During the winter of 1691 and 1692 Salem Village had a mass hysteria over the possibility of witchcraft in their village. The movie shows this was brought on after Reverend Parris discovered some girls dancing in the woods. A black slave known as Tituba supposedly led the rite. Tituba was really American Indian Arawak in history though. Of course the village believed the girls were practicing magic but it may have been a result of the girls eating some moldy wheat. The girls suffered from violent fits.
The first of the girls to be trailed were Betty Parris and Abigail Williams. Movie shows that it was Ruth Putnam whose real name is actually Ann. The Parris family is somewhat confusing in the film compared to actually history. History shows that Betty Parris also had a brother Thomas and a sister Susannah, which were not mentioned in the film at all. Also, the film says that Betty s mother is dead but according to history she did not die until 1696. Reverend Parris never graduated from Harvard as stated in the movie. He did attend for a short while but later dropped out.
Even though most people believe those young girls were the only ones accused, also grown men and women were too. History tells about how a neighbor s pig fell astray into the Nurse family s yard and Rebecca Nurse yelled at her neighbor. Soon after the neighbor feel ill and died of a stroke.
Arthur Miller, the original writer, admits in the introduction to the play that he boosted Abigail Williams’ age to 17 even though the real girl was only 11, but he never mentions that John Proctor was 60 and Elizabeth, 41, was his third wife. Proctor was not a farmer but a tavern keeper. Living with them was their daughter aged 15, their son who was 17, and John’s 33-year-old son from his first marriage. Everyone in the family was eventually accused of witchcraft. Elizabeth Proctor was indeed pregnant, during the trial, and did have a temporary stay of execution after convicted, which ultimately spared her life because it extended past the end of the period that the executions were taking place.
In history Rebecca Nurse was hanged on July 19, John Proctor on August 19, and Martha Corey on September 22. Not all on the same day, on the same gallows like the movie tries to make everyone think. And the only person executed who recited the Lord’s Prayer on the gallows was Rev. George Burroughs. Which caused quite a stir since it was generally believed at the time that a witch could not say the Lord’s Prayer without making a mistake. They also would not have been hanged while praying, since the condemned were always allowed their last words and prayers. Giles Corey was not executed for refusing to name a witness, as portrayed in the movie. History tells he was accused of witchcraft, and refused to enter a plea, which held up the proceedings, since the law of the time required that the accused enter a plea. He was pressed to death with stones, but the method was used to try to force him to enter a plea so that his trial could proceed. Corey probably realized that if he was tried at all, he would be executed, and his children would be disinherited. The hysteria did not die out as more and more people refused to save themselves by giving false confessions movie states. The opposite was true, more and more people gave false confessions to save themselves, as it became apparent that confession could save one from the noose. What ended the trials was the intervention of Governor William Phips, who had been off in Maine fighting the Indians in King William’s War. There were over two hundred people in prison when the general reprieve was given, but they were not released until they paid their prison fees. Neither did the tide turn when Abigail Williams accused Rev. Hale’s wife, as the movie claims although the “afflicted” did start accusing a lot more people far and wide to the point of absurdity. Also, various people around in other Massachusetts towns whom they had never laid eyes on, including notable people such as the famous hero Capt. John Alden who escaped after being arrested.
Even though the movie gives the impression on how many innocent people suffered it did not follow history correctly. The film was most likely changed to make the film shorter with more action in one scene or to spruce up the love story involved in the movie.
Grolier s Encyclopedia 1999