Seventeenth century Salem, Massachusetts saw the popularization of witch trials where three hundred forty four (344) people were accused of being witches (DuBois & Dumenil, 2012). The accusation which became known as witchcraft hysteria in history stunned the whole town. It was first initiated by three (3) young girls who were relatives of the town reverend, Reverend Samuel Parris (Brett, 2009).
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The reverend’s daughter Elizabeth together with two (2) other girls played a game where they asked Tibuba, the Caribe Indian slave, to tell them their fortunes. What started out as something for fun became horrifying as the girls started to act unusual, throwing bizarre fits and “distempers” (Brett, 2009). Although no one really knew the real cause of these fits and bizarre behaviors, it was clear that the victims were suffering from physical and mental difficulties.
The victims experienced physical and mental pains such as vomiting and temporary blindness and hallucination. The girls would scream from the pain they are undergoing. They would hallucinate of seeing the Devil. They would claim that the Devil was telling them to sign his book and join him to be his loyal followers. These strange behaviors made the townspeople of Salem panic. One local physician, William Griggs, was unable to determine the cause of the girls’ sickness.
He suggested to Reverend Parris that the source of these victims’ uncanny conditions might be the result of witchcraft (Brett, 2009). Though such claim had no concrete basis, the townspeople truly believed that the town of Salem was indeed haunted by witches. The people also believed that it was their God given right to eliminate such supernatural beings for the betterment of mankind. The girls were brought into intense questioning which resulted to the naming of three (3) women as witches.
The identified accused were Sarah Good, an elder beggar, Sarah Osborne, a woman known for having an adulterous affair and the slave Tituba. The last woman accused admitted that she was a witch when she was interrogated and pointed out others as being witches. This begun the witch hunt of 1692 (Brett, 2009). As the three (3) women were arrested the girls still sustained their peculiar behaviors and continued to accuse other people. The prison cells of Salem overflew with accused witches.
Eighty percent (80%) of them were found guilty based on heresy. No clear evidences were presented. Analyzing the cases of Anne Hutchinson (DuBois & Dumenil, 2012), Bridget Bishop (Ray, 2003), and Lady Phips (Brett, 2009), I can therefore conclude that the accusers, which are mostly powerful men running the society, are pushing the blame onto supernatural beliefs for the turmoil the town of Salem was experiencing.
In the year 1692 Salem had been experiencing bad weather which reduced harvests, an epidemic of small pox had swept the town where many were affected of the sickness and the Indians renewed their attacks on the frontier settlements (Brett, 2009). There was also an internal conflict as Salem was divided into two (2) groups, Salem Town and Salem Village.
Salem Town was a popular place for trade where merchants and businessmen dwell while Salem Village was a place for farmers to plant their crops. For many years Salem Village wanted to be a separate township. Salem Village even had their own separate ministry (Brett, 2009). It was later found out that most of the accused, namely Hutchinson, Bishop and Phips were members of the anti-Parris faction. They belonged to a group where they did not approved of the separation of Salem Village from Salem Town.
It all seemed like a dramatic plot for Parris and his clan to blame the political and social conditions of Salem on witchcraft. As time passed by, women were becoming more empowered. Notice that most accused were women who were unpopular in society. They are those who have very strong personalities and who have tendencies to go against the male dominated society of Salem.
Women were becoming more assertive in the seventeenth century thus it seems to me that one of the solutions of the Parris movement was to punish those who are threats so they can still continue the male dominated society (DuBois & Dumenil, 2012). Anne Hutchinson was accused of being a witch because she acted a male role of being a religious teacher and ministering to men and women in her home (DuBois & Dumenil, 2012).
Bridget Bishop was married three (3) times thus she was accused of being a witch by using her sexual prowess to seduce men although at the time of her trial she was about sixty (60) years old (Ray, 2003). Lastly Lady Phips, the wife of politician William Phips was also accused of being a witch. My suspect is her husband was disliked by the Parris faction thus she was named a witch.
After thorough research, I think that both the accused and accusers were all influenced by hearsay. The logical judgments of the accusers were clouded by their fear of political and social change thus resulting to them pushing the blame on witchcraft which cannot explain logical facts. The accusers took advantage of the ignorance of the people to make them believe that it was indeed supernatural causes which made the town of Salem suffer.
They used their positions in society to influence the public in punishing those who are delinquent in society. It is sad for the accused because they suffer the injustice brought upon them by false accusations and hearsays with no concrete proof.
The accused were brought to court for trial and questioning but before they could defend themselves the judges and jurors already found them guilty. They were just attacked on the stand. The people in the court room would just find faults on the accused to further prove they were guilty. It seemed a hopeless case for the accused because no one seemed to believe them.
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The “victims” acted out in pain when the accused would refer to them. The people witnessing court trials would sympathize with the victims even if there were no logical reasons or evidences supporting the claims of the latter. In the case of Bridget Bishop, when she was questioned during her trial at first she opted to go for denial but when all her claims were ignored and the judge continued to attack her stance she grew weary and angry.
Her behavior was seen as a sign of guilt thus she was proclaimed guilty and was executed (Ray, 2003). People’s social behaviors were the basis of determining whether or not they practiced witchcraft. Women were primary victims because in seventeenth century society, they are only seen as someone who tends the household and children. If they would practice roles of men they were seen as socially unacceptable.
This was the case for Anne Hutchinson who assumed the role of a man as a religious teacher (DuBois & Dumenil, 2012). Hutchinson’s actions alone displayed unacceptable social behavior in a male dominated society. She became a threat because she was seen as someone who had a voice thus power. Her innocence became difficult to prove when most of her jurors were conservative men who believed that women should only bear and rear children and take care of the household.
Hutchinson was also giving religious advice to men and women thus she was a threat because she knew how to lead and she had followers to back her up. Though the accusers cannot prove her guilt through these given facts they resulted to witchcraft, claiming that Hutchinson was possessed by the Devil that’s why she held weekly meetings in discussing religion (DuBois & Dumenil, 2012).
Social behaviors were important in seventeenth century Salem especially during the witch hunt hysteria. Anyone can be suspected of being a witch if they act socially unacceptable. For the protection of the people it would always be best to act according to what society dictates but by doing so the political and social leaders controlled the people. The leaders would always have the power to dictate the people.
If they do not wish to follow they would be accused and oppressed. In this scenario the people will never have the freedom of speech and expression. Sarah Osborne (Brett, 2009) and Bridget Bishop (Ray, 2003) were both accused of being witches because of their inappropriate social behaviors. They were both considered adulterous women by the Bible. Osborne was known to have an adulterous affair and Bishop was married three (3) times.
In order to punish them for their personal affairs they were both accused of being witches and thus executed. Salem as a town is popular for being a place of witches in myths and novels. Before researching and studying the topic, I was familiar with Salem as a place where witches dwell but after doing my homework I found out that the whole event was a big injustice to the poor and helpless who were merely expressing themselves.
The witch hysteria was all brought out by greedy political leaders who wanted to place blame on the innocent for the problematic conditions of the town. It was not surprising that the officials would push the blame on the helpless but what was surprising was how the people got carried away and lost their logical sense of judgments to the idea of witchcraft.
Brett, L. (2009). Salem Witch Trials. Master File Premier, 1 – 2. Web.
DuBois, E. & Dumenil, L. (2012). Through Women’s Eyes: An American History with Documents. Los Angeles, California: Bedford/ St. Martin’s.
Ray, B. (2003). Salem Witch Trials. OAH Magazine of History, 32-36.