Accused: A Tale of the Salem Witch Trials

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About forty years later, a supposed witch - Goodwife Glover - was executed in Boston. Cotton Mather, then a prominent Boston pastor, was involved in the event as an investigator. His book, Memorable Providences , relates the story and was widely circulated at the time. In the early s, it is likely that people in Salem read Cotton Mather's book. Salem Town was a seaport along the Atlantic coast. Salem Village , today known as Danvers, was located further inland. Strange events would soon take place in Salem Village. Around people lived in the village. It was not a place where settlers were thriving.

To make matters worse, the royal charter - which gave Puritans the right to own land in Massachusetts - was revoked. Although it was restored five years later, a feeling of uncertainty had descended on Salem Village. Puritans lived in a very rigid society. They were not free to do whatever they wished. Opponents claimed that the Devil was able to use anyone's shape to afflict people, but the Court contended that the Devil could not use a person's shape without that person's permission; therefore, when the afflicted claimed to see the apparition of a specific person, that was accepted as evidence that the accused had been complicit with the Devil.

Where Were the Accused Questioned & Tried?

Cotton Mather's The Wonders of the Invisible World was written with the purpose to show how careful the court was in managing the trials. Unfortunately the work did not get released until after the trials had already ended. Increase Mather and other ministers sent a letter to the Court, "The Return of Several Ministers Consulted", urging the magistrates not to convict on spectral evidence alone. A copy of this letter was printed in Increase Mather 's Cases of Conscience , published in The publication A Tryal of Witches , related to the Bury St Edmunds witch trial , was used by the magistrates at Salem when looking for a precedent in allowing spectral evidence.

Since the jurist Sir Matthew Hale had permitted this evidence, supported by the eminent philosopher, physician and author Thomas Browne , to be used in the Bury St Edmunds witch trial and the accusations against two Lowestoft women, the colonial magistrates also accepted its validity and their trials proceeded. Sometime in February , likely after the afflictions began but before specific names were mentioned, a neighbor of Rev. She intended to use traditional English white magic to discover the identity of the witch who was afflicting the girls. The cake, made from rye meal and urine from the afflicted girls, was fed to a dog.

According to English folk understanding of how witches accomplished affliction when the dog ate the cake, the witch herself would be hurt. Invisible particles she had sent to afflict the girls were believed to remain in the girls' urine, and a woman's cries of pain when the dog ate the cake would identify her as the witch. This superstition was based on the Cartesian "Doctrine of Effluvia", which posited that witches afflicted others by the use of "venomous and malignant particles, that were ejected from the eye", according to the October 8, letter of Thomas Brattle , a contemporary critic of the trials.

According to the Records of the Salem-Village Church , Parris spoke with Sibly or Sibley privately on March 25, , about her "grand error" and accepted her "sorrowful confession. Other instances appear in the records of the episode that demonstrated a continued belief by members of the community in this effluvia as legitimate evidence. Two statements against Elizabeth Howe included accounts of people suggesting that an ear be cut off and burned from two different animals which Howe was thought to have afflicted, to prove she was the one who had bewitched them to death.

Traditionally, the allegedly afflicted girls are said to have been entertained by Parris' slave, Tituba. She supposedly taught them about voodoo in the parsonage kitchen in early , although there is no contemporary evidence to support this. Upham in the 19th century, typically relate that a circle of the girls, with Tituba's help, tried their hands at fortune telling. They used the white of an egg and a mirror to create a primitive crystal ball to divine the professions of their future spouses and scared one another when one supposedly saw the shape of a coffin instead. The story is drawn from John Hale 's book about the trials, [83] but in his account, only one of the girls, not a group of them, had confessed to him afterward that she had once tried this.

Hale did not mention Tituba as having any part of it, nor did he identify when the incident took place. But the record of Tituba's pre-trial examination holds her giving an energetic confession, speaking before the court of "creatures who inhabit the invisible world," and "the dark rituals which bind them together in service of Satan", implicating both Good and Osborne while asserting that "many other people in the colony were engaged in the devil's conspiracy against the Bay.

