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The Salem Witchcraft trials of 1962

Salem, Massachusetts is located along a beautiful, vivacious harbor about 16 miles northeast of Boston. Salem has been known for a very long time for its many interesting historic sites. Some of these sites include places such as the birthplace of Nathaniel Hawthorne, the House of Seven Gables (this is where Hawthorne wrote his famous novel), the Essex Institute, and the Peabody Museum. The Essex Institute and the Peabody Museum both have a huge selection of many preserved relics from the voyages of Salem ships. Also, the very first settlement in Salem has been reconstructed into a Pioneer Village. Probably one of the most recognized historic sites, if not the most sought after tourist attraction, would have to be the one and only Witch House. In this Witch House was held many preliminary hearings for the witch trials. The so called “witchcraft scare” began in 1692 and lasted only about one year. There were thought to be witches in Salem in 1692 who in return were punished horribly for the extremely short time span of this act which started under so little circumstances (”Salem” 53).

A “witch” is defined in a variety of ways, all including being exclusively insidious, but the one main point is extremely clear, this message is that: to practice witchcraft was to be in league with the devil to do evil. Being accused of witchcraft was a stigma that the person would have to live with the rest of their life or they could take the final punishment for their crime, death. In William West’s novel “The Kinds of Witches” he writes that “a witch or hag is she which being eluded by a league made with the devil through his persuasion, inspiration and juggling, thinketh she can design what matter of evil things soever, either by thought or imprecation, as to shake the air with the lightnings and thunder, to cause hail and tempests, to remove green corn and trees to another place, to be carried of her familiar (which hath taken upon him a deceitful shape of a goat, swine, calf, etc.) Into some mountain far distant, in a wonderful short space of time, and sometimes to fly upon a staff or fork, or some other instrument, and to spend all the night after with her sweetheart, in playing, sporting, banqueting, dancing, dalliance, and divers other devilish lists and lewd disports, and to show a thousand such monstrous mockeries.” In 1646 John Gaule told the jurymen of England that there were eight classes of witches: 1) the diviner, gypsy, or fortune telling witch, 2) the astrologian, stargazing, planetary, prognosticating witch, 3) the chanting, canting, or calculating witch, 4) the veneficial or poisoning witch, 5) the exorcist or conjecturing witch, 6) the gastronomic witch, 7) the magical, speculative, sciental, or arted witch, 8) the nercrometer. These definitions of witchcraft show exactly what villagers looked for in persons back in those days. But, according to the Law of Moses a witch is: “One that shall use, practice or exercise any invocation or conjuration of any evil or wicked spirit or to take up any dead man, woman or child where the dead body resteth part of any dead person, to be employed or used in any manner of witchcraft whereby any person shall be killed, destroyed, wasted, consumed, pined, or lamed in his, or her body” (Contemporary 1-2).

The most widely accused of the witches were those lonely old women who had lived along on the outskirts of the village and possibly had much knowledge of the healing properties of herbs, some of these women were accused by conjecture because some didn’t fall into this criteria. These old women (40-50 years old) were thought of as being totally useless to the prosperity of the community. It was these old women that were feared as dangerous because of their desire to affect the community in a craving for importance and respect. It was truthfully their knowledge of healing herbs that feared the people, because they were thought to know how to harm with the herbs as long with healing. There were also many young women accused of witchcraft accompanying the older women. It was rather common for a man to excuse a lone affair by claiming he had been bewitched: this would seem a logical explanation for the high proportion of attractive young women being accused of witchcraft. A witch has also been described as an ‘anti-housewife’. These witches would supposably make the milk goes sour or cows would produce blood instead of milk. Witchcraft was looked down upon as a very non-social behavior which set many to have unity from society (The Accused 1-2).

There were not a numerous amount of people accused of witchcraft, but the statistics show that there was quite a few many more women accused of being witches than men are. Out of a total of one hundred persons of all ages accused of witchcraft, eighty-eight of the accused was women and only thirty men were accused. According to the marital status records there were six single males accused, but twenty-nine females accused; a total of fifteen married males were accused of being witches, but there were sixty-one females accused. There was only one accusation against a widowed male, but twenty against the female population. This is just a basic overlook at the difference in the accurance of a male and a female being accused of witchery. As the statistics show there were a great number many more females than males accused of the terrible deed of witchcraft (Burton 1-2).

Many horrible punishments were given to a number of accused witches. Some of these punishments include getting a number of “stripes”, a whipping, being fined, wearing a sign stating the crime, or wearing a clothe letter to symbolize the crime. For most of the witches there were very extreme punishments, like death. Those who did get sentenced to death were hanged publicly mainly as a warning to show the others what could possibly happen when they break the law. The hangings were done on a rocky pasture at the edge of town (Roach 17-19).

Even though this time did not result in total carnage, between June and September of 1692 there were nineteen men and women who had been taken to Gallows Hill for conviction of witchcraft. Gallows Hill is a barren slope used for hanging in Salem. Other than these terrifying hangings the most horrifying of all is that they crushed an old man of over eighty years under a stack of stone for refusing to admit to the accusations of witchcraft charges. Others were just accused, but dozens were sent to jail for a months without even holding a trial. The first three persons accused of witchcraft was Tituba, Sarah Good, and Sarah Osborn. The rudiments of analyzing a witch included asking the accused person a repetion of the same questions to delude the evasiveness of if that person was indeed a witch or not, these questions were; were they witches?, had they seen the devil?, how, if they are not witches did they explain the contortions seemingly caused by their presence? (Linder 1-2).

So why exactly did all of this happen in Salem, Massachusetts and nowhere else? The answer to this question goes back to the times in which this took place. During this time period, the 17th century, there was a huge emphasis on the belief of the devil. There was a faction among the Salem Village fanatics and a rivalry with nearby Salem Town (Salem Witchcraft 1). Also, a small pox epidemic and the threat of attack by warring tribes created a rather fertile ground for much fear and suspension. Other things that are accountable for the Salem witchcraft scare were things such as, an unfortunate combination of economic conditions, congregational strife, teenage boredom, and personal jealousies could possibly account for the spiraling accusations, trials, and executions that occurred from June and December of 1692 (Linder 1).


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