What were the most important causes of the 1692 Salem Witchcraft Trials?

What were the most important causes of the 1692 Salem Witchcraft Trials?

We are searching data for your request:

Forums and discussions:
Manuals and reference books:
Data from registers:
Wait the end of the search in all databases.
Upon completion, a link will appear to access the found materials.

Basically what the title says: what were the most important causes of the 1692 Salem Witchcraft Trials?

We are having a discussion over this topic in one of my history courses, and a classmate argued that the drive for wealth, power, and status can explain why the trials occurred in Salem.

I don't really see how that can be used to argue why Salem experienced what they did, as the drive for wealth, power, and status are pretty fundamental in why people do what they do throughout history.

I'm of the opinion that Salem was caused by an array of factors, including tension between townspeople, poor crop yields caused by climatic anomalies, and in general, irrationality that plagued humans during this time period due to their lack of knowledge about the scientific world.

Is there anything that I'm missing that would help explain Salem, and in general do you believe the factors I listed are strong enough to overcome my classmate's broad interpretation of the subject?


P.S. This is not asking which types of people were suspected. Not sure why This Site thinks those questions are the same.

There is some thought that is was a ergot fungus that was the caused of the mayhem.

The idea is this: The poor people had to plant their crops in swamps and substandard lands, and the rye contracted this fungus. People ate the fungus, and hallucinated and had a bunch of strange behavior. Viewing the witch trials as a drug filled rage gives it a different perspective than the fictionalized version by Authur Miller.

Salem witch trials

The Salem witch trials were a series of hearings and prosecutions of people accused of witchcraft in colonial Massachusetts between February 1692 and May 1693. More than two hundred people were accused. Thirty were found guilty, nineteen of whom were executed by hanging (fourteen women and five men). One other man, Giles Corey, was pressed to death for refusing to plead, and at least five people died in jail. [1]

Arrests were made in numerous towns beyond Salem and Salem Village (known today as Danvers), notably Andover and Topsfield. The grand juries and trials for this capital crime were conducted by a Court of Oyer and Terminer in 1692 and by a Superior Court of Judicature in 1693, both held in Salem Town, where the hangings also took place. It was the deadliest witch hunt in the history of colonial North America. Only fourteen other women and two men had been executed in Massachusetts and Connecticut during the 17th century. [2]

The episode is one of Colonial America's most notorious cases of mass hysteria. It has been used in political rhetoric and popular literature as a vivid cautionary tale about the dangers of isolationism, religious extremism, false accusations, and lapses in due process. [3] It was not unique, but a Colonial American example of the much broader phenomenon of witch trials in the early modern period, which took place also in Europe. Many historians consider the lasting effects of the trials to have been highly influential in subsequent United States history. According to historian George Lincoln Burr, "the Salem witchcraft was the rock on which the theocracy shattered." [4]

At the 300th anniversary events in 1992 to commemorate the victims of the trials, a park was dedicated in Salem and a memorial in Danvers. In 1957, an act passed by the Massachusetts legislature absolved six people, [5] while another one, passed in 2001, absolved five other victims. [6] As of 2004, there was still talk about exonerating all of the victims, [7] though some think that happened in the 19th century as the Massachusetts colonial legislature was asked to reverse the attainders of "George Burroughs and others". [8] In January 2016, the University of Virginia announced its Gallows Hill Project team had determined the execution site in Salem, where the 19 "witches" had been hanged. The city dedicated the Proctor's Ledge Memorial to the victims there in 2017. [9] [10]

Girls Display Mysterious Symptoms

In January 1692, Reverend Parris’ daughter, 9-year-old Elizabeth, and niece, 11-year-old Abigail Williams, became quite sick. When the children’s conditions worsened, they were seen by a physician named William Griggs, who diagnosed them both with bewitchment. Then several other young girls from Salem Village also displayed similar symptoms, including Ann Putnam Jr., Mercy Lewis, Elizabeth Hubbard, Mary Walcott, and Mary Warren.

These young girls were observed having fits, which included throwing themselves on the ground, violent contortions and uncontrollable outbursts of screaming and/or crying almost as if they were possessed by demons inside.

What were the most important causes of the 1692 Salem Witchcraft Trials? - History

Cause of Witchcraft Trials

Fredrick’s Flintlocks and Ammunition

Our muskets are made with the finest hand carved wood and forged iron.

Our guns are the most reliable on the market and are incredibly easy to maintain. Our black powder is made with the most pure and reliable saltpeter, sulphur, and charcoal. Our high quality comes at a low price. Come visit us at one of our locations in Boston, Salem Town, and Cambridge. Why shoot the rest when you can have the best?

The room was silent as the judge stood to speak. It would have been easy to hear a pin drop as he said “Guilty.” The crowd broke into whispers, and no one knew yet but the hysteria had begun. The Salem Witch Trials were one of the most deadly witch trials in America. No one could have anticipated the horror of these trials, and once they started nothing anyone did could stop them.The room was silent as the judge stood to speak. It would have been easy to hear a pin drop as he said “Guilty.” The crowd broke into whispers, and no one knew yet but the hysteria had begun. The Salem Witch Trials were one of the most deadly witch trials in America. No one could have anticipated the horror of these trials, and once they started nothing anyone did could stop them.

