The Salem Witch Trials
Situation and Politics At The Time
The period just prior to the Salem Witch Trials as cited by Blumberg (2007) was marred by conflict and war with England’s rival France. The English rulers William and Mary started a war with France in 1689, known as King William’s war to the colonists. This war ravaged areas of New York, Nova Scotia and Quebec, propelling refugees into Essex county and Salem Village in the Massachusetts Bay Colony. The refugees created a strain on Salem’s resources and aggravated the rivalry between the Putnams and Porters the two clans who were competing for control of the village and its pulpit. The Putnams tied to farmers because they owned most of the farmland wanted to be separate from the town and the Porters tied to the seafarers and thriving harbor wanted to remain part of Sale Town. Additionally Reverend Samuel Parris, Salem’s first ordained minister was disliked because he was rigid and greedy, leading to controversy and belief by the Puritan villagers that the Devil was at work with all the quarreling.
As cited by Sutter (2003), during the period, contracts for ministers provided them a modest salary, use of a house and free firewood; Reverend Parris received this and much more, including the title and deed to the parsonage and its surrounding land. Those residents who were angered by Reverend Parris’ benefits and who wanted to remain part of Salem Town refused to attend worship services and withheld their local taxes. This latter action was of consequence because local taxes helped pay the minister’s salary and provided his firewood. In October 1691, Parris’ opponents comprised the majority of the new Salem Village Committee, who refused to assess local taxes for Parris’ salary and challenged his ownership of the ministry house and property. The committee’s actions caused Parris and his family to rely only on voluntary contributions for sustenance. Overall the village of Salem was divided by economic/property and congregational support lines into two distinct groups.
The Accusers & Accused
In early 1692, following a harsh winter, Reverend Parris’ daughter Elizabeth and niece Abigail Williams began having fits, screaming, throwing things, uttering weird sounds, contorting in pain and complaining of fever. Although their symptoms may have been attributed to a combination of physical causes, Linder (2009) cites an argument by Linda Caporeal in a 1976 article in Science magazine. Where Caporeal argued that a disease called “convulsive ergotism” (ingesting rye infected with ergot) could have caused the symptoms suffered by the girls. Another theory centered on a book published at the time “Memorable Providences” which described suspected witchcraft of an Irish washerwoman in Boston; interestingly Elizabeth’s behavior was very similar to that of the afflicted person in the book. Sutter (2003) cited that Parris was opposed to childhood games for Elizabeth and Abigail because it was a...