Honestly, who is a witch? Well, even the great witch hunters of the 17th century probably won’t be able to answer that question. The term witch hunt came about as a result of these depraved acts of madness where you could accuse anyone you didn’t like very much for being a witch and they would be burned alive or be hanged. It is believed that over 500,000 women were killed in Europe during the sham trials. When the Puritans came to America, they brought the madness with them but none got as bad as the famous witch trials of Salem. So, what really happened in Salem Between February 1692 and May of 1963? Here is a look at the most interesting facts.
The First Diagnosis Of Bewitchment Was Given By A Doctor
In January 1692, Abigail Williams and Betty Parris, aged just 11 and 9 respectively started having fits, shaking and having convulsions, screaming and other symptoms that the parents couldn’t explain. Abigail was the daughter of Samuel Parris, the minister of Salem Village. The local doctor named William Griggs couldn’t find any other way to explain the symptoms so he diagnosed the girls’ condition as bewitchment.
Being the daughter and niece of a respected minister, the diagnosis caused anger which led to the first witch hunt. Within weeks, other women in the town started displaying similar symptoms. Scientists believe that the symptoms were caused by fungus ergot found in rye bread although the good doctor didn’t have this information at the time.
Even Dogs Were Accused
Most of the victims of witch-hunting in Europe were women, most of them poor people that probably had squabbles with their neighbors. However, in Salem, things were different. In the two years when the mass hysteria happened, more than two hundred people were accused of being witches including men women and even children.
Men were unexpected to be victims of the accusations but the trials were petty and as long as a bewitched person pointed a finger at you, you would be arrested. One “bewitched” girl pointed at a dog and accused it of bewitching her leading to the poor animal being shot dead. Another dog was killed after its owners who were accused of being witches fled Salem before being tried.
It Wasn’t All Ill Intent
This was New England in the 17th century when the Puritans hoped they had found a new haven where their religious views would thrive. Then comes this mysterious disease afflicting little girls and somehow, the only explanation they can give is that the devil is attacking their community. Witches were believed to be collaborators with the devil in tormenting society.
As a result, some of the little girls who were pointing out the alleged witches believed they were doing God’s work. When the governor created the court to try witches, they believed they were helping the community whose prisons were overwhelmed by suspects of witchcraft. In the end, everyone realized they had been wrong and the families of the accused were compensated.
Dreams And Visions Were Accepted As Evidence
Assuming you were the afflicted person and while being tormented, you saw the apparition of your neighbour, you could accuse them of being witches. This was called Spectral evidence. Many leaders argued against it saying that it wasn’t in anyone’s control if the devil used their image to afflict someone else. The court, however, argued that if the devil used your image to afflict a bewitched person, then you had given permission and thus you were a witch as well. Spectral evidence was later dismissed in trials but dozens of people had already been hanged based on it.
Massachusetts Only Apologized in 1957
Salem Witch Trials have haunted Salem, now known as Danvers and the entire state of Massachusetts for centuries. The trials are believed to have been the reason why the US constitution recognizes witchcraft as a legal religion. The governor created the first court to serve Salem and the neighbouring counties in the trials and the judges believed they were doing the right thing.
In 1693, Governor Phips released all prisoners accused of witchcraft and disbanded the courts created to prosecute witches but the community had grown weary of the trials by then. All the prisoners of witchcraft were then pardoned in 1711. The shadow of the trials still affects the state with a memorial created at the Gallows Hill where the victims were hanged. The state of Massachusetts however, only apologized formally for the crimes in 1957.
The “Bewitched,” Were Celebrities Of Sorts
If you were bewitched in Salem, everyone would want to know who bewitched you. During your convulsions, you could simply point at anyone and they would be arrested. Better still, blindfolded suspects would be brought to touch you and if the actual witch touched you, your symptoms would subside, or so they believed. All these were used as witchfinder tactics. It meant that if the “bewitched” girls had anything against you, they could easily land you in prison. The girls, therefore, became celebrities. It is believed that some of the “bewitched,” girls beat up another girl when she showed signs of bewitchment.
Even A Church Minister Was Hanged For Witchcraft
Witches were believed to be people in league with the devil to torment the people of Salem. However, not all the accused people were residents of Salem. One merchant was accused and hanged while only doing his trade in the town. George Burroughs was a minister who had a rivalry with the Putnams, a local powerful Puritan family. He was retired as a minister and hence left the Salem.
When the trials began, the Putnams accused him of being a witch and had him dragged back into the town to be hanged. He died while reciting The Lord’s Prayer which caused those around to call for the sentence to be stopped because ‘an agent of the devil couldn’t recite Our Lord’s Prayer,’ but he was hanged anyway. His death was one of the reasons why the people started doubting the credibility of the guilty verdicts.
Racial Discrimination Was A Factor
The first person that confessed to being a witch was a woman of Caribbean origin name Tituba who was the slave of Samuel Parris. She was accused alongside two other women of low standing in the society who did not go to church regularly. While the other two refused to confess, Tituba confessed that she was a witch and that she was in league with other witches in the town. Her confession is believed to have come as a result of torture. While the other two were hanged, Tituba entered a plea and helped the state identify “other witches.”
It Ended Because The Governor’s Wife Was Accused
The witch trials had become a nuisance in the town of 500 people where over 200 had already been accused of being witches. Neighbours were turning on one another and the state seemed to give more incentive for the people to identify witches than to end the madness. Then came the shocker in 1693 when the wife of Governor Phips was accused of witchcraft. The Governor realized the mistake and stopped the use of Spectral evidence. He also established a higher court to handle the trials which made it harder to convict anyone of the crime.
The Youngest “Witch” Was Only 4 Years Old.
Dorothy Good was accused by two men of behaving like an animal after she allegedly fought and bit them. The four-year-old daughter of Sarah Good was immediately arrested and charged as a witch in 1692. She was questioned by the magistrates and confessed to being a witch and that she had seen her mother talking with the devil. Dorothy also claimed that she owned a snake. Her mother was immediately arrested and later hanged while Dorothy spent eight months in Jail before being released on a $50 bond. She was never tried for the crimes afterwards.