There were many events that led to the beginning of the Salem Witch Trials some of the most important are those that happened before the key members of the trials were born. The history of witchcraft is part of what made the Salem Trials so intense. Witchcraft goes all the way back to the Bible. Exodus and Leviticus, two Old Testament portions, condemn witches and say that witches should die.

The people of Salem Village strongly believe in God and the Devil. The Puritan people believe the Devil is present in their lives. The Puritans believe the Devil could be anyone and that is the worst part. The Devil could be tempting a stranger or your neighbor. Due to this belief, many accusations have been made.

It Could Have Started It All

witch’s spell, or perhaps the symptoms of a mysterious illness. Click For Full Article


The Salem witchcraft outbreak of 1692 is one of the most notorious incidents of colonial American history. Historian Richard B. Trask has re-examined, newly transcribed and arranged in chronological order all the legal, ecclesiastical and other surviving sources relating to the beginnings of the witchcraft hysteria during March 1692. Also included is the important witchcraft sermon, Christ’s Fidelity, delivered in March by Rev. Deodat Lawson and reprinted here for the first time since its 1704 publication.

The important characters of the witch outbreak come alive to the reader, who learns what they said and did, and how this local incident evolved into the largest “witch hunt” in American history. Cases represented include those of Sarah Good, Sarah Osburn, Tituba, Martha Cory and Rebecca Nurse. To help the reader capture an inclusive picture of 1692, the author begins with a helpful introduction, and appends sections dealing with the population of the 1692 village, biographies of the 67 chief characters, excerpts from English witchcraft volumes used by the Salem inquisitors, and narratives of the March events recorded by 17th century writers. Illustrated are an early map of the center of Salem Village, a portrait of Rev. Samuel Parris, artifacts excavated from the minister’s parsonage in 1970, and pictures of sites, houses and documents.

Nineteen witchcraft documents, previously thought to be lost forever, have been discovered and gathered by the author and are reproduced here together for the first time! Dating between April and September 1692, these documents include examinations, indictments, and depositions relating to accused witches Giles Cory of Salem Farmes, Mary English of Salem, Margaret Scott of Rowley, Rachel Clinton of Ipswich, Mary Lacey, Sr. and Jr., Richard Carrier and Rev. Francis Dane of Andover, Margaret Prince and Joanna Penny of Gloucester, Mary Green and Hannah Bromage of Haverhill, and Rev. George Burroughs of Wells, Maine. The preliminary examination of Cory, who was later tortured to death, is the only record of his words to the court in 1692 while the six documents relating to Margaret Scott, who was executed on September 22, 1692, adds significant information to the only two previously known manuscripts concerning her case.

The Devil Hath Been Raised is a 6 inches x 9 inches sewn, acid-free
paper, soft-cover book including 196 pages and 10 illustrations.

“THE DEVIL hath been raised amongst us, & his Rage is vehement & terrible, & when he shall be silenc’d the Lord only knows.” So wrote Samuel Parris, the pastor of Salem Village, in his church record book in late March 1692 when confronted with what was discovered to be a diabolical occurrence taking place in this small Massachusetts hamlet.

What at first seemed only a localized witchcraft outbreak soon would spread rapidly and by the end of May 1692 people from communities as distant and diverse as Salem, Billerica, Andover, Charlestown, Marblehead, Lynn, Reading, Topsfield, Gloucester, Malden, and Beverly would be accused by various “afflicted persons” of using witchcraft upon them. By the fall of 1692 over 150 people had been examined and sent to prison. Men and women, both rich and influential as well as poor and hapless, were enmeshed in frightening legal confrontation. Some 50 falsely confessed to being witches who, in exchange for special powers and favors, had made a covenant with the Devil to assist in his assault upon the people of the colony. Nineteen persons who staunchly maintained their innocence were tried, found guilty and hanged, while one old man was tortured to death, and at least five others died in prison succumbing to harsh conditions and treatment.

The story of the Salem Village witch hysteria is a minor, though well-known footnote in American colonial history. Its popular fascination has continued to make it the subject of innumerable scholarly as well as superficial books and articles. In our own time the expression “A Salem Witch Hunt” is often used as a universal phrase which points to a scapegoating position taken by people or groups emphasizing hysterical, blindly illogical and intolerant actions or expressions.

What was the cause of the historical 1692 Salem witch hunt, the largest witch outbreak in America, that occurred at a time when the earlier, massive witch hunts of Europe were on the wane? Writers and researchers since the last decade of the 17th century down to the present time have been trying to find a theory or an explanation to this question. Colonial clerics, including John Hale and Cotton Mather, saw these events as the direct intervention of the Devil attacking the Puritan Commonwealth and being partially successful as the result of a religious backsliding of New Englanders and the use by civil authorities of ill-conceived traditions and non-biblical principles to discover who was a witch. Later authors would come up with a wealth of hypotheses to describe the causes, postulating among other explanations that it resulted from the pranks of bored adolescents, the influence of oligarchical and power-hungry clergy, local petty jealousies and land grabs, mental aberrations, spiritualist goings-on, political instability, a conspiratorial holding action against the disintegration of Puritanism, mass clinical hysteria, a clash between agrarian and emerging commercial interests, a continuation of the suppression of certain types of women, and even physical reactions to ingested fungus. Besides the mysterious quality of the subject matter, the Salem cases have always afforded the researcher a fairly extensive accumulation of primary source documents representing a diversity of people, yet combined with a body of knowledge that is manageable enough to be examined in microcosm.