Tituba's race has often been described in later accounts as of Carib-Indian or African descent, but contemporary sources describe her only as an "Indian". Research by Elaine Breslaw has suggested that Tituba may have been captured in what is now Venezuela and brought to Barbados , and so may have been an Arawak Indian. Thomas Hutchinson writing his history of the Massachusetts Bay Colony in the 18th century, describe her as a "Spanish Indian. The most infamous application of the belief in effluvia was the touch test used in Andover during preliminary examinations in September Parris had explicitly warned his congregation against such examinations.

If the accused witch touched the victim while the victim was having a fit, and the fit stopped, observers believed that meant the accused was the person who had afflicted the victim. As several of those accused later recounted,. Some led us and laid our hands upon them, and then they said they were well and that we were guilty of afflicting them; whereupon we were all seized, as prisoners, by a warrant from the justice of the peace and forthwith carried to Salem. The Rev. John Hale explained how this supposedly worked: "the Witch by the cast of her eye sends forth a Malefick Venome into the Bewitched to cast him into a fit, and therefore the touch of the hand doth by sympathy cause that venome to return into the Body of the Witch again".

Other evidence included the confessions of the accused; testimony by a confessed witch who identified others as witches; the discovery of poppits poppets , books of palmistry and horoscopes, or pots of ointments in the possession or home of the accused; and observation of what were called witch's teats on the body of the accused. A witch's teat was said to be a mole or blemish somewhere on the body that was insensitive to touch; discovery of such insensitive areas was considered de facto evidence of witchcraft. Various accounts and opinions about the proceedings began to be published in William Milbourne, a Baptist minister in Boston, publicly petitioned the General Assembly in early June , challenging the use of spectral evidence by the Court.

On June 15, , twelve local ministers—including Increase Mather and Samuel Willard —submitted The Return of several Ministers to the Governor and Council in Boston, cautioning the authorities not to rely entirely on the use of spectral evidence:. Presumptions whereupon persons may be Committed, and much more, Convictions whereupon persons may be Condemned as Guilty of Witchcrafts, ought certainly to be more considerable, than barely the Accused Persons being Represented by a Spectre unto the Afflicted.

In it, two characters, S Salem and B Boston , discuss the way the proceedings were being conducted, with "B" urging caution about the use of testimony from the afflicted and the confessors, stating, "whatever comes from them is to be suspected; and it is dangerous using or crediting them too far". Sometime in September , at the request of Governor Phips, Cotton Mather wrote Wonders of the Invisible World: Being an Account of the Tryals of Several Witches, Lately Executed in New-England , as a defense of the trials, to "help very much flatten that fury which we now so much turn upon one another".

Lessons Learned From The Salem Witch-Trials

The book included accounts of five trials, with much of the material copied directly from the court records, which were supplied to Mather by Stephen Sewall, his friend and Clerk of the Court. The title page mistakenly lists the publication year as "". In it, Increase Mather repeated his caution about the reliance on spectral evidence, stating " It were better that Ten Suspected Witches should escape, than that one Innocent Person should be Condemned ".

Although the last trial was held in May , public response to the events continued. In the decades following the trials, survivors and family members and their supporters sought to establish the innocence of the individuals who were convicted and to gain compensation. In the following centuries, the descendants of those unjustly accused and condemned have sought to honor their memories.

Events in Salem and Danvers in were used to commemorate the trials. In November , years after the celebration of the th anniversary of the trials, the Massachusetts legislature passed an act exonerating all who had been convicted and naming each of the innocent. The first indication that public calls for justice were not over occurred in when Thomas Maule , a noted Quaker, publicly criticized the handling of the trials by the Puritan leaders in Chapter 29 of his book Truth Held Forth and Maintained , expanding on Increase Mather by stating, "it were better that one hundred Witches should live, than that one person be put to death for a witch, which is not a Witch".

