The Salem Witch Trials of 1692
Almost 100 years before the Declaration of Independence was signed and the United States began a country of its own, North America was home to many British colonies, including the colony of Massachusetts. It was here that Puritan colonists held the Salem Witch Trials of 1692.
Setting the Scene
It was a period of unrest in Salem, Massachusetts at the end of the 17th Century. There were struggles between the two distinct parts of Salem - Salem Village and Salem Town. Many of the farmers resided in Salem Village and were bent on separating from Salem Town. They soon set up their own church where Reverend Samuel Parris presided. It was because of Reverend Parris' daughter and niece that the Salem Witch Trials began.
The Finger Pointing Begins
Samuel Parris' daughter, Elizabeth Parris, and his niece, Abigail Williams, came down with a strange ailment in late 1691, early 1692. Because the doctor couldn't find anything physically wrong with the two girls, it was decided they must have been bewitched. The girls quickly pointed a finger at Parris' Indian slave, Tituba, as the one who had afflicted them. Tituba was jailed and later sold to pay off her jail fees. The girls also accused homeless woman Sarah Good and an elderly woman, Sarah Osborne. Neither woman had attended church in over a year, which among the Puritans, was considered a sin. Though Tituba did end up admitting her involvement in witchcraft, both Sarah Osborne and Sarah Good professed their innocence until the day they died.
Despite the accused witches' pleas of innocence, more and more people were singled out as witches (both women and men), throughout 1692. In the end, over 200 people from Salem and bordering towns were accused of practicing witchcraft. 19 people were hanged, including Sarah Good and up to 17 people died while awaiting their trials. While some decided to admit to practicing witchcraft, for one reason or another, the majority of the accused maintained their innocence until they were hanged. One man, Giles Corey, refused to take part in his trial and therefore was crushed to death slowly by having stones placed upon his chest over a period of two days. All the while, he continued to profess his innocence.
The End of the Salem Witch Trials
In October of 1692, the witchcraft trials were called to an end. All those who had been accused of witchcraft were pardoned. Those who were still in prison had to pay for the food they ate while in jail, otherwise they would have to remain there. Many people lost everything they owned.
To this day, no one really knows what caused the girls' illness. Five years after the witch trials ended, Samuel Parris and his family moved to another town in Massachusetts, but the devastating effects of the witch trials lasted long after they had gone.