Infamous Salem Witch Trials
When looking back at American history, there are many historic events that have either helped shape or change Americar’s future. However, one of the most memorable years has to be the year of 1692, for this was one of the most scandalous times that is famously remembered in history. This is best known as the infamous Salem Witch Trials.
The Salem witch trials was a disastrous event in which certain people were either falsely or rightfully accused of practicing witchcraft and sentenced to be either hanged or sent to jail. Even though these trials took place in a number of cities within the Massachusetts Bay Colony, it was being primarily focused in the town of Salem between February 1692 and May 1693. These trials were by far the largest witchcraft hysteria in the history of Colonial America.
The start of these trials began during the spring of 1692; a group of young girls in Salem began claiming that they have been possessed by the devil. All through the summer of 1692 the convictions mounted. The first hanging, of Bridget Bishop, took place on June 10, the next five, including Rebecca Nurse, on July 19. On August 19 five more, four of them men, were hanged (Brandt, 2014, p. 34“43). During these accusations, Mather began to defend the trials by ignoring the form of evidence based upon dreams and visions. This type of evidence is called Spectral evidence, Mather used this to convict those he believed were witches and began to become a main key in the trials of four of the five accused, unlike Bridget Bishopr’s trial. The New Englanders are a people of god settled in those, which were once the Devilr’s territories (Mather, 2017, p. 12). Shortly after, the court apparently overlooked Mather’s warning about ignoring spectral evidence but took to heart his exhortation to “cleanse the land,” and the pace of the trials picked up (Hoffer, 1997). People felt the use of spectral evidence was unreliable because the Devil could take the form of an innocent person to do his evil deeds.
With the girls displaying strange behaviors and showing symptoms of illness, more people in Salem began displaying the same signs of distress. Everyone became a suspect of witchcraft, and it was only a matter of time before someone accused them to be tried in court. Although most of the accused witches were women, some men were also accused. The Puritans began to fear whether or not they were to be punished and/or hanged. In his book The Salem Witchcraft Trials, author Peter Charles Hoffer describes this human fear as part of the frailty of human nature. Whether it was the fear of disobeying God or hysteria that motivated these trials to take place, the accusations did not stop anytime soon. As time went on and the number of accused continued to grow, several people became upset with the trials. Many risked their own safety by starting petitions on behalf of the imprisoned (Loiselle, 2017, p. 5).
During this time period, religion was the primary focus and way of life within small colonies. In this case, those in Salem mainly followed the Puritan way of life. Puritans began to define witchcraft as associating with the devil in exchange for certain powers in order to perform such cruel acts against others. During this time, witchcraft was considered both a sin and crime because it denied Godr’s own superiority and brought physical harm to others. The Puritans began to feel that these events were happening because God was punishing them for the hangings of innocent people. The fear of being punished established a tense atmosphere and enforced the idea that anything involved with witchcraft was interpreted as an act of God’s wrath. Using their own belief and fear, they wanted to make sure that every last witch were to be exposed and punished in order to end the wrath of God.
By the end of May 1692, around 200 people were jailed and charged with witchcraft. Shortly after accusing hundreds of people, some Puritans actually started to wonder whether or not the girls were being truthful or just trying to be spiteful towards their enemies.
It also ended when people noticed that fewer people were confessing and more people were hanging. The Salem witch hunt and trials finally ended when people began to notice that people were being accused of witchcraft even when they had no evidence.
The aftermath of the Salem witch trials was severe:141 people imprisoned, 19 people executed, and two more died from other causes. After months of doing these trials, the governor finally decided to put an end to the trials in May of 1693. The trials were declared unlawful and Massachusetts formally apologized for the trials. More than 200 people were accused, nineteen of whom were found guilty and executed by hanging. It was a tragic event that took place.
This time period was unique for New England because of the number of terrible things that were occurring around the same time of these trials. Historically, there had never been a witch hunt of that intensity or size in America.
After the trials took place, ideas about justice started to change after the trial. Spectral evidence was no longer accepted in court and the American idea that someone is innocent until proven guilty appeared. Salem faced a major change as a result of the Puritan ambition. Because of their thought on the ideal community as a straitlaced society, those who portrayed an imperfect model were to be isolated. It has been used in political rhetoric and popular literature as a vivid cautionary tale about the dangers of isolationism, religious extremism, false accusations, and lapses in due processes.
The painful legacy of the Salem witch trials would endure for centuries. Hundreds of people were accused of being witches and the pastors of the local churches began to have their own trials in order to determine who was and who wasn’t a witch. Salem executed the most people for being witches. Although the Salem trials were not the last, because of the Massachusetts authorities actions in discovering, acknowledging, and disowning their errors, the Salem experience helped to end witchcraft trials in Western civilization (Billings & Manning, 2006).
The question of what specifically caused these trials has been asked for over several decades. Although it is a simple question, the answer is difficult to answer because there are numerous factors that helped build and influence the trials. The main factors consisted of politics, religion, enemies, family feuds, and the fear of witchcraft. We may never know the cause of the Salem Witch Trials, but that will not stop scholars from evolving theories.
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