The Salem Witches: Real or Imagined?
The Salem Witch Trials began because of a mysterious illness contracted by 11-year old Abigail Williams and her cousin Betty Paris (Burgan). Instead of looking for a logical explanation, the community immediately jumped to the conclusion that witches caused the girls curious behavior. Doctors commonly would diagnose an unknown illness as witchcraft, rather than looking for other explanations (Wolfinger). Erot of Rye, which causes severe contortions and hallucinations, could have caused their strange behavior (Burgan). Abigail and Betty also could have faked their bewitchment to receive attention or avoid work. The Salem Witch Trials took place based accusations, rather than solid evidence.
Though frowned upon by many in modern society, people considered witchcraft a terrible crime, punishable by death during this period in time. Many scholars in Salem believed that witches actually signed away their soul to the devil in return for earthly favors and special powders (history.com). Tituba, an accused slave girl acknowledged this belief, and confessed to have written her name in blood within the devil’s book. She only evaded execution because she saw others also writing their names in the devil’s book. With Tituba still alive, she could identify other potential witches.
Soon after the “bewitched” girls accused the first witch, Tituba, many more followed. Among the suspected withes, Rebecca Nurse and Giles Correy held strong to their Christian faith (Landua). When asked to confess to wizardry after torture from having large stones place on his chest, Giles Corey reportedly retorted, “More weight” (Wolfinger). Prior to George Burrough’s hanging, he reportedly recited the Lord’s prayer flawless, something no witch or wizard could do (Landua). These people undoubtedly held a strong Christian faith, and it remains a puzzle to many historians why their executions took place. Rebekah Nurse reportedly stated before execution, “I can say that before my Eternal Father I am innocent, and God will clear my innocency” (Roach).
More and more accused witches appeared over the following months. Among them, elderly people, primarily women, and children alike sat desperately in prison awaiting trial. Sarah Good’s daughter, Dorcas, the youngest accused witch of 4-years-old, went insane in the harsh confinement after only a few months in prison (Burgan). Many innocent people admitted to witchcraft just so that they would not die, whether or not they actually practiced sorcery (Landua). With their admition to witchcraft, the people hoped they would point out more witches afflicted the girls. As the trials continued, more and more accused people appeared, often the enemies of their accusers.
The first execution, of Bridget Bishop, took place in June of 1692 followed by thirteen more women and four men (Klein). Judging by many of the statements made during their trials, many of these people sounded like real believing Christians....