The Salem witchers essay
Hundreds of accusations, twenty innocent lives put to death. In 1692, the townspeople of Salem found themselves accused of witchcraft. The Salem witch trials were not about real witches, they were instigated by a variety of separate issues in Salem in convergence. The events were fueled by personal rivalries, a corrupt court, mass hysteria, and possibly even physical illness. Accusations arising in Salem drove paranoia throughout the town. The first bout of accusations was from two young girls. In 1692, Elizabeth Parris and Abigail Williams began to have disturbing fits and hallucinations. These fits would resemble seizures, and the girls claimed to have been “bitten and pinched by invisible agents; their limbs wracked and tormented so as might move an [sic] heart of stone, to sympathize with them,” according to one witness. The doctor—unable to find any explanation as to what afflicts the young girls—then diagnoses them as being bewitched (Gretchen 3). Linnda Caporael, a doctor in Developmental Psychology, formed the popular theory that the town could have been suffering from illness. Ergot is a fungus that commonly infects rye, the primary grain in Salem at that time. A breakout of ergot could have caused a condition called “ergotism,” a disease that causes symptoms very similar to the ones in the cases of bewitchment, such as sensations of crawling on the skin, hallucinations, convulsions, and even delirium, which could explain the erratic and irrational behavior of Elizabeth Parris and Abigail Williams. (Caporael 21) On February 9th, the girls began to accuse women in the town of the bewitchment. Tituba—Reverend Samuel Parris’ slave—was the first of the accused by the girls.
In court Tituba confesses, “The devil came to me and bid me serve him,” before giving the names of two other women that had supposedly been hurting the children, Goody Osburn and Sarah Good (Ray) Tituba’s confession and accusation of two other witches immediately embedded anxiety throughout the town. Robert Calef, a man in Salem at the time, accused Reverend Parris exploiting the trials for sociopolitical gains within the community, “her master did beat her … to make her confess and accuse (such as he called) her sister witches, and that whatsoever said by way of confessing or accusing others was the effect of such usage; her master refused to pay her [prison] fees, unless she would stand to what she had said” (Hill 61) This being the case, the reaction of the town to the first confession was intentionally manipulated. This is significant due to the hysteria that arose after the first confession. The investigation then turned into a witch hunt, with the court searching for more possible witches in town (Gretchen 3) Independent and outcast voices in Salem were silenced through witchcraft accusations.
Puritans were extremely religious and lived by outmoded lifestyles. It is important to note the significant number of women at the end of the accusations. Independent and women who did not live the traditional Puritan life often faced prejudice and were even commonly accused of witchcraft. For a few, such as Bridget Bishop and Martha Carrier, the 1692 trials were not the first time that witchcraft accusations had been flung in their direction (Ray). Women were supposedly more vulnerable to fall victim to the devil, as female bodies were considered to be the descendants of eve and were thought to be weaker (Godbeer 397). For this reason, those accused of witchcraft were more commonly women. Witchcraft was not an uncommon diagnosis by doctors in the 1600s. Doctors would diagnose witchcraft when they could not find an explanation for the fits, as witchcraft was a common diagnosis for cases in which the doctor was unable to conclude which illness their patient was suffering from (Saxon). Being a town in which the majority practices Puritanism, the people of Salem often thought it immoral to not attend church. Those who did not embrace the strict Puritan lifestyle were considered outcasts. After 1641, the law on witchcraft cites the bible “If any man or woman be a witch, that is, hath or consulteth with a familiar spirit, they shall be put to death. Exod. 22. 188; Deut. 13. 6, 10; Deut. 17. 2, 6.” (Smith) The usage of bible passages in law illuminates a clear lack of dissonance between church and state, excluding the non-religious members of society. After his refusal to accept the existence of witches and specters, George Burroughs was put to death. Although not the sole reason that Burroughs was convicted, his denial of the religious entities’ existence seemed to anger the court. This only adds to the fact that he claimed to not have remembered the most recent time he had taken communion, and that only his eldest child had been baptized, which was highly suspicious to the puritan minister questioning him at the time (Brooks). It is clear today that the conditions of the witch trials were unfair, and that the townsfolk who were convicted were submitted to biased circumstances, often unable to defend themselves. Those on trial had very little rights and were already assumed guilty at the beginning of trial. Evidence pointing toward real witchcraft was scarce.
Despite the large number of accusations, only nineteen individuals—those who had refused to confess to witchcraft—were executed by the court (Brooks) Due to the adamancy of the court, any of the accused felt pressured to falsely confess. John Proctor—while held in captivity—had written a letter detailing the abuse towards those who were sitting in prison for witchcraft, and that the court had an unconcealed intention of hanging every person accused. “John Proctor wrote from prison to five ministers complaining that three boys, including his son William, had their neck and heels tied together until blood gushed from their noses, to coerce confessions” (Baker 10). Giles Corey was crushed to death by rocks in while refusing to enter a plea for the court. Along with the cruel methods being used in jail to force the accused to confess, there were a variety of factors that influenced the course of the trial during court. Girls who claimed to be victimized by the accused would begin to disrupt the trials by screaming about seeing specters and feeling symptoms of being bewitched. The accused could be convicted solely through “spectral evidence.” A shared idea about witchcraft was that the devil could appear in the form of any person who had taken covenant with him to pursue more people in the town (Craker 332). Personal rivalries were a worsening issue during the year of the Salem witch trials due to townsfolk accusing others of witchcraft over private issues. Despite being a town in which everyone was familiar with one another, Salem inhabitants were competitive and argumentative. Accusations became so frequent that they stopped being documented. The Putnam family and Porter family rivalry split the town into two sections, those who live on the eastern side of the village The Putnam family made a significant amount of accusations The Little Ice Age intensified between 1680 and 1730, causing economic issues that encouraged the population to blame each other for their problems.
During the years between 1684 and 1691, political and religious conflict between the colony and England had caused the temporary suspension of the colony’s charter. In 1691—one year before the events of the Salem witch trials had begun to unfold—a new charter had arrived from England before the general court had time to create a set of laws. Many also believe that the trials were a ploy to remove outcasts from the town. Cotton Mathers believed that witches were “among the poor and vile and ragged beggars upon the earth,” () showing a clear prejudice against the poor, who were common targets of the accusations. The Salem witch trials have been analyzed over hundreds of years, and a variety of theories have come about to put an explanation to the strange events within the town of Salem in 1692. The timing of the. While it is easy to think back on those times as an obvious mistake, many of the issues that caused the event are not unrealistic in our justice system today.
Despite our advancement since the 1600s, the justice system is still flawed, and acknowledging the real issues behind the Salem witch trials could help prevent a similar situation from happening in the present time. The trials were caused by many different issues of the time, such as prejudice, rivalries, illness, and corrupt politicians working in collaboration.