We will write a custom Research Paper on The Salem Witch Trial specifically for you
301 certified writers online
Salem is a village in Massachusetts, which is a state in the New England region, in the North East of the United States of America. In the year 1692, it was afflicted by a certain kind of mysticism that drove some of the villagers into hysteria.
The hysteria manifested first in young girls whereby the girls exploded into bizarre behavior whose natural cause could not be traced. The young girls could be seized with convulsions, blasphemous screaming and melodramatic behaviors which were not normal. Since the physical source could not be traced, the community was led to believe that witches had invaded Salem.
The term witch should be understood and used in caution here. This is necessary in order for one to understand the trials of the witch in Salem. During the 17th century it was believed that a witch is a person who had made a treaty with the devil so that there will be an exchange of a soul for evil powers which the witch can use to torment human beings (MacBain, 4). It is quite normal for victims of these powers to claim to have experienced horrible dreams and illusions.
They would also experience physical pain and exhibit bizarre habits which could be alarming to the community. The perpetrators of this evil act would be identified by the villagers, investigated, tried and then condemned if found guilty. In a village such as Salem, a person found guilty of performing witchcraft would be hanged. Thus the word witch is a strong word used as an accusation of Satan’s treaties. If someone were found involved in this pact, it would lead to death. Salem villagers were religious.
Thus religiously speaking, a witch is a follower of an ancient pagan belief system (MacBain, 4). The discovery of this fact led to a series of activities aimed at flushing out all the witchdoctors who had run amok with their evil activities. Since Sale was a religious village, its inhabitants began praying and fasting in order to get rid of this satanic evil (Sutter 5).
Witchcraft operations in Salem
Witchcraft in operation could manifest in several ways. All of these ways alter the normal and natural ways things operate and cause abnormal things to happen (Sutter 7). The effects were usually seen in human beings, animals and plants. Salem was not an exemption. Witchcraft would go as far as killing infants and adults (Fradin & Fradin, 9). Some of the witches would kill domesticated animals (Sutter 7).
Cause and trial of the witchdoctors
There were two young girls who were under the devil’s influence as a result of witchraft activities. These girls were brought to the investigators who forced them to reveal the people who controlled their bizarre characters (Salem Witchcraft Trials Cause and Effect 2).
As a result three women were identified. After close examination, it was revealed that the afflicted girls were having demonic illusions. One of them called Tituba who was a slave girl, said that she had seen the devil appearing to her either as a hog or a huge dog (Salem Witchcraft Trials Cause and Effect 4).
At first three women were identified and denounced as having colluded with the devil in bringing such atrocities into the village. These women were quite marginal to the village. Afterwards, more and more women were accused. A special case relates to this woman, Martha Corey, who was quite different from other people who had been convicted. This is because she was a noble congregant of the religious organizations in the village (Wilson 8).
Thus the fact that she was a witch revealed the magnitude of influence Satan had gained in the community. As the accusatory conditions continued to intensify, things took a strange turn in the lives of the witchdoctors. Many witchdoctors were identified, investigated, charged, and condemned. They would late be put to death (Goss 9). Some of them would face the gallows, one died under the pressure of stones and another one died in prison while awaiting trial (Goss 12).
There were at least 168 people who were accused of practicing witchcraft in 1692. Out of these, nineteen had been found guilty. They were hanged by October of the same year. However, no one who had pleaded guilty of practicing witchcraft was killed.
In the courtroom
Salem is now the modern town of Danvers. The hysteria caused by two young girls marks the beginning of an interesting story. The two young girls namely Betty and Abigail, while in the court, behaved in a bizarre way that was far from natural. After careful diagnosis by Dr. William Griggs, it was found out that there was no natural cause of their mysterious behavior.
Dr. Griggs could not diagnose any medical condition that is why he finally diagnosed bewitchment. In those days, religious people believed that witchcraft was a cause of diseases and death and that witches gained their powers from the devil. This is the reason why the witches responsible would be killed so that they may finish off the devil’s operations.
Under enough pressure, the young girls named names of those who were responsible for their behaviors. Instead of admitting that their behavior started as a game, they connected their story with religious phenomena. Therefore, their slave girl, Totuba, was among the first three slaves to be accused after warrants of arrest were given (Goss 12).
Get your first paper with 15% OFF
The three appeared before the three Salem Town Magistrates in the house of Nathaniel Ingersoll. During the time when women were testifying in this trial, the young girls cried out loud claiming that the woman’s apparition was roaming the room while biting and beating them up. The spirit also appeared as an animal or a bird. After wide investigations, the slave girl did admit that she was indeed a witch.
As reasons for her actions, Tituba said that a dog, black in color, had threatened her before ordering her to cause harm to the young girls. Another thing that she claimed was that she used to attend witches meetings with her fellow convicted witches. Because of the success of this court, an intensive campaign was launched to hunt for more witches. As a result, the young girls were put under pressure to name other witches involved so that they can be tried.
Another witch was brought before the magistrates. She was called Martha. Although she maintained her calmness, the young ladies actions were enough to expose her. They were tormented and anguished throughout the court proceedings. The husband of Martha was also present and he against her.