On December 17, , the General Court ruled that there would be a fast day on January 14, , "referring to the late Tragedy, raised among us by Satan and his Instruments. From —97, Robert Calef , a "weaver" and a cloth merchant in Boston, collected correspondence, court records and petitions, and other accounts of the trials, and placed them, for contrast, alongside portions of Cotton Mather's Wonders of the Invisible World , under the title More Wonders of the Invisible World , [53]. Calef could not get it published in Boston and he had to take it to London, where it was published in Scholars of the trials—Hutchinson, Upham, Burr, and even Poole—have relied on Calef's compilation of documents.

John Hale, a minister in Beverly who was present at many of the proceedings, had completed his book, A Modest Enquiry into the Nature of Witchcraft in , which was not published until , after his death, and perhaps in response to Calef's book. Expressing regret over the actions taken, Hale admitted, "Such was the darkness of that day, the tortures and lamentations of the afflicted, and the power of former presidents, that we walked in the clouds, and could not see our way.

Various petitions were filed between and with the Massachusetts government, demanding that the convictions be formally reversed. Those tried and found guilty were considered dead in the eyes of the law, and with convictions still on the books, those not executed were vulnerable to further accusations. The General Court initially reversed the attainder only for those who had filed petitions, [] only three people who had been convicted but not executed: Abigail Faulkner Sr. In May , twenty-two people who had been convicted of witchcraft, or whose relatives had been convicted of witchcraft, presented the government with a petition in which they demanded both a reversal of attainder and compensation for financial losses.

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Repentance was evident within the Salem Village church. Joseph Green and the members of the church voted on February 14, , after nearly two months of consideration, to reverse the excommunication of Martha Corey. She claimed that she had not acted out of malice, but had been deluded by Satan into denouncing innocent people, mentioning Rebecca Nurse , in particular, [] and was accepted for full membership. On October 17, , the General Court passed a bill reversing the judgment against the twenty-two people listed in the petition there were seven additional people who had been convicted but had not signed the petition, but there was no reversal of attainder for them.

Two months later, on December 17, , Governor Joseph Dudley authorized monetary compensation to the twenty-two people in the petition. Rebecca Nurse's descendants erected an obelisk-shaped granite memorial in her memory in on the grounds of the Nurse Homestead in Danvers, with an inscription from John Greenleaf Whittier. In , an additional monument was erected in honor of forty neighbors who signed a petition in support of Nurse. Not all the condemned had been exonerated in the early 18th century.

In , descendants of the six people who had been wrongly convicted and executed but who had not been included in the bill for a reversal of attainder in , or added to it in , demanded that the General Court formally clear the names of their ancestral family members. An act was passed pronouncing the innocence of those accused, although it listed only Ann Pudeator by name. The th anniversary of the trials was marked in in Salem and Danvers by a variety of events.

A memorial park was dedicated in Salem which included stone slab benches inserted in the stone wall of the park for each of those executed in In , The Danvers Tercentennial Committee also persuaded the Massachusetts House of Representatives to issue a resolution honoring those who had died.

After extensive efforts by Paula Keene, a Salem schoolteacher, state representatives J. Michael Ruane and Paul Tirone , along with others, issued a bill whereby the names of all those not previously listed were to be added to this resolution.


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When it was finally signed on October 31, , by Governor Jane Swift , more than years later, all were finally proclaimed innocent. In January , the University of Virginia announced its project team had determined the execution site on Gallows Hill in Salem, where nineteen "witches" had been hanged in public.

The city owns the property and plans to install a memorial there to the innocent victims. A documentary, Gallows Hill — Nineteen, is in production about these events. The story of the witchcraft accusations, trials and executions has captured the imagination of writers and artists in the centuries since the event took place.

As the trials took place at the intersection between a gradually disappearing medieval past and an emerging enlightenment, and dealt with torture and confession, some interpretations draw attention to the boundaries between the medieval and the post-medieval as cultural constructions.

