In February of 1692, over two hundred people were accused and tried for using witchcraft in New England. The most infamous of these witch trials were performed in Salem Town, Massachusetts. Even though there was little to no evidence that the accused were actually practicing witchcraft or had “signed a contract with the devil, there were a few erratic outbursts, and weird happenings in town that people said were a result of demonic activity and someone had to be blamed. That is how the trials started. The legalistic townspeople needed an explanation for the erratic happenings because they feared to admit they didn’t know what was really happening.
The trials ran between February of 1692 and May of 1693. In Salem alone, there were over 30 deaths because of these trials. Nineteen of the accused were hung, at least 11 died in prison, and one died from being crushed under heavy stones. During this time, America was very religious, and ardently believed in God and Satan. Most of the population consisted of English Protestants or Puritans, who used their religion and the Bible as an excuse for the trials. Scriptures from Exodus, Leviticus, and Acts were pulled from the Bible to strengthen their argument, but were used incorrectly and out of context. During this time, it was believed that there was a large amount of occult experimentation, mostly due to curiosity. Cotton Mather, a minister from Boston, says that "many inhabitants of New England, and young people especially, had been led away with little sorceries, wherein they did secretly those things that were not right against the Lord their God….” It was common belief that people who practiced magic were in a contract with the Devil. What this basically meant is that they signed a pact with the Devil and gave him permission take control of their bodies and harm other people. This belief brought fear to the Puritans who clung to the literal interpretation of the Bible.
Most of the evidence presented at the trials was not solid evidence. It was mostly spectral evidence, meaning that it came from the dreams or visions of the witnesses, and since there was no defense team for the accused, they were at the mercy of the court. The interesting part of the trials is that the people who confessed to being in a pact with the devil actually lived and were released after the trials ended, whereas the people who denied having anything to do with it were killed usually within a few day after their hearing.
In the beginning, there were no witches in Salem, only young, very sick girls and their worried families. (Hoffer p.36) The first documented to become sick were two cousins; Abigail Williams (age 11) and Betty Parris (age 9). Betty, the daughter of the beloved and well respected Reverend Parris was the first to be examined by Dr. William Griggs. It was he who decided that her illness was less natural and more super natural. This scared the town’s people. The people of Salem Town feared the...