Rebecca Nurse was the next woman to be brought before the magistrates. She was an outstanding puritan member who was also a prominent member of the community. Other women had joined the group of the afflicted girls. By this time the Magistrates had been convinced beyond doubt that whatever the afflicted girls said was true.
Other victims of Salem trials were John and Elizabeth Proctor who had been strong opponents of the Salem Witch trials since the beginning, a factor that worked against them. There was this victim called Sarah Cloyse who followed suite. She was the sister to Rebecca Nurse. Cloyse became a victim when she tried to oppose the trials and was in the process mentioned by the girls.
Another difficult case for the magistrate came when a mental woman was brought before them. Her name was Abigail Hobbs. However instead of acquitting her as insane, the court ruled against her as a witch because of the young girls actions. In April 21, the same year, the lies of Abigail caused the arrest of nine more people who came from far beyond the borders of the town of Salem.
Thus the witch trial of Salem was able to diversify to other surrounding communities and the number of these communities grew to 22. There is one peculiar incident that happened in the court of Salem when the two girls reviewed their accusations against Nehemiah Abbot. Hence Abbot was lucky enough to be released by the court making it to be the only time such an incident ever occurred (Oliver 2).
As it was at that time, Massachusetts had no formal charter. Therefore all the people who had been accused had to be held in prison until the time when a new charter was brought by the new governor in November, 1692. However, the new governor had no interest with the trials. He therefore established a court of Oyer and Terminar to do the job. New magistrates were brought to hear the cases (Oliver 3). By mid the following year, about one hundred people had been charged and imprisoned because of involving in witchcraft activities.
It was until June 2, 1693 that the particular Salem court had its first sitting thus causing Bridget Bishop to be the first person to be tried and was also found guilty of the offence. What followed was the signing of her death warranty by the three justices. She was then hanged on June 10, and later on buried in a shallow grave on Gallows Hill.
When Justice Saltonstall resigned from this court and doubted the entire issue, he was also accused of witchcraft. The next convicts to appear were also found guilty and sentenced to death. During the course of the next trial which involved Sarah Wilds and Elizabeth How as defendants, Reverend Samuel Willard was also found to be guilty of practicing witchcraft. However he never appeared before the three magistrates since he was friends with some of them who gave him some protection.
This is an open indication that there were some innocent people whom the justices sent to their death (Paralumun 41). The young girls became celebrities in this field. Due to this celebrity status they were sent to other towns beyond Salem to help in the search for witches. By this time, twenty four people had died because of engaging in witchcraft or witchcraft-related activities. Nineteen people were hanged on Gallows Hill in the small town of Salem while others died in prison waiting to be tried in court (Paralumun 14).
Defense of the accused
As it is well known, any person being accused in a court of law has the right to ask for professional help. In Salem, this was also the case although many other cases in New England did not allow any professional help for people convicted of witchcraft in a court of law. Hence in this episode, many prominent people rose to defend the accused. Most of those people who rose to defend the accused were close friends and family members of the accused.
Challenges of the trials
The court that was formed to investigate, charge and convict such cases in Salem was not short of its challenges. This is because in these cases, there were two parties. During this episode, both parties were comprised of prominent village leaders. Also, the defenders of the accused offered strong opposition because they were powerful members in the village council (Sutter 3).
The other challenge came from political reasons. Two years ago, the courts were suspended. Thus the trials of these people would take months to happen. People accused of practicing this act would be charged and held in jail for months before they could be tried. This was also the period of political instability. Thus whenever a conflict would arise, between towns and people, the government could not interfere by intervening. Thus these animosities were left to play out unchecked.
The Salem Witch trials indicated several things that happened in the society. Witchcraft was so prevalent at that time. Evil in this town was at its high level of operation. On the other hand, the trials revealed an aspect of corruption whereby the justices exhibited corruption by granting the reverend court protection when he was accused of practicing witchcraft. As a recap therefore, the Salem Witch trials were not based on the whole truth since the two young girls did not speak the truth as the process was nearing the end.
Fradin, Judith B & Fradin, Dennis B. The Salem Witch Trials. Marshall Cavendish. 2008. Print.
Goss, K. David. The Salem Witch Trials: A Reference Guide. Greenwood Publishing Group. 2008. Print.
MacBain, Jenny. The Salem Which Trials: A Primary Source History of the Witchcraft Trails in Salem, Massachusetts. The Rosen Publishing Group. 2003. Print.
Oliver, Benjamin D. The Salem Witchcrafts Trial 1692. The Web Chronology Project. 1997. Web.
Paralumun (2010). Salem Witch Trials. Web.
Salem Witchcraft Trials Cause and Effect. Oppapers.Com. 2010. Web.
Salem Witchcraft Trials. Oppapers.Com. 2010. Web.
Sutter, Tim. Salem Witchcraft: The Events and Causes of the Salem witch Trials. Salem Witch Trials. 2003. Web.
Wilson, Lori L. The Salem Witch Trials. Twenty-First Century Books. 1997. Print.