The cause of the symptoms of those who claimed affliction continues to be a subject of interest. Various medical and psychological explanations for the observed symptoms have been explored by researchers, including psychological hysteria in response to Indian attacks, convulsive ergotism caused by eating rye bread made from grain infected by the fungus Claviceps purpurea a natural substance from which LSD is derived , [] an epidemic of bird-borne encephalitis lethargica , and sleep paralysis to explain the nocturnal attacks alleged by some of the accusers.

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. For the minor league baseball team, see Salem Witches baseball. For the lawsuit, see Salem witchcraft trial Crucial themes.

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Troubles at Frankfurt. Notable individuals. Continuing movements. Congregational churches U. Further information: Protests against early modern witch trials. See also: History of the Puritans in North America. Main article: Timeline of the Salem witch trials. This section needs additional citations for verification.

Please help improve this article by adding citations to reliable sources. Unsourced material may be challenged and removed. This section does not cite any sources. Please help improve this section by adding citations to reliable sources. April Learn how and when to remove this template message. Main article: Spectral evidence. Main article: Cultural depictions of the Salem witch trials. Main article: Medical and psychological explanations of bewitchment. Narratives of the Witchcraft Cases, — Scribner's Sons.

The New York Times. The Boston Globe. The Puritan Tradition in America. UP of New England. To which is added, the relation of the fam'd disturbance by the drummer, in the house of Mr. Mortlock, , pp. McCormick , p. University of Virginia.


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    Memorable Providences, Relating to Witchcraft and Possessions. Benjamin Elliot. Retrieved January 9, Benjamin Harris. Studies of Salem witch trials , [ dead link ] law. Montague Summer. Archived from the original on Retrieved November 15, Robinson The Devil Discovered: Salem Witchcraft Hippocrene: New York. Heritage Books: Bowie, MD.

    Tituba and The Salem Witch Trials of 1692

    Roach Cooper Square Press, New York. Upham, Salem Witchcraft and Cotton Mather. The number of trials and executions varied according to time and place, but it is generally believed that some , persons in total were tried for witchcraft and between 40, to 60, were executed. Witches were considered to be followers of Satan who had traded their souls for his assistance. There is little doubt that some individuals did worship the devil and attempt to practice sorcery with harmful intent. The process of identifying witches began with suspicions or rumours.

    Accusations followed, often escalating to convictions and executions. The Salem witch trials and executions came about as the result of a combination of church politics, family feuds, and hysterical children, all of which unfolded in a vacuum of political authority. There were two Salems in the late 17th century: a bustling commerce-oriented port community on Massachusetts Bay known as Salem Town, which would evolve into modern Salem , and, roughly 10 miles 16 km inland from it, a smaller, poorer farming community of some persons known as Salem Village. Squabbles over property were commonplace, and litigiousness was rampant.

    Parris, whose largely theological studies at Harvard College now Harvard University had been interrupted before he could graduate, was in the process of changing careers from business to the ministry. He brought to Salem Village his wife, their three children, a niece, and two slaves who were originally from Barbados—John Indian, a man, and Tituba , a woman.

    There is uncertainty regarding the relationship between the slaves and their ethnic origins. Some scholars believe that they were of African heritage, while others think that they may have been of Caribbean Native American heritage.

    Salem witch trials - Wikipedia

    Parris had shrewdly negotiated his contract with the congregation, but relatively early in his tenure he sought greater compensation, including ownership of the parsonage, which did not sit well with many members of the congregation. In the process Salem divided into pro- and anti-Parris factions. They screamed, made odd sounds, threw things, contorted their bodies, and complained of biting and pinching sensations.

    The hallucinogen LSD is a derivative of ergot. Given the subsequent spread of the strange behaviour to other girls and young women in the community and the timing of its display, however, those physiological and psychological explanations are not very convincing. The litany of odd behaviour also mirrored that of the children of a Boston family who in were believed to have been bewitched, a description of which had been provided by Congregational minister Cotton Mather in his book Memorable Providences, Relating to Witchcraft and Possessions and which may have been known by the girls in Salem Village.

    In February, unable to account for their behaviour medically, the local doctor, William Griggs, put the blame on the supernatural.



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