The Salem Witch trials were a series of arrests and, in extreme cases, executions of many people in the late 17th Century. It was caused by symptoms with unknown causes and extreme suspicion that led to numerous accusations and relentless panic in the small colonial town of Salem. Entire families were imprisoned, nineteen people were hanged, and many others died in prison. The Salem Witch Trails were a period of chaos that was the effect of judgments based on social differences and prejudices.
Salem was mostly made up of Puritans, and many of the town’s laws were based on religion (O’Keefe, 18). For example, it was illegal to not attend church, and men and women could not sit on the same sides during church. Anyone who didn’t have the same beliefs as the rest of the town was considered evil. Salem people blamed anything that went wrong in the town on the devil, evil spirits, and witches: they were suspicious of anyone who was sick, homeless, or different from the rest of the community; the town assumed that these people must be under the influence of the devil. A person accused of working with the devil could be punished by death. Besides having a constant fear of evil spirits, Salem also faced other struggles. Salem had very poor sanitation; consequently, illnesses were common in the town. Salem also had multiple social issues. As Patti Wingington says, Salem was “a breeding ground for fearmongering, accusations, and
suspicion (Wingington, “Salem”);” families often fought and argued with other families, so gossip and rumors were common. Having a bad relationship with someone who had more influence on the town could a person in trouble with the community, like being accused of a crime that he or she did not commit.
In the winter of 1692, several girls in Salem began to act strangely. Betty Parris, Abigail Williams,, and Elizabeth Hubbard were the first three to show signs of being witchcraft victims. The girls would run around their houses, hide under furniture, and contort their bodies; they also had strange dreams and talked to themselves. According to Heather O’Keefe, the girls had all heard stories of witchcraft from a slave prior to experiencing these fits (O’Keefe, 18). The girls showed interest in these stories, and most likely got the ideas behind their actions from the stories. Soon after the first three, other girls began to have similar symptoms. Ann Putman, Susana Sheldon, Mary Warren, and Putman had feelings of someone biting and pinching them. Douglas Linder says that these symptoms were “[the result of] stress, asthma, guilt, boredom, child abuse, epiliepsy, and delusional psychosis (Linder, “Account”). The girls could have been seeking attention; Abigail and Betty, the younger girls, may have been throwing temper tantrums; a few could have been acting out from poor treatment by their families. Because of the town’s poor sanitation, someone could have gotten an illness and been experiencing severe symptoms. However, the...