Witch Trials

How was the practice of witchcraft viewed in 17th century New England?
Under British law, the basis for Massachusetts bay Colony legal structure in the 17th century, those who were accused of consorting with the devil were considered felons, having committed a crime against their government. The punishment for such a crime was hanging.

What was the difference between the “afflicted” and the “accused”?
The “afflicted” were those supposedly “possessed” and “tormented”, it was they who accused or “cried out” the names of those who were supposedly possessing them.

What caused the girls’ behavior?
This is a complex question. There are many theories to explain the “fits” of the young girls who accused so many of practicing witchcraft. Among the theories are adolescent hysteria and ergot poisoning; however, there is no definite answer.

What role did Tituba play in the Salem witch trials?
Tituba, an Arawak or Carib Indian from Barbados, was Reverend Samuel Paris’ slave. Her documented role in the witch trials includes arrest and confession of witchcraft on March 1, 1692. Her influence on the afflicted girls’ behavior is unclear.

Were only women accused of practicing witchcraft?
Actually, men were accused as well. Five men were convicted and hanged, and one man, Giles Corey, was pressed to death for refusing to cooperate with the court.

Who was executed during the Salem witch trails?
With the exception of Giles Corey, who was pressed to death, the following were hanged:

  • Bridget Bishop
  • George Burroughs
  • Martha Carrier
  • Martha Corey
  • Mary Easty
  • Sarah Good
  • Elizabeth Howe
  • Georg Jacobs, Sr.
  • Susannah Martin
  • Rebecca Nurse
  • Alice Parker
  • Mary Parker
  • John Proctor
  • Ann Pudeator
  • Wilmott Redd
  • Margaret Scott
  • Samuel Wardwell
  • Sarah Wildes
  • John Willard

Where are the victims buried?
This question remains unanswered. Because of the nature of their alleged crime, victims were not allowed to be buried in consecrated ground. Tradition has it that families came to Gallows Hill to claim their relatives and buried their bodies privately. A memorial honoring the victims of the witch trails was built in Salem in 1992.

How long did the witch trials era last?
The witch trials era lasted less than a year. The first arrests were made on March 1, 1692 and the final hanging day was September 22, 1962. The Court of Oyer and Terminer was dissolved in October of 1692.

What was the aftermath of the trials?
Jurors and magistrates apologized; restitution was made to the victims’ families and a Day of Fasting and Remembrance was instituted. Little is known of the lives of the afflicted girls. Tituba is believed to have been sold and taken out of the Salem Village area. The 300th anniversary of the trials served as an opportunity to bring a sense of reconciliation and appreciation of the lessons of that time.

What are contemporary perceptions of witchcraft?
It is widely understood that witchcraft is a pantheistic religion that includes reverence for nature, belief in the rights of others and pride in one’s own spirituality. Practitioners of witchcraft focus on the good and positive in life and in the spirit and entirely reject any connection with the devil. Their beliefs go back to ancient times, long before the advent of