The Salem Witch Trials
03 November 2019
Moriaha HodayPage 1
The Salem Witch Trials were a horrific event that happened in American history. The Salem Witch Trials started in 1692 and ended nine months later in 1693 in the town of Salem Massachusetts. This tragic event plays an important role in our history for many reasons. The Salem Witch Trials mark a time of great sadness that should always be remembered. I am going to take you through the events of the Salem Witch Trials and discuss some key points of the trials. Many lives were taken and the lives that were not taken were forever changed due to this tragic event, the first accusations came from two little girls and were followed by many more accusations, the conditions in which they were forced to live in while awaiting trial were barbaric, the people accused and how their trials went, when the trials ended the victims still had to face the hardships as a result of the trials, and there are still celebrations to remember this part of our history and the town of Salem Massachusetts remains set and decorated as in old day Salem.
The Salem Witch Trials took innocent lives and changed the lives of everyone involved from the youngest of the accused to the oldest, from the accused to the accusers, and the people of the courts. "The Salem witch trials occurred in colonial Massachusetts between 1692 and 1693. More than 200 people were accused of practicing witchcraft-the Devil's magic-and 20 were executed."(Blumberg) Twenty lives were falsely taken, nineteen of them taken by hanging and one man by the name of Giles Corey lost his life being crushed to death under the weight of stones in a common practice for that time called pressing. Along with the twenty people whose lives were taken were two dogs' lives that were accused of witchcraft. Tituba was among the first people accused of witchcraft and sent to trial along with two other women, Bridget Bishop who was the first to go to trial and be found guilty, was sentenced to death, and shortly after was hanged. The youngest of the accused was Dorothy "Dorcas" Good and was a
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mere four years old at the time that she was accused of the crime of witchcraft. At four years old we are so fragile and growing so much, this is the point in our life when we absorb the most and learn most of lives basic teachings. Dorcas spent eight months in jail at this age and her life would never be the same because of it.
The first accusations came from two young girls who made other accusations throughout the trials as well and many others came to follow them in making these false claims of witchcraft. Elizabeth Parris was only nine years of age and Abigail Williams eleven years old at the time that the first accusations were made. Abigail Williams was residing with the Parris family at the time and was thought to be Elizabeth Parris' cousin and niece to Reverend Samuel Parris. "The girls began to behave strangely, complaining of physical maladies, visions, and trembling, and babbling without restraint." (Benson) These episodes of the girls acting of odd behavior were said by the girls to have started after Tituba had shown the girls voodoo magic that she brought back with her from Africa. In Western Africa where voodoo is considered to be a practice of their faith, it is taught that to discover who has put a spell on someone, you make a witch cake. Tituba was making a witch cake that uses the urine of the possessed individual. Tituba's husband John Indian, also a slave for the Parris family, had collected the urine of Elizabeth and Abigail to make the witch cake. The girls were seen acting with odd behavior and when asked why they answered with blame upon Tituba and two other village women. They told everyone that the women were performing witch rituals upon them and that they had become possessed by the devil. These behaviors could have been explained by many other options and were likely caused by a health issue of some sort, but that wasn't something that the townspeople were willing to consider. The townspeople set out to find all those who were influenced by the Devil
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to rid the town of them in hopes of ridding the town of all evil and so began the Salem Witch Trials.
The condition in which the accused were forced to live in were barbaric. The inmates were forced to live in the dungeon of the jails because they were thought to be of the most dangerous of inmates and were needed to be kept further from society. The cells that they lived in were very small and had only enough room to stand. The dungeon was cold and damp and had water dripping down the walls. Conditions in jail were harsh for those accused of witchcraft. It was rat-infested, filthy, and the accused witches were often bound with cords and irons for months. The dungeon was cold, and foul-smelling, and kept in total darkness. (Weiser, 2) From the oldest to the youngest of the accused who sat in jail awaiting trial or awaiting their punishment for being found guilty, no one was spared or given special circumstances. The inmates were forced to strip naked and undergo body searches in which any new or odd mark was poked at with needles. The female prisoner's breasts were examined several times throughout the day in search of lactation. The pregnant women were forced to give birth in their cell and care for the newborn infant in jail. Special circumstances were made for pregnant women to not be hanged while still pregnant. It is a shame that these people were not treated as humans and were made to live under such awful circumstances.
