The Salem witch trials are a real life series of events that brought to life the fear of the unknown. Witchcraft became a prosecutable crime based on intangible evidence and hearsay. The trails in the Essex, Middlesex and Suffolk counties of Massachusetts took place in February 1692 through May 1693. The Salem witch trials resulted in the death of twenty people and the accusations of over 150 individuals of performing witchcraft.
Before the accusations of witchcraft flew in the Salem area of colonial Massachusetts there were a few events that set the paranoia in motion. In 1688 Boston, Massachusetts, an Irish washerwoman named Ann “Goody” Glover was accused of witchcraft. The children in the family Goody Glover worked for had been acting strangely and fallen ill. The family believed Goody Glover was bewitching and hexing the children. Anne Goody Glover went to trial and was later executed for being a witch.
In the year of 1689 a man named Cotton Mather published a book called “Memorable Providences, Relating to Witchcrafts and Possessions.” In the book Mather includes the events pertaining to Ann “Goody” Glover. The November of 1689 Samuel Parris became the new minister of Salem and moved there from Boston. In 1691 a number of villagers unify in the purpose of driving Parris out of Salem.
In January 1962, children in Salem begin acting similar to the way the children in Cotton Mather’s book are described as doing. The local doctor is the first to suggest witchcraft as a possible cause to the behavior in mid-February. In late February, the accusations of those practicing witchcraft began. Those accused range from elderly women and men to children as young as four years old. In all there were over 150 people arrested and charged for practicing witchcraft.
The trials are speedy and largely unjust. A great deal of evidence used against the accused is spectral evidence. This sort of evidence is based on dreams and visions. Spectral evidence is dependent on the victim and is intangible. This form of evidence gives complete trust in the victims and sets the accused as guilty before proven.
As a result of the Salem witch trials, twenty one people died. There were nineteen people hanged at Gallows Hill. The names of the nineteen are as follows: Bridget Bishop, Rebecca Nurse, Susannah Martin, Elizabeth Howe, Sarah Good, Sarah Wildes, George Jacobs Sr., Martha Carrier, George Burroughs, John Willard, John Proctor, Martha Corey, Margaret Scott, Mary Easty, Alice Parker, Ann Pudeator, Willmott Redd, Samuel Wardwell and Mary Parker. Giles Corey is pressed to death after large rocks are piled on top of him during interrogation as means to force his confession. Roger Toothaker died while being held in prison.
In January 1693, the majority of people held in prison due to being accused of witchcraft are released. The mayhem had ended but the effect was eternal. The Salem witch trials speak to the dangers of religious extremism and unjust legal practices.