The Salem Witch Trials

The Witchcraft Hysteria of 1692

The events which led to the witch trials actually occurred in what is now the town of Danvers, then a parish of Salem Town, known as Salem Village. Launching the hysteria was the bizarre, seemingly inexplicable behavior of two young girls; the daughter, Betty, and the niece, Abigail Williams, of the Salem Village minister, Reverend Samuel Parris.

In February, 1692, three accused women were brought to Salem Town and examined by Magistrates Jonathan Corwin and John Hathorne. Corwin's home, the Witch House, still stands at the corner of North and Essex Streets in Salem, providing guided tours and tales of the first witchcraft trials. John Hathorne, an ancestor of author Nathaniel Hawthorne, is buried in the Charter Street Old Burying Point.

By the time the hysteria had spent itself, 24 people had died. Nineteen were hung on Gallows Hill in Salem Town, but some died in prison. Giles Corey pleaded not guilty to charges of witchcraft and refused trial. He was pressed to death over a two-day period during which his examiners placed stone weights on his body according to an antiquated English law allowing such interrogation.

It is remarkable that the original 552 documents recording court testimony during the witchcraft trials have been preserved and are still stored by the Peabody Essex Museum.

Eerie memorabilia associated with the trials, such as the "Witch Pins" used in the examination of witches and a small bottle supposed to contain the finger bones of the victim George Jacobs can be found there as well.

A more provoking commemoration, the Salem Witch Trials Tercentenary Memorial dedicated in 1992, can be found adjacent to the Charter Street Old Burying Point.

Witches Today

Of course, Salem has become known as Witch City! The Salem Witch Museum and the Witch Dungeon take you back in history to 1692, yet, present-day popularization of the witchcraft hysteria doesn't reveal anything about modern Witches living in Salem today.

In 1995, the City of Salem counts a large number of Witches in its population. Perhaps the best-known member of this group is Laurie Cabot, who was given the complimentary title of "The Official Witch of Salem, Mass." by Gov. Michael Dukakis.

You can visit the Witches' League for Public Awareness site to learn about this group founded by Laurie Cabot in 1986 as a "non-profit educational network dedicated to correcting misinformation about Witches".

More information about the League's newsletter and activities can be obtained by e-mail to the Witches' League for Public Awareness, or writing to P.O. Box 8736, Salem, MA 01971-8736.

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