The trials for the accused were all completely different although some had the same result. There were several ways that the accused could respond to the accusations. Tituba was accused and plead guilty. Tituba pleading guilty to the crime of witchcraft is what saved her from being sentenced to death like so many others. Tituba was a leader in this act of trying to survive and others followed suit by pleading guilty as well. Nineteen other men and women plead guilty or
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confessed to the crime. The downfall to falsely confessing or pleading guilty is that this was a very religious town and time and doing this was considered a sin. These lives, however, were all spared, but they were forced to spend their time in the dungeons of jail to be kept away from the general public and keep the devil out of people's homes. Another option was to plead guilty and to go to trial in hopes of being found innocent. "If they pled not guilty and were convicted anyway and sentenced to hang, the accused knew that at least they were innocent in the eyes of God and they would still go to heaven." (Brooks) Not pleading innocent or guilty was another tactic that the accused tried to use to postpone going to trial and being found guilty despite their innocence. The issue with not pleading at all was answered to by torture in hopes that they would enter a plea or die from the torture and the town would still be rid of the evil of them. Giles Corey attempted using this method and was still found guilty and was sentenced to death by pressing. There were eleven men and women that were accused and were able to flee and avoid going to jail and trial by staying hidden while the trials and arrests were still taking place. John Willard was one who was able to flee but was soon after was found and hanged. The individuals who fled or escaped from jail were not hanged but all of their property was condemned John Proctor wrote a letter to the courts asking them if his trial could be moved in hopes of getting a fair trial and being found innocent. Another individual Mary Easty who wrote to the courts was writing to try to save not herself but others to come. This was a very noble act and possibly responsible for saving the lives of many accused, but Mary Easty was later executed. In my opinion, everyone that was accused had to be brave and not one person's decision on how to plead or that they fled made them any more or less. The way that the accused pled did not always turn out as planned. There was no guarantee in the way they
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decided to try to save themselves.
The hardships did not end because the trials and the witch hunt ended. Dorothy "Dorcas" Good who I mentioned earlier in the paper as being the youngest to be accused had a very rough life even after the trials came to an end and she was released. Eight months of being chained up and living in a dungeon in the conditions that they lived in got the best of Dorcas. Dorcas, "being chained in the dungeon [in the same room with pirates, prisoners of war, thieves, etc] was so hardly used and terrified that she hath ever since been very chargeable, having little or no reason to govern herself." (Roach, 570) Dorcas' father William Good now had to care for his daughter permanently and had to pay helpers to care for her due to the trauma that she endured while imprisoned. Tituba had to stay in prison because Samuel Parris refused to pay her legal fees, so she was not allowed to be released and was later sold as a slave for the total amount of her legal fees. Mary Bradbury was found guilty and sentenced to death, but was able to escape. She was able to stay hidden and was not found. Mary Bradbury now had to stay away though and ran from the town where her family is. Lydia Dustin was another who remained in jail because of unpaid court fees, but she died there along with four others. No innocent person should have to spend their last days in a jail cell cold and alone. After the trials came to an end I believe that all those accused should be freed and those who falsely accused them should have been forced to pay their legal fees. As well as those living in the prisons and the families of those who were hanged or died while in jail, everyone had to live with the aftermath of this horrible event. "Since the witch trials ended, the colony also began to suffer many misfortunes such as droughts, crop failures, smallpox outbreaks, and Native-American attacks and many began to wonder if God was punishing them for their mistake." (Brooks) Reverend Parris lost
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his job after the trials came to an end and then moved his family away. Today for wrongly accusing someone of a crime you can get in legal trouble and be sued for defamation of character and can also be sued. This practice should have been in place in Salem Massachusetts from 1692 to 1693. Those responsible should have had to pay for their actions. September 22nd, 1693 was the last day that a hanging took place. The trials came to an end, but too late for twenty innocent people.