The ordinary English Puritan settler in 17th century New England believed, as did his European counterpart, in the existence of a literal Devil and the possibility of witchcraft affecting his everyday life. Witches were thought to be humans, typically women, who had agreed to serve the Devil. In return for favors and certain amazing powers from the Devil, they attempted to help “The Old Deluder” bring ruin upon the Christian community.

On continental Europe beginning in the 15th century, literally tens of thousands of “witches” had been discovered and put to death. There, witchcraft was considered a heresy against the church, and heretics were burned at the stake. Because of geography and certain cultural and religious differences, England had escaped the brunt of the continental-style witch hunts for many years. It was not until the mid-sixteenth century in England that witchcraft became a crime punishable by death. From then through the end of the 17th century an estimated one thousand English witches would be found out and hanged. In England witchcraft was considered a felony against the state, and felons were hanged. Major English witch outbreaks typically occurred during those periods of social or political strife as, for example, during the Civil War when in less than two years in the mid 1640s about 200 witches were executed following their discovery by a merciless and deceitful man named Matthew Hopkins, who was dubbed the “Witch Finder General.”

The English settlers of 17th century New England did on occasion find witchcraft at work within their various communities, and although a large-scale witch outbreak did not occur prior to 1692, over 90 individual complaints and accusations took place before that date.

One of the larger Massachusetts Bay towns was Salem, first occupied by Englishmen in 1626. Soon a large migration of people followed from the mother country. By the mid 1630s with the available land of this coastal community quickly diminishing and the desire for larger and better farmland, a group of settlers established homesteads to the west of Salem some five to ten miles from the town center. This area soon became known as Salem Village, and by the 1660s included a substantial collection of widely scattered farms.

Once established, the farmers or “villagers,” as they began to refer to themselves, saw that they had less and less in common with Salem and began to look towards their own self-interests. Many resented their subservient position to the more mercantile and distant townspeople, and beginning in 1667 with a group of villagers petitioning to be exempt from the Salem military watch, “considering how remote our dwellings are from the Town,” the farmers pressed towards becoming independent from their mother community. Salem, having previously lost significant territory to other developing settlements, was not eager to grant any such new request. For the major part of a century through delaying counter-proposals, political clout and obstinacy the town staved-off losing the valuable and taxable village territory.

Turning to the General Court for possible relief, the villagers petitioned for permission at least to build their own meeting house and hire a minister to preach among them. In 1672 Salem relented to the religious argument, and the village was allowed to establish a parish.

A parish was not an independent church, however, and although the villagers could choose from among themselves a five-man committee to assess support for a minister and a building, the chosen minister was not an ordained pastor and theirs was not an independent, covenant church. Villagers who desired full church membership and participation in communion at the Lord’s Table would continue to be required to travel the many miles to the Salem church. Though the villagers were free from paying Salem church rates, for all other purposes, taxing and political, they were legally part of Salem Town. Many but not all of the approximately 550 villagers still desired full independence, both ecclesiastical and political, from the town, and they pressed the issue on numerous occasions. It would not be until the 1750s, however, that Salem Village would be finally granted its full independence with the establishment of the Town of Danvers.

Even while they possessed a semblance of ecclesiastical independence, a divisive inter-village religious factionalism emerged resulting in much controversy during the three, short term, successive ministeries which served the village from 1672 to 1688. Ministers James Bayley, George Burroughs, and Deodat Lawson seemed never to gain the endorsement and support of more than a simple majority of the villagers, and typically found themselves entangled in heated, uncharitable controversy with a vocal minority. Upon finding the situation not worth the fight, each would unhappily depart the village.

In a 1682 letter villager Jeremiah Watts complained concerning the local factionalism, “Brother is against brother and neighbors against neighbors, all quarreling and smiting one another.” Still later in the 1680s during a dispute involving Rev. Lawson, a committee of arbitrators from Salem commented in their written advice to the village that “uncharitable expressions and uncomly reflections tost [sic] to and fro … have a tendency to make such a gap as we fear, if not timely prevented, will lett out peace and order and let in confusion and every evil work.” Among the arbiters in this February 1687 communication were future witchcraft judges John Hathorne and Bartholomew Gedney.

Although much of the contentiousness and quarreling over village ministers was indeed homegrown, Salem Town shared part of the blame in its heavy-handed dealings with the village. Salem Village was in an unenviable position. It sorely lacked those traditional institutions meant to assist in the governing and the stability of New England communities. The village church could congregate, tax itself, and worship, but was denied performing its own sacraments or holding its own covenant. The Village Committee could be elected and meet, but it was a governing body in name only, not able to act on its own or the inhabitants’ self-interest and forced to appeal to the town selectmen on any substantive issues. Though by no means the only explanation for the village’s problems with factionalism, this vacuum of power greatly exacerbated its difficulties. A not inconsequential number of villagers also had a vision and an empathy more in keeping with the mercantile interests of Salem Town rather than with the agrarian outlook of Salem Village. With these significant political, religious, social, and economic differences existing from without and from within the village society, it is not difficult to understand why the area had acquired a regional reputation for provincialism and ill-feeling.

