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Salem witch trials Essay

Fear of Devil-worshipping and witchcraft swept through Salem, Massachusetts, like a plague. During the years of 1692 and 1693, more than 200 people—men, women, and even children—were accused of witchcraft (Blumberg). Words of friends, neighbors, and even complete strangers put many people’s lives in danger. Nineteen people were hanged, one person pressed to death, and four known deaths occurred in prison. The accusations, the trials, the executions, and the events leading up to and after the deaths, kept Salem, Massachusetts on its toes in this mass paranoia. It was 1689, according to Blumberg, when Reverend Samuel Parris became the first ordained minister of Salem Village. The attempt to search for a new minister had failed, since the town of Salem had split to form small outskirts known as Salem Farms and the original Salem Village, and several Reverends and ministers before Parris were opposed against, or strongly disliked by the people. Parris answered to the call of ministry and moved to Salem Village with his wife, daughter Elizabeth “Betty” Parris, age 9, niece Abigail Williams, age 11, and his Barbados slave, Tituba and her husband John (Gribben). Gribben wrote about Parris’s daughter and niece spending time alone with the Barbados slave, Tituba, while unattended by any other adults. Parris trusted the slave for he had known her since he had bought her, and she was lazy and petulant. Parris did not see Tituba as a threat and left the girls in her watch many times. As time passed, more girls would come and spend time with the Barbados slave. Tituba would tell the girls stories about Barbados, and of the witch doctors that lived there. The girls were interested and asked many questions concerning the topic of magic and witches. Tituba, who hardly believed in sorcery herself, had given in and showed the girls how to break an egg, so just the egg white would be suspended in a bowl of water to show who their future husbands would be. These lessons continued in secrecy with Tituba. Several girls were torn between the risk of the situation and the discussion of witchcraft. Abigail Williams saw this as a mere game, and was very mischievous.

Elizabeth on the other hand was rather nervous about the situation and guilt began to eat away at her. The guilt had a strong effect on the younger girl. She became rather distracted, and confused. She babbled nonsense, woke up screaming at night, and became weak, refusing or even forgetting to eat. But her guilt did not give her the courage to report to Reverend Parris what was taking place, and so the meetings continued. It was until a girl, who had to know “what trade her sweetheart would be”, saw a coffin suspended in the egg white of the bowl, that all hell broke loose. It was then that Elizabeth broke and began to fall into strange episodes or “fits” of convulsive seizures, blasphemous screaming, and trance-like states (Gribben, “Salem”). Tituba began to fear foul play and witchcraft had befallen the young girls. She baked a “witch’s cake” that contained the urine of Abigail and Elizabeth and fed it to a dog, hoping the tormentor would be revealed. The dog became distracted and ran off, leaving Tituba with a feeling of hopelessness and paranoia. It wasn’t until days later that Tituba had been blamed for the witchcraft. Elizabeth was in the middle of a violent fit. Tituba sent Abigail to fetch Reverend Parris while she tried to calm the crazed girl. The Reverend came in and tried to calm the girl as well. He sent for a doctor, but the doctor could not place the cause of fits in Elizabeth or Abigail, who showed the same symptoms days later. The doctor told Parris that “the Evil Hand” was among them, and left. When Elizabeth began to come to after one of her many spells, Parris asked the girl who it was that hurt her, but she didn’t answer. He looked about the room and settled on Tituba. When he asked if Tituba had caused this, Elizabeth repeated the name before going silent. Tituba confessed and Parris had Tituba arrested (Gribben). This wasn’t the end of their paranoia; in fact it was only the beginning. Several other Salem girls began having similar fits, and among them was Ann Putnam. Sarah Good and Sarah Osborne were accused of witchcraft, after the Barbados slave Tituba. Sarah Good was just a homeless beggar, and Sarah Osborne was an elderly impoverished woman (Blumberg).

