With hunts first occurred in the Middle Ages in Europe, but fear and paranoia of the unknown eventually found their way into the American Colonies. The most well-known cases of witch trials took place between 1692 and 1693 in Salem Village. Roughly 200 women were accused of black magic, with 19 of them being executed. In the end, the townsfolk admitted that the executions were a mistake compensated the families of the convicted.
A Struggling Town
The witch-hunt craze lasted from between the 1300s and 1600s in Europe, which led to over 3 million trials across the continent and 60,000 gruesome executions. Ans the 1600s winded down, so did the practice of hunting and convicting so-called witches.
It was during this time that a war broke out between England and France, leading to thousands of refugees setting up homes in townships in the Massachusetts Bay Colony, including Salem Village.
A sudden influx of refugees led to a strain of distributing Salem’s resources. Eventually, conflicts between members of society would break out into accusations of possession. The most prominent accusation of this time was against the ordained reverend of Salem, Samuel Parris. His greedy nature had led people to believe that he was under the control of the Devil.
Blaming the Supernatural
In the midst of the controversy, Samuel’s daughter, Elizabeth, and his niece, Abigail, began experiencing seizures and speaking in tongues. The town’s doctor attributed their hellish screams and inexplicable demeanors to the supernatural.
Not long after, another local girl, Ann Putnam, would experience similar symptoms. When the three were pressed for answers, they unanimously blamed three women—Tituba, the reverend’s slave; Sarah Good, a local beggar; and Sarah Osborne, an elderly woman drowning in debt—for inflicting them with black magic.
Following the accusations, both Sarah Good and Sarah Osborne claimed innocence. However, Tituba immediately admitted to being under the spell of the Devil. As a result, all three women were thrown into jail. Tituba would eventually be sold off to another slave owner. Sarah Good was publicly hanged for dabbling in the dark arts, while Sarah Osborne spent her final moments imprisoned.
The Rise and Sudden Fall of the Salem Witch Trials
The seeds of paranoia were already planted, and the townsfolk began accusing countless others of performing witchcraft. Someone had accused Martha Corey, a loyal member of the local church, of being a witch, which only made matters worse. If Martha could be a witch, then anyone could. Eventually, the governor issued an official order to establish a special court for trying the accused. The first person to go on trial and be executed was Bridget Bishop, a promiscuous woman with gossipy habits. After failing to plead her case to the special court, she was hanged on June 10, 1692.
In total, over 200 local women in Salem and neighboring counties were accused. However, after a respected minister pushed to have spectral evidence (dreams and visions) disregarded in court, many of these women were saved. By the end of 1693, when the witch hunt craze died down, 19 women were hung.