By 1689 the villagers in a seemingly unusual spirit of cooperation pushed hard for a completely independent church, while at the same time hiring their fourth successive minister, Samuel Parris. By a chance of circumstances, the request was granted from the Salem mother church and on November 19, 1689, the Rev. Mr. Samuel Parris was ordained pastor of the newly created and independent Church of Christ at Salem Village, with twenty-seven adults joining together in full covenant.

What at first seemed a fresh and positive beginning, soon took on the same old attitudes and style of former controversies. Thirty-five-year-old Rev. Parris was a novice to the ministerial calling, having engaged for much of his adult life in the mercantile field. After over a decade of attempting to make a successful living in the Barbados, West Indies, and then in Boston, Parris gradually changed his life’s course to become a minister for Christ. Through truncated negotiations in 1688 and 1689 with various small committees purporting to fully represent the will of the village inhabitants, Parris eventually acquired for himself what he felt to be adequate terms for his calling among the farmers. Though his salary was smaller and included less hard currency than he had initially desired, he concluded that it was sufficient for him and his family. He had also wrangled the major concession of full ownership of the village-built 1681 parsonage and its two-acre lot.

Unfortunately everyone had not been privy to the full terms of the agreement, or at least later claimed this to be the case. A vociferous minority, primarily of non-church member inhabitants, saw the settlement agreement as unwarrantable and an illegal give-away of their village-owned parsonage. As a contemporary chronicler of the witchcraft events, Robert Calef, would write of the parsonage dispute, “This occasioned great Divisions both between the Inhabitants themselves, and between a considerable part of them and their said Minister, which Divisions were but the beginning or Praeludium to what immediately followed.” Slowly festering, the controversy continued to build until by October 1691 the opposition faction made its move. In the annual election of the Village Committee, the old committee made up of the minister’s church supporters was ousted and a new committee composed of Joseph Porter, Francis Nurse, Joseph Putnam, Daniel Andrews, and Joseph Hutchinson, most if not all strong opponents of Parris, was installed. When called upon by the church in November 1691 to begin the gathering of taxes to support the ministry, the committee, whose primary duty this was, chose instead inaction. Thereupon, the church voted to sue the committee in court. The two village institutions had set their course of confrontation, and villagers were placed in the unenviable position of choosing sides. Meanwhile, his firewood supply virtually depleted, the minister entreated his congregation to provide him with wood for heating and cooking. Even this request was tinged with controversy. Parris expected the wood to be brought forth and stacked upon his wood pile by his respectful congregation. Most villagers, however, believed Parris’s salary included a wood allotment payment and that he should not presume to be above making arrangements for his own wood.

From the scant written sources which survive, Parris appears to have been a man of strong will who expected the deference from his people which was customarily given to respected community ministers. A good portion of the inhabitants were unwilling to give Parris, both as to his personal comfort among them and in their acknowledgment of him as their spiritual guide, either their generosity of spirit or of purse. An examination of Parris’s surviving sermon outlines, particularly those written during the last quarter of 1691, seem to include thinly veiled references to his dissatisfaction with his lot among them. He often preached on the theme of conflict between good and evil, Christ and Satan, and enemies who are both within and without the church.

Besides these ever-present conflicts within the village and between the village and the town, the inhabitants of Salem Village were part of the larger community of the Massachusetts Bay and New England. The times were full of uncertainty and apprehension. Many clergy spoke of the backsliding of the current generation of New Englanders into a less God-fearing and righteous-living society, and suggested that in answer to these sins God might allow tribulation to befall His wayward people. Indians and the French to the north were a constant threat. In early 1692 Abenaki Indians had resumed bloody warfare by viciously attacking settlements in Maine, killing or carrying off inhabitants at York and Wells and burning many houses. These attacks led Essex County people to fear that this was the beginning of another war on the scale of the King Philip’s War of the mid 1670s when many Salem Village soldiers had died and when the village had erected a watch house and fortified the meeting house. Indeed not too long before 1692 several young village men on duty elsewhere had died in Indian attacks.

The political scene in Massachusetts was also a matter of concern. In 1684 the colony had lost its self-governing charter and the Crown’s newly appointed governor, Sir Edmund Andros, arrived in 1686. It was unclear during this period if the land granted under the old charter would be considered valid by the new power. With the excuse of the “Glorious Revolution” in England, Massachusetts in 1689 revolted against Andros and set up its own commonwealth based on the old charter. Rev. Increase Mather had been sent to England as advocate for Massachusetts concerning a new charter. The success or failure of his venture was unknown and the cause of much apprehension. Thus the bleak midwinter of 1691-1692 was a period of uneasiness in the colony. Little Salem Village with its divisive social structure and scattered population faced not only consternation from without, but also a continuation of the institutional difficulties with Salem and significant internal stress over its own religious community.