The three girls were taken to trial; however, Sarah Good and Sarah Osborne tried to claim their innocence. They were found guilty and taken to jail. Tituba, on the other hand, confessed to practicing and showing the girls witchcraft. Tituba claimed to have seen the Devil and signing his book, and also told of other witches in Salem Village who were seeking to destroy the Puritans. As more and more girls began to suffer from this witchcraft, more and more people were being blamed for the black magic (Blumberg). Most of the people were accused were well known, and some were even liked. The most damning accusation was against Martha Corey, an important member of the Puritan congregation. This accusation sent the Puritan community of Salem Village into a frenzy, fearing that Satan’s evil had reached the heart of the community (“Salem”). The accusations didn’t stop though; men, women, and children were still accused and the paranoia was at its highest. Dorothy “Dorcas” Good was the first and only child at the age of four to be accused of witchcraft. Her timid answers were seen as a confession and she was arrested with her mother, Sarah Good. Dorothy stayed in jail for eight months before she witnessed her mother being taken and hanged (Linder). Accusations began to pile up, and many people were arrested, but no executions had been made until early June. Bridget Bishop was the first person hanged for witchcraft on June 10th, 1692 (Blumberg). After her death, many more witches were put to death by the gallows, on a place soon to be known as Gallows Hill. Five people were hanged in the month of July, five in August, and eight in September. A total of nineteen people had been killed by the gallows (Blumberg).

Martha and Giles Corey were both accused of practicing witchcraft and arrested. Giles Corey refused a trial and by the law of their church, had large stones placed on him until he agreed to one. He never did, and was eventually pressed to death with large stones on September 19, 1692, three days before Martha’s hanging (“Salem”). The trials to condemn the accused varied. There were five ways for the people to claim their innocence, but many people were found guilty despite their attempts. The first trial was reciting the Lord’s Prayer (“Witchcraft”). If one could not recite the prayer, it was said that Satan was at work and blocked one’s tongue from speaking the Word (Gribben). A former pastor, George Burroughs, was accused of witchcraft and tried. He failed his trial in court, and as he was taken out to the gallows, he stopped before the crowd and recited the Lord’s Prayer word for word. The crowd was taken by shock, but Cotton Mather told them the man had his time in court and he failed. George Burroughs was put to death at the gallows (Linder). The second trial was the search for physical evidence such as warts, birthmarks, moles, and blemishes. These marks were said to be places on which demons suckled on witches to gain their power. The testimony of the accusers against the witches, spectral evidence, and the confession of the witches themselves, were the last three trials against the accused to convict them of witchcraft or send them home (“Witchcraft”). However, many were convicted and most were found guilty. Some people saw that the confessions were a way to escape the gallows, but would spend time in prison instead for “practicing witchcraft” (Linder). Many were still found guilty and put to death by hanging. According to Linder, as many as nineteen accused witches were hanged on Gallows Hill and one man was pressed to death in 1692. The dead are listed as followed, along with their date of death. Bridget Bishop, the first person hanged, died on June 10th, 1692.

Five women died on July 19th, 1692. The women were Rebecca Nurse, Sarah Good, Susannah Martin, Elizabeth Howe, and Sarah Wildes. Four men and one woman were hanged on August 19th, 1692. They were George Burroughs, Martha Carrier, John Willard, George Jacobs, Sr., and John Proctor. Giles Corey was the only death that occurred by being pressed to death on September 19th, 1692. On September 22nd, 1692, Martha Corey, Mary Eastey, Ann Pudeator, Alice Parker, Mary Parker, Wilmott Redd, Margaret Scott, and Samuel Wardwell were hanged. The last four known deaths did not have a known date, but the following people died in prison: Sarah Osborne, Roger Toothaker, Lyndia Dustin, and Ann Foster. Two dogs were also killed, for many believed that Satan could take form of the hounds (“Witchcraft”). The hysteria, convictions, and condemnations began to seize and die down in the winter months (“Salem”). Governor Phipps called an end to the witch trials, and relieved all those remaining in prison, after his wife had been accused of witchcraft (Blumberg). Over 250 years after the Salem witch trials, the state of Massachusetts found the trials to have been unlawful and the names were cleared of charges. The state gave money to the heirs of the deceased, and apologized for the trials that had taken place (Blumberg).

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