salem witch trials
By: megan crawford
Megan Crawford Pd. 9 Honors English May 16, 2000 The Salem Witch Trials From June through September of 1692, nineteen men and women, all having been convicted of witchcraft, were taken to Gallows Hill for hanging. Another man of over eighty years was pressed to death under heavy stones for refusing to submit to a trial on witchcraft charges. Hundreds of others faced accusations of witchcraft. Dozens wasted away in jail for months without trials. Then, almost as soon as it had started, the craze that had swept Puritan Massachusetts ended. In 1688, John Putnam, one of the most influential elders of Salem Village, invited Samuel Parris to preach in the Village church. A year later Parris accepted the job as Village minister. He moved to Salem Village with his wife Elizabeth, his six-year old daughter Betty, niece Abagail Williams, and slave Tituba, a West African native that Parris had acquired in Barbados. Sometime during February of 1692, young Betty Parris became strangely ill. She ran about, dove under furniture, screamed in pain, and complained of fever. The cause was unknown, but talk of witchcraft soon erupted. Talk increased when several of Betty?s friends, including eleven-year-old Ann Putnam, seventeen-year-old Mercy Lewis, and Mary Walcott, began to show signs of similar behavior. William Griggs, a doctor called to examine the girls, suggested that the girls? problems might have a supernatural origin when he failed to find a cure. The widespread belief that witches target children made the doctor?s diagnosis seem more likely. A neighbor, Mary Sibley, proposed a form of countermagic. She told Tituba to bake a rye cake with the urine of the afflicted victim and feed the cake to a dog. Dogs were used by witches as agents to carry out their devilish commands. Suspicion had already begun to focus on Tituba, who had been known to tell the girls? tales of voodoo and witchcraft. Her participation in the urine cake episode made her an even more obvious target. Meanwhile, the number of girls afflicted continued to grow, rising to seven with the additions of Ann Putnam, Elizabeth Hubbard, Susannah Sheldon, and Mary Warren. The girls screamed in pain, fell into frozen postures, and complained of biting and pinching sensations. In a village where everyone believed in that the devil was real and close at hand, the suspected affliction of the girls became an obsession. Sometime after February 25, when Tituba baked the witchcake, arrest warrants were issued against Tituba and two other women. Betty Parris and Abagail Williams had named their afflictors, the witch hunt had begun. Soon Ann Putnam and Mercy Lewis were also reporting seeing ?witches flying through the winter mist.? The prominent Putnam family supported the girls? accusations. The first three to be accused of witchcraft were Tituba, Sarah Good, and Sarah Osborn. Tituba was an obvious choice. Good was a beggar and a social misfit who lived wherever someone would house her, and Osburn was old, quarrelsome, and had not been to church for over a year. The Putnams brought their complaint against the three women to the county magistrates Jonathan Corwin and John Hathrone. They scheduled the examinations for March 1, 1692 in Ingersoll?s tavern. When hundreds showed up, the examinations were moved to the meetinghouse. At the trials, the girls described attacks by the women, and fell into their own perfected pattern of contortions when in the presence of one of the suspects. Other villagers came forward to offer stories of cheese and butter mysteriously gone bad or animals born with deformities after visits with one of the suspects. The matter might have might have ended were it not for Tituba. After first denying any guilt, Tituba claimed that a tall man approached her from Boston, who sometimes appeared as a dog, who asked her to sign in his book and do his work. Tituba declared she was a witch, and moreover she and four others, including Good and Osburn, had flown through the air on their poles. She had tried to run to Reverend Parris for help, she said, but she was blocked by the devil. Her confession served to quiet most skeptics. Soon, according to their own reports, the spectral forms of other women began attacking afflicted girls. Martha Corey, Rebecca Nurse, Sarah Cloyce, and Mary Easty were accused of witchcraft. Dorcas Good, four-year-old daughter of Sarah Good, became the first child accused of witchcraft when three of the girls complained that they were bitten by Dorcas?s specter. The girls? accusations and their ever more polished performances, including the new act of being struck dumb, played to large and believing audiences. Stuck in jail with the testimony of the afflicted girls widely accepted, suspects began to see confessions as a way to avoid the gallows. Deliverance Hobbs became the second witch to confess, admitting to pinching three of the girls at the devils? command. Jails approached capacity and the colony ?teetered on the brink of chaos? when Governor Phips returned from England. Fast action, he decided, was required. Phips created a new court to hear the witchcraft cases. Five judges were appointed to the court. Chief Justice, and most influential member of the court, was a witch hunter named