Just when a strange malady first struck several children in the minister’s house and that of several of his neighbors’ homesteads is unclear. By late January and early February of 1692, a number of locals knew that something was amiss, however. Two of the youngsters in the Parris household, daughter Betty, age 9, and niece Abigail Williams, age 11, together with Ann Putnam, Jr., the daughter of staunch Parris supporter Thomas Putnam, who lived less than a mile from the parsonage, were affected. Putnam’s wife’s niece, Mary Walcott, the 17-year-old daughter of Jonathan Walcott who lived within a stone’s throw of the parsonage, was also ” . . . afflicted by they knew not what distempers.” While it would later be speculated that these adolescent girls and perhaps others were dabbling in unhealthy and sinful games of divination, attempting to find out by means of white witchcraft their future fate, what caused their fits is not clearly known. Though presumed by later writers, it is unclear if Tituba, Rev. Parris’s Indian slave, had any hand in letting the impressionable girls have their forbidden sport and encouraged or at least did not prevent their irreligious games.

An undoubtedly chagrined Parris must have seen these young girls’ actions as extremely dangerous signs. The fits they exhibited were not simply playful and instead of diminishing over time, they seemed to intensify and infect others. Rev. John Hale of Beverly, an observer of many of these early happenings, would in later years, describe the symptoms:

“These children were bitten and pinched by invisible agents their armes, necks, and backs turned this way and that way …. Sometimes they were taken dumb, their mouths stopped, their throats choaked, their limbs wracked and tormented so as might move an heart of stone, to sympathize with them, with bowels of compassion for them.”

As these torments continued, they became the talk of the village, and many saw a clear comparison of what was presently occurring in Salem Village with the reported afflictions of the Goodwin children who had been tormented by a witch in Boston in 1689. Other classic English bewitchment cases were also brought to mind.

Rather than separating the affected children as had been done with successful results in the Boston case by Rev. Cotton Mather, the village parents seem to have allowed the children to keep together. This did not quiet the situation, but rather encouraged its festering. The anxious elders, undoubtedly guided by Rev. Parris, held prayer meetings with the children present. They also held private fasts and called upon the neighborhood ministers to visit and pray over the girls at the parsonage and elsewhere.

A local physician, most probably William Griggs, was also called to offer his assistance and advice. Finding no physical malady he could identify as to the cause, he suggested that their afflictions were likely to be the result of bewitchment, an explanation that others quickly embraced as logical considering the evidence. The teenage maid living with the Griggs family also became an early sufferer of this same strange affliction.

Once it was recognized that these were no epileptic-like seizures or anything of that type and that the problem was spreading to others, many felt that firm action had to be taken. The various private and public fasts and the patient, continual praying and the waiting upon Providence was too ineffectual for some. Concerned adults began pressing the young ones to discover who or what agent was hurting them.

Some sincere but meddling neighbors dabbled in white witchcraft in an attempt to discover the cause of the afflictions. Mary Sibley directed Parris’s slaves to concoct a witch cake utilizing the children’s urine, and when the minister later learned of this abomination occurring under his roof, he severely and publicly chastised the woman, and identified this occurrence as what he perceived to be the new and dangerous plateau of allowing the Devil entry into this sad and now horrific calamity.

Finally the girls, under now unknown pressures and from unclear sources, named three tormentors. The accused were the safe kind of victims to cry out upon. One, the minister’s slave, another a destitute woman of ill repute possessing a sharp tongue, and the third a sickly woman who had avoided church attendance for over a year and whose unsavory marital past had been the occasion for much gossip, were safe choices. With the swearing out of warrants for their arrest issued on February 29, 1692, Tituba, Sarah Good and Sarah Osburn would become the first to be examined in relation to the girls’ afflictions. The events, the words and the actions that would transpire at their examination, and the testimony and evidence that would result would significantly transform this seemingly typical and local witch incident. And it would be during the critical first thirty-one days of the witchcraft outbreak that the course would be set, the confrontation joined and the community hysteria stoked, leading into the most dramatic, far reaching and deadly witch hunt in all of American history.

What were the most important causes of the 1692 Salem Witchcraft Trials? - History

Surely the Devil had come to Salem in 1692. Young girls screaming and barking like a dog? Strange dances in the woods? This was behavior hardly becoming of virtuous teenage maidens. The town doctor was called onto the scene. After a thorough examination, he concluded quite simply — the girls were bewitched. Now the task was clear. Whomever was responsible for this outrage must be brought to justice.

The ordeal originated in the home of Salem’s Reverend Samuel Parris. Parris had a slave from the Caribbean named Tituba. Several of the town’s teenage girls began to gather in the kitchen with Tituba early in 1692. As winter turned to spring the townspeople were aghast at the behaviors exhibited by Tituba’s young followers. They were believed to have danced a black magic dance in the nearby woods. Several of the girls would fall to the floor and scream hysterically. Soon this behavior began to spread across Salem. Ministers from nearby communities came to Salem to lend their sage advice. The talk turned to identifying the parties responsible for this mess.

Puritans believed that to become bewitched a witch must draw an individual under a spell. The girls could not have possibly brought this condition onto themselves. Soon they were questioned and forced to name their tormentors. Three townspeople, including Tituba, were named as witches. The famous Salem witchcraft trials began as the girls began to name more and more community members.

Evidence admitted in such trials was of five types. First, the accused might be asked to pass a test, like reciting the Lord’s Prayer. This seems simple enough. But the young girls who attended the trial were known to scream and writhe on the floor in the middle of the test. It is easy to understand why some could not pass.

