Salem Witch Trials
In the seventeenth century, a belief in witches and
witchcraft was almost universal. Superstition and
witchcraft resulted in many being hanged or imprisoned. In
Salem, Massachusetts where the witch trials occurred, many
people who appeared suspicious were accused of witchcraft
and condemned to death.. The power of superstition and
hearsay can often distort from the truth.
In the annals of Massachusetts' history, it is written that
four ministers of Salem joined Matthew, and they spent a
whole day in the house of an "afflicted" family in fasting
and prayer. The result was the delivery of this family from
the power of the witch. It all began when a niece and
daughter of the parish minister at Danvers were first
afflicted. Their actions frightened other young people, and
shortly thereafter they also appeared to have the same
symptoms, such as loss of appetite and sickness. A belief
quickly spread over Salem and throughout the state that
evil spirits were being seen in Salem. Terror took
possession of the minds of nearly all the people, and the
dread made the affliction spread widely. "The afflicted,
under the influence of the witchery, "admitted to see the
forms of their tormentors with their inner vision" (Miller
1082). and would immediately accuse some individual seen
with the devil. At times the afflicted and the accused
became so numerous that no one was safe from suspicion and
its consequences. Even those who were active in the
prosecutions became objects of suspicion.
Revenge often impelled persons to accuse others who were
innocent and some statement of the accuser would move the
court and audience to condemn the prisoner. "I saw Goody
Osborn with the devil" (Miller 1060). The accuser would
declare that they saw the devil standing beside the victim
whispering the words in his or her ear and such an absurd
statement would be believed by the judges. Some, terrified
and with the hope of saving their lives or avoiding the
horrors of imprisonment, would falsely accuse their friends
and relatives, while others moved by the same hopes, would
falsely confess themselves to be witches. Many of the
accusers and witnesses came forward and published denials
of the truth of their testimony, to save their own lives.
Mr. Paris in the Danver family, who was one of the most
strongest prosecutors of alleged witches, was compelled to
resign his charge and leave the country.
The acknowledgments of error and pleadings for mercy, could
not alter the sufferings that the accusations afflicted.
During a year's time, nineteen people had been hanged, and
Corey Giles was killed by means of the horrid process of
being pressed to death with stones because he wouldn't say
if he was guilty or innocent. He continued to say "more
weight" (Miller 1113); until he died. In doing so, his
family could keep his land. Others had been tortured or
frightened into a confession of guilt or imprisonment.
As one can see the power of superstition and the hearsay
can distort the truth. The Salem witch trials were horrible
and changed many people's lives. This strange episode in
the history of Massachusetts astonished the civilized
world, and made an unfavorable impression on others.
Miller, Arthur. The Crucible. Ellen Bowler. ed. et al.
Literature the American Experience. Englewood Cliffs:
Prentice Hall, 1994.
Erica Hankinson Erica.Hankinson@juno.com