William Stoughton. Mather urged Stoughton and other judges to credit confessions and admit ?spectral evidence?. Ministers were looked to for guidance by judges, who were generally without legal training, on matters pertaining to witchcraft. Evidence that would be excluded from modern courtrooms, such as hearsay, gossip, and stories, were also generally admitted. Accused witches had no legal counsel, could not have witnesses testify under oath on their behalf, and had no way to appeal. Defendants could, however, speak for themselves, produce evidence, and cross-examine their accusers. The first accused witch to be brought to trial was Bridget Bishop. Almost sixty years old, owner of a house of ill repute, critical of her neighbors, and reluctant to pay her bills, Bishop was a likely candidate for an accusation of witchcraft. At Bishop?s trial on June 2, 1692, a field hand testified that he saw Bishop?s image stealing eggs and then saw her transform herself into a cat. A villager named Samuel Grey told the court that Bishop visited his bed at night and tormented him. Several of the afflicted girls testified that Bishop?s specter afflicted them. Numerous other villagers described why they thought Bishop was responsible for various bits of bad luck that had befallen them. There was even testimony that while being transported under guard past the Salem meetinghouse, she looked at the building and caused a part of it to fall to the ground. Bishop?s jury returned a verdict of guilty. Chief Justice Stoughton signed Bishop?s death warrant, and on June 10, 1692, Bishop was taken to Gallows Hill and hanged. As the summer of 1692 warmed, the pace of the trials picked up. Not all defendants were as disreputable as Bridget Bishop was. Rebecca Nurse was a respected woman whose specter, according to Ann Putnam and Abagail Williams, attacked them in mid-March of 1692. Ann Putnam also added to her complaint that Nurse had demanded that she sign the devil?s book, then pinched her. The Nurse returned a verdict of not guilty, much to the displeasure of Stoughton, who told them to go back and consider again a statement of Nurse?s that might be considered an admission of guilt. The jury reconvened, this time coming back with a verdict of guilty. On July 19, 1692, Nurse rode with four other convicted witches to Gallows Hill. Persons who scoffed at accusations of witchcraft risked becoming targets of accusations themselves. One man who was openly critical of the trials paid for his skepticism with his life. John Proctor, was an opinionated tavern owner who openly denounced the witchhunt. Testifying against Proctor were Ann Putnam, Abagail Williams, Indian John, and eighteen-year-old Elizabeth Booth, who testified that ghosts had come to her and accused Proctor of serial murder. Proctor fought back, accusing confessed witches of lying, complaining of torture, and demanding that his trial be moved to Boston. The efforts proved futile, of course, and Proctor was hanged. His wife Elizabeth, who was also convicted of witchcraft, was spared execution because of her pregnancy. One victim of the Salem witchhunt was not hanged, but rather pressed under heavy stones for two days until his death. Such was the fate of Giles Corey who, after spending five months in chains in a Salem jail with his also accused wife, had nothing but contempt for the proceedings. Seeing the futility of a trial and hoping that by avoiding a conviction his farm, which would otherwise go to the state, might go to his two sons, Corey refused to stand for trial. The penalty for such a refusal was ?pressing?. Three days after Corey?s death, eight more convicted witches, including Giles? wife Martha, were hanged. They were the last eight victims of the witchhunt. By early autumn of 1692, Salem?s lust for blood was ending. Doubts were developing as to how so many respectable people could be guilty. The educated elite of the colony began efforts to end the witch-hunting hysteria that had enveloped Salem. Increase Mather, the father of Cotton, published what he called ?America?s first tract on evidence,? a work entitled ?Cases Of Conscience,? which argued that it ?were better that ten suspected witches should escape than one innocent person should be condemned.? Increase Mather urged the court to exclude spectral evidence. Samuel Willard, a highly regarded Boston minister, circulated ?Some Miscellany Observations,? which suggested that the Devil might create the specter of an innocent person. Mather?s and Willard?s works were given to Governor Phips, and most likely influenced his decision to order the court to exclude spectral evidence, and to require proof of guilt by clear and convincing evidence. With the spectral evidence not admitted, twenty-eight of the last thirty-three witchcraft trials ended with acquittals. The three convicted witches were later pardoned. In May of 1693, Phips released from prison all remaining accused or convicted witches. By the time the witchhunt ended, nineteen convicted witches were executed, at least four accused witches had died in prison, and one man, Giles Corey, had been pressed to death. About one to two hundred other persons were arrested and imprisoned on witchcraft charges. Two dogs were executed as suspected accomplices of witches.