Second, physical evidence was considered. Any birthmarks, warts, moles, or other blemishes were seen as possible portals through which Satan could enter a body.

Witness testimony was a third consideration. Anyone who could attribute their misfortune to the sorcery of an accused person might help get a conviction.

Fourth was spectral evidence. Puritans believed that Satan could not take the form of any unwilling person. Therefore, if anyone saw a ghost or spirit in the form of the accused, the person in question must be a witch.

Last was the confession. Confession seems foolhardy to a defendant who is certain of his or her innocence. In many cases, it was the only way out. A confessor would tearfully throw himself or herself on the mercy of the town and court and promise repentance. None of the confessors were executed. Part of repentance might of course include helping to convict others.

As 1692 passed into 1693, the hysteria began to lose steam. The governor of the colony, upon hearing that his own wife was accused of witchcraft ordered an end to the trials. However, 20 people and 2 dogs were executed for the crime of witchcraft in Salem. One person was pressed to death under a pile of stones for refusing to testify.

No one knows the truth behind what happened in Salem. Once witchcraft is ruled out, other important factors come to light. Salem had suffered greatly in recent years from Indian attacks. As the town became more populated, land became harder and harder to acquire. A smallpox epidemic had broken out at the beginning of the decade. Massachusetts was experiencing some of the worst winters in memory. The motives of the young girls themselves can be questioned. In a society where women had no power, particularly young women, is it not understandable how a few adolescent girls, drunk with unforeseen attention, allowed their imaginations to run wild? Historians make educated guesses, but the real answers lie with the ages.

A New Day

The persecution of witches in the western world was a dark time in human history. The hate, misjudgment, and fear of the unknown culminated in the death of thousands. Unfortunately, by the time people started to realize what they had done, it was too late.

Although despicable, the actions of our ancestors taught us something. They showed us who we can and should be. After centuries, we finally learned to respect each other. To celebrate our differences and coexist. This is a process and we still have a long way to go. But seeing how we have evolved makes us look to the future, hopeful of achieving great peace and understanding.

Our Salem Ghost Tours

Are you going to be visiting Salem? Join us for a spooky and fun Ghost Tour of Salem's most haunted locations - including locations from the Witch Trials!

History and Education

In January of 1692, nine-year-old Betty Parris and eleven-year-old Abigail Williams, the daughter and niece of Salem Village minister Reverend Samuel Parris, suddenly feel ill. Making strange, foreign sounds, huddling under furniture, and clutching their heads, the girls’ symptoms were alarming and astounding to their parents and neighbors. When neither prayer nor medicine succeeded in alleviating the girls’ agony, the worried parents turned to the only other explanation the children were suffering from the effects of witchcraft. As word of the illness spread throughout Salem Village, and eventually Essex County, others began to fall ill with the same alarming symptoms. The afflicted complained disembodied spirits were stabbing them, choking them, and jabbing them with pins. Soon names were cried out as the afflicted began to identify these specters. Neighbors, acquaintances, and total strangers were named in the statements and examinations that followed. Gossip and stories from decades prior were dredged up as fear continued to spread. Over the course of the year 1692, approximately 150 people across Essex County were jailed for witchcraft. Ultimately, nineteen people were hanged and one man was pressed to death after being examined by the Court of Oyer and Terminer. This was the largest witch-hunt to ever take place in America, and would be the last large-scale panic to take place in the New World.

To understand the events of the Salem witch trials, it is necessary to examine the times in which accusations of witchcraft occurred. There were the ordinary stresses of seventeenth-century life in Massachusetts Bay Colony. A strong belief in the devil, a recent smallpox epidemic and the threat of attack by warring tribes created a fertile ground for fear and suspicion. This was made worse by a growing factional conflict in Salem Village, the Village’s rivalry with nearby Salem Town, and the removal of the Massachusetts Bay Charter in 1684 which left the colony in a state of fear, confusion. To many it seemed the Puritan ideal of a “City on a Hill” was slipping away, decades of work suddenly pulled from their grasp. Many wondered if Satan’s forces had infiltrated their new land.

In June of 1692, the special Court of Oyer (to hear) and Terminer (to determine) sat in Salem to review these witchcraft cases. Presided over by Chief Justice William Stoughton, the court was made up of magistrates and jurors. The first to be tried was Bridget Bishop of Salem. Goodwife Bishop was found guilty and hanged on June 10. Thirteen women and five men from all stations of life followed her to the gallows on three successive hanging days before the court was disbanded by Governor William Phipps in October of that year. Trials resumed in January of 1693, this time with a new court, the Supreme Court of Judicature, the same court we use in this country today. This court differed from the first in that it no longer accepted spectral evidence. This evidence, never before allowed in New England courts, was based upon the notion that the accused were able to use their invisible shapes or specters to torture their victims. With this standard of evidence gone, the new court released those awaiting trial and pardoned those awaiting execution. In effect, the Salem witch trials were over.

As years passed, apologies were offered, and restitution was made to the victims’ families. One judge, Samuel Sewall, and 12 jurors, came forward to apologize for their roles in the Salem witch trials. The other magistrates never admitted there had been a miscarriage of justice, going to their graves believing they did what was best for the colony. Historians and sociologists have examined this most complex episode in our history so that we may understand the issues of that time and apply our understanding to our own society. It is significant to the parallels between the Salem witch trials and more modern examples of “witch hunting” like the McCarthy hearings of the 1950’s.