In Salem Massachusetts and all across America there are still ways in which the town is trying to keep the memory going strong. "In 1813, the wooden structure of the jail was remodeled into a Victorian home and in 1956 the home was razed. A large brick building now stands on this spot with a memorial plaque dedicated to the old jail." (Brooks) The day of official humiliation was held as a day of prayer and fasting to pray for those involved in the trials and to remember those lives lost. This began on January 15th, 1697. Public apologies have been made over time by those who were guilty of wrongfully accusing someone as well as by people in political roles throughout time. Ann Putnam, one of the accusers, made a public apology in 1706. A bill was passed in 1711 clearing the names of those convicted and their families were paid restitution in their honor in February 1712. "The bill cleared the names of: George Burroughs, John Proctor, George Jacobs, John Willard, Giles Corey, Martha Corey, Rebecca Nurse, Sarah Good, Elizabeth Howe, Mary Easty, Sarah Wildes, Abigail Hobbs, Samuel Wardwell, Mary Parker, Martha Carrier, Abigail Faulkner, Anne Foster, Rebecca Eames, Mary Post, Mary Lacey, Mary Bradbury and Dorcas Hoar. Eighteen years after these tragic events unfolded is too long to not clear the names." (Brooks) The names should have been cleared as soon as the trials came to an end and the others still in jail were released. In a book titled "Salem Witchcraft" written in
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1867 by Former Mayor Charles Wentworth Upham, he acknowledges the victims for their bravery. In 1953 a play was written by playwright Arthur Miller called The Crucible which was based on the events that took place in Salem Massachusetts in 1692 and 1693. Another bill was passed into law in 1957 by the governor at that time in which he apologized again for the happenings of the Salem Witch Trial and he cleared the names of the remaining victims. The year 1992 marked the three hundredth anniversary of the Salem Witchcraft Trials. In remembrance of the victims, a monument was constructed to help celebrate this anniversary. The monument was called The Salem Witch Trials Memorial. The bill passed in 1957 was amended in 2001. Salem Massachusetts remains a town decorated to remember. Salem is a tourist town that looks like old day Salem and has museums and landmarks filled with information and facts about the Salem Witch Trials. Salem is determined to not let the memory of the victims die as they had so many centuries ago.
Salem Massachusetts was a town that saw tragedy in 1692 and 1693 marked by The Salem Witch Trials. This was an unnecessary event that happened in our American history that must remain taught and known of. From the first accusation in February 1692 to the last trial in May 1693 and hanging in September 1693 twenty innocent lives were taken and even more sat in the dungeons of the jails awaiting their fate and possible murder. I hope to have educated and entertained you throughout the reading of my research paper and that you have taken something away from this. The Salem Witch Trials was an unfortunate event that should not have taken place. This part of our history is important to know about and to keep the memory of those involved alive and not let them die in vain. Many lives were taken and the lives that were not taken were forever changed due to this tragic event, the first accusations came from two little
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girls and were followed by many more accusations, the conditions in which they were forced to live in while awaiting trial were barbaric, the people accused and how their trials went, when the trials ended the victims still had to face the hardships as a result of the trials, and there are still celebrations to remember this part of our history and the town of Salem Massachusetts remains set and decorated as in old day Salem and should forever be remembered.
Benson, Sonia, et al. "Salem Witch Trials." UXL Encyclopedia of U.S. History
Blumberg, J. "A Brief History of the Salem Witch Trial". Smithsonian.com, Smithsonian Institution
Brooks, Rebecca Beatrice. "What Options Did an Accused Witch Have in Salem" History of Massachusetts Blog, Rebecca Beatrice Brooks
Roach, Marilynne K. The Salem Witch Trials : A Day-by-Day Chronicle of a Community Under Siege. Vol. 1st Cooper Square Press ed, Taylor Trade Publishing
Weiser, K. "Procedures, Courts & Aftermath of the Salem Witch Trials". Legends of America.