA) and Boston before moving to Salem Village by 1690. Rachel was a member of Boston’s First Church, the same church Samuel Parris belonged to when he lived in Boston until 1689. As far as his medical training, Griggs was probably self-taught and he worked to establish his practice in Salem Village where he possibly diagnosed the bewitchment of Betty Parris and Abigail Williams.

Shortly after the diagnosis, two other girls began to suffer: Ann Putnam Jr. and Elizabeth Hubbard. Elizabeth worked for Isaac Griggs, William’s son from his first marriage, in Boston until Isaac died in 1689. She moved to the home of her great-aunt, Rachel Griggs to work as a maid for her relatives. Coincidentally, an accuser lived in the home of the man who (probably) confirmed the suspicions of witchcraft.

There is a book by Enders A. Robinson that claims the witch trials were a conspiracy led by Thomas Putnam and included William Griggs. While this theory is not a common one among historians, there is evidence that the accusations against certain individuals were beneficial to Griggs. Elizabeth Procter sometimes worked as a midwife, meaning Procter was a competitor to Griggs. One accuser, Elizabeth Booth, provided damning testimony against John and Elizabeth Procter. Booth once claimed the specter of her stepfather appeared to her and she reported, “that Elizabeth Procter killed him because my mother would not send for Doctor Griggs to give him physic & also because she was not sent for when he was first taken sick.” What this testimony says is first, both Griggs and Procter were seen as figures to provide medical service and Griggs was not always the choice of families in need of a physician. The testimony also indicates that the specter of Elizabeth Procter claimed that had the Booth family sent for her sooner, Procter could have helped. If this testimony is accurate and Procter was qualified to assist the sick and Procter provided competition for Griggs, the accusations certainly helped his practice, especially when Griggs’ niece joined the accusers against Procter. There is also testimony referring to Roger Toothaker, another accused suspect, as a doctor that describes his work in Beverly, close to the home of Griggs. Toothaker died in jail, but Griggs probably appreciated the loss of another potential competitor.

While the accusations certainly assisted Griggs, they nearly harmed him as well. Rachel Griggs’ specter allegedly afflicted some of the accusing girls, however, no legal action occurred against her.

There is very little information on Griggs and who he was, yet he appears in narratives as the man who ignited the Salem Village community’s hysteria. While naming Griggs makes for a simpler story, no evidence confirms the depth of his involvement in the trials. It appears likely that Griggs diagnosed the girls, but regardless of who first said “they were under an Evil Hand,” the personal motivations behind accusations appear in the doctor’s biography. Many of the accusations of 1692 include such motivations that allowed the community to turn against itself money, land, competition, and feuds turned into the accusations and executions. Looking solely at Griggs, it appears that personal motivation played a large role in his tolerance and acceptance of the trials, although one must wonder what potential consequences further legal action against Rachel Griggs could have caused. These factors were an easy trap for anyone to fall into, and the promise of better business took Griggs into the Devil’s snare.

George Lincoln Burr, “From “A Modest Inquiry into the Nature of Witchcraft,” by John Hale, 1702,” In Narratives of the Witchcraft Cases, 1648-1706, New York: C. Scribner’s Sons, 1914.
Bernard Rosenthal, Records of the Salem Witch-hunt, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009.
Marilynne K. Roach, The Salem Witch Trials: A Day-by-Day Chronicle of a Community Under Siege, Lanham, Maryland: Taylor Trade Publishing, 2002.
Mary Beth Norton, In the Devil’s Snare: The Salem Witchcraft Crisis of 1692, New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2002.
Frances Hill, The Salem Witch Trials Reader, Cambridge: Da Capo Press, 2000.
Emerson W. Baker, A Storm of Witchcraft: The Salem Trials and the American Experience, New York: Oxford University Press, 2015.

Watch the video: Giles Corey and the Salem Witch Trials feat. Joel McHale - Drunk History (January 2022).

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