The mission of the Salem Witch Museum is to be the voice to the innocent victims of the Salem witch trials, while also bringing awareness to the root cause of witch-hunts from 1692 to the present day. By understanding this history, through audiovisual displays, guided tours, educational events, and discussion, we strive to connect this tragedy to the modern-world and highlight why history matters.


At the time, Salem Village was a small New England town populated mostly by Puritans, or religious individuals with a belief in the devil. The Puritan way of life was strict, and even small differences in behavior made people suspicious. Upon hearing about the Parris girls’ behavior, much of the Puritan community agreed that the duo had been victims of witchcraft.

When asked who had done this to them, Betty and Abigail blamed three townswomen, including Tituba, a Native American slave who worked in the Parris household. Tituba was known to have played fortune-telling games, which were strictly forbidden by the Puritans. The other two accused women, Sarah Good and Sarah Osbourne, weren’t well liked by the community either.

The Real Reasons for the Salem Witch Hunt: “Under an Evil Hand”

The Salem witch trials are one of the most infamous events of 17th century America, ultimately leading to the death of many women in Salem. But what were the events that caused the trials? Here Kaitlyn Beck explores the history of Salem, and how the quest for power, medicine, and religion all had their influences on the witch-hunt.

An image of the Salem witch trials by Frank O. Small.

In January of 1692, nine-year-old Betty Parris began to exhibit unusual behavior including loud cries and convulsions. By mid-February, her cousin Abigail began to exhibit the same symptoms and Pastor Parris decided to consult with the Dr. William Griggs, the town physician. After weeks of observation, Griggs concluded that “the evil hand is upon them”, known by the people as a diagnosis of witchcraft (Dashiell). This was the beginning of the Salem Witch Trials.

In the midst of political and cultural unrest, Dr. William Griggs’ medical diagnosis of witchcraft became the catalyst that started the Salem Witchcraft trials of 1692. Before the start of these infamous witch trials, Salem was veering away from its ‘City on a Hill’ ideals. With divided loyalties and slow retraction from the Puritan faith that the town was founded upon, prominent members of its society were concerned of what would become of their town. When young girls began to show signs of unnatural behavior that none could explain, the town was distraught. Such circumstances created a powder keg, needing only an official word to create the explosion that was the Salem Witch trials.

The 1680s in Salem

During the 1680s, Salem was going through a period of political unrest. Two families were battling for control: the Putnams and the Porters. The Putnams arrived in the early 1640s and were successful in acquiring large amounts of land. However by the late 1680s, their wealth and political influence were on the decline. In contrast, the Porters were, according to the 1680s census, wealthier and more affluent. The two families vied for control and had different plans for Salem’s future. The Putnams wanted to separate the village from the rest of Salem while the Porters wished to keep it unified. Each family had certain factions of control. For the Putnams, they had allies amongst the oldest families who knew them in their more affluent years. The Porters controlled the council and made friends with those who wished for a change in Salem’s priorities. As a result of rising tensions, many (but not all) members of Salem began to align themselves with one of these families. This was certainly the case with Dr. Griggs, who was connected to the Putnams by marriage(Hoffer 39-45). During the trials, Dr. Griggs fervently supported the “afflicted” girls, who included Ann Putnam and his own great-niece Elizabeth Hubbard (Dashiell). Another supporter of the Putnams was Pastor Samuel Parris who was at odds with the town committee, which was controlled by the Porters (Hoffer 53). With such powerful friends vying for control of both town and church, Dr. Griggs certainly felt pressure to make a diagnosis that would be beneficial to the Putnams which, by extension, would benefit him as well.

The diagnosis of witchcraft would not have been as powerful if not for the influence of medicine in colonial America. When illness arose, women were commonly in charge of caring for the sick except when the illness was long lasting or too intense for basic herbal remedies. The study of formal medical practice had its roots in Europe, in particular the University of Edinburgh (Twiss). Far from Europe and its schools, many colonial doctors were not formally trained (Mann). At best, they worked as apprentices under formally trained doctors from England (Twiss 541). In addition, colonial doctors also battled lack of sanitation laws, shortage of drugs, and outdated medical knowledge (Twiss 541). Of Dr. Griggs, not much is known about his training as a physician. He originally came from Boston and was the first doctor to practice in Salem (Robinson 117). Most likely, he had little to no training in formal medicine (Dashiell). In fact, some historians believe that Dr. Griggs combined his limited medical knowledge with folk magic. In fact, ‘folk’ magic was had its origins in England and was used in the colonies on many occasions. Shortly after Griggs made his diagnosis but before any formal accusations, a form of folk magic, termed ‘white magic’ was attempted to discover the one responsible for the girls’ illness. Titubia and her husband John Indian baked a ‘witch cake’ this was fed to the dog of a suspected witch (a witch’s familiar). If successful, this mixture of ordinary meal and victim’s urine would reveal and hurt the witch (Konig 169). When Dr. Griggs’ diagnosis was known throughout Salem, such practices went under fire as being pure witchcraft. As a result, people looked even more towards medicine and the Puritan faith to guide them.

