The Salem Witch Trials
The witch trials of the late 1600’s were full of controversy and uncertainty. The Puritan town of Salem was home to most of these trials, and became the center of much attention in 1692. More than a hundred innocent people were found guilty of practicing witchcraft during these times, and our American government forced over a dozen to pay with their lives. The main reasons why the witch trials occurred were conflicts dealing with politics, religion, family, economics, and fears of the citizens.
Before the town of Salem became so famous for its trials, its Puritan residents moved from their English homes to escape from religious persecution. There were two groups of people that made up the town: people who wanted to leave the town of Salem, and people who did not. Most of the families who wanted to stay lived closest to the town, and the families who wanted to leave lived further away. The families and people who wished to leave were typically farmers, and lived about eight miles from Salem Town. One of the largest families of farmers was the Putnams.
The Putnams were thought of highly in the village, because they owned the most farmland. Since they wanted to separate from the town, they decided to establish their own church in 1689. Rev. Parris was the preacher at the church, and his salary was paid by the local taxes. He had a nine-year-old daughter named Betty, and a twelve year old niece named Abigail Williams. Since they lived so far away from Salem Town, there wasn’t much for them to do for recreational purposes. Abigail, Betty, and two other friends decided to form a circle where they would entertain each other with stories.
Rev. Parris’ slave, Tituba, would sometimes participate in their circle, and before long, several other girls joined their group. Tituba would tell the girls’ fortunes, but soon Abigail and Betty became frightened from these psychic readings. Rev. Parris thought that their unusual behavior and strange physical expressions were a sign that the girls were bewitched.
At first the girls wouldn’t speak about those with whom they supposedly conjured spirits, but Betty finally named Tituba. The other girls also named other people like Sarah Osborne and Sarah Good who they claimed to have seen with the devil. Since these three women had bad reputations in the town they were believable suspects of witchcraft. An investigation of the three women was set up, and John Hathorne and Jonathan Corwin were sent from Salem Town to investigate the cases of witchcraft.
The investigation took place in the Salem Village Meetinghouse. During the trials, when the three women were being asked questions, the girls would cry out and tumble to the floor. Even though Sarah Good and Sarah Osborne maintained their innocence throughout all of this, Tituba had decided to confess to practicing witchcraft. After the investigation, Hawthorne and Corwin decided that the three women were all guilty of witchcraft. They were all taken to a Boston jail, where Sarah Osborne would later die from natural causes. Even after the three women were taken to jail, the accusations still continued in the village.
Soon, another townswoman by the name of Martha Corey was accused. Ann Putnam had accused Martha of sending her spirit out to get her. Even though Corey always attended church, she was still disliked in the village. Rebecca Nurse would be the next person to be accused of witchcraft. Even though she was a 71-year-old woman, Ann Putnam and the rest of the girls told the court that her spirit would fly into their rooms at night and torment them. When Rebecca was notified of these charges, she responded, “What sin has God found in me unrepented of that he should lay such an affliction upon me in my old age?” (Kent, p. 76). When the people in the village heard about her conviction, they started to discredit the word of the girls, but the accusations continued.
One of the people who didn’t believe the girls was a 60-year-old farmer by the name of John Proctor. His maid, Mary, started to act like the other girls, so John threatened to beat her if she