Religion and Medicine

Colonial Medicine was not only based on pure science in fact, medicine often intertwined with religion, especially in a town founded on strict Puritanism. As a result, Reverend Parris and Dr. Griggs were two of the most powerful men in Salem (Robinson 136). When Betty first began to exhibit her unusual behavior, Parris and other ministers tried to invoke the power of prayer to heal her. When this failed to work, Parris called in the next highest power, a male physician, to make Betty better (Hoffer 62-63). When Dr. Griggs could find no physical explanations for the girls’ ailments, he put the blame on witchcraft. This was a serious accusation for at the time, English law (as of 1641) stated witchcraft was a capital offense (Krystek). Though serious, witchcraft was a common diagnosis for unexplainable illnesses it was sometimes believed to be punishment from an angry God (Dashiell). Dr. Griggs’ initial diagnosis would not be the last in fact records show Dr. Griggs repeating this diagnosis in May of 1692, he accounted witchcraft as the cause of illness for Daniel Wilkin, Elizabeth Hubbard, Anne Putnam Jr., and Mary Walcott (Robinson 184&190). Though the people of Salem knew of witchcraft, it took an official diagnosis from a doctor for others to take action.

Change in Salem

Life in Salem had always been difficult. The winters were very cold, the land was rocky and hard to farm, and the threat of disease and illness was constant (Krystek). King Phillip’s War was still fresh in the memories of the town people. They knew about the hundreds of men, women, and children killed in Native American raids. The town was kept in a constant state of fear, frightened by their close proximity to Native American settlements and at the possibilities of renewed attacks (Hoffer 55-56). As the external forces grew more threatening, the internal structure began to crumble. Salem was built on the ideas of harmony and the importance of a cooperative community. Puritanism was the glue that held this community together. The Bible was taken as a guide to life, down to the smallest details. To them, the Word of God was clarity, making a clear division of right and wrong, all in black and white terms (Erikson 47). But in the late 1600s, townspeople were drifting from the original principles of this community. The younger generations were less keen on spiritual matters, resulting in decreased church attendance and membership (Hoffer 53). Others turned their focus from a church centered life to one of worldly pursuits, delving into practices such as mercantilism and fulfilling individualistic needs and wants over those of the group (Hoffer 40). This drive towards mercantilism was propelled by one of the most prominent families in Salem: the Porters. They desired to unify the town not by a common belief but by a common market (Hoffer 45). For the other prominent, male members of the town (especially the Putnams and their supporters, including Dr. Griggs), there was a need for extreme reformation.

Witchcraft to bring Salem together?

The many who were unsatisfied with their way of life, particularly the women, were seen as a threat to their male driven society. This would become a prevalent fact when accusations began women who did not follow the traditional role were often the first to be accused (Erikson 143). The clearest example was the first three women brought to court (accused of bewitching Betty and Abigail Paris), an action immediately influenced by Dr. Griggs’ diagnosis. Each woman exemplified qualities the leaders of Salem wished to eradicate. Tituba was a woman of color who dabbled in voodoo and was considered an unsavory influence on the younger girls. Sarah Good was an older woman with a sour disposition, creating discord with her neighbors. Sarah Osbourne did not attend church and was the center of a social scandal where it was rumored that she moved in with a man before marriage (Erikson 143). Getting rid of such independent and un-conforming women was made easier by the traditions known of witchcraft, the main one being that, more often than not, witchcraft was practiced primarily by women (Karlsen 39). Once the diagnosis was made public and the young girls began naming witches, women such as these, who did not follow the traditional roles that had been abided by for decades, would be cleansed from Salem.

The diagnosis of witchcraft was the perfect opportunity to bring Salem together. The word of witchcraft quickly spread amongst the small village and people began to come together in order to accuse/bear witness to the ‘witches’ plaguing their town. The hysteria created by these trials did not create total disorder. In fact, witchcraft became so imbedded in their society during this time that it highlighted the significance of the community. For many years prior, people had lost sight of the relevance of Puritanism in an increasingly economic driven world. So when a ‘professional’ medical verdict was announced, citizens responded to the validity but looked back to their Puritan roots. It reminded the Puritans of their participation in the cosmic struggle between good and evil (Demos 309-310). Finally, restoring the community under faith brought the control and conformity back to the church and the men who controlled it.

By the time the witch trials were ended in May of 1693, 141 people had been accused, 19 had been hung as witches, and 4 had died in jail (Krystek). The backdrop for these trials was made years before the first accusations. Struggles for power in the government were reaching their peak and the people were becoming increasingly dissatisfied with their life. Worse, people were drifting away from the faith that had kept them together since its founding. Dr. Griggs’ diagnosis of witchcraft was powerful enough to start such a radical movement because of the influence of medicine that was closely intertwined with religion and, in his case, powerful friends. His diagnosis was the real push that Salem needed to begin a Witch Hunt that would shake the town at its core and leave repercussions for years to come.

What do you think caused the Salem witch trials? Let us know below.

Watch the video: 20 Times You Wished Salem Was Your Pet (July 2022).


  1. Leeland

    A very fun idea

  2. Corky

    Between us, I would ask the moderator for help.

  3. Torley

    Thanks for your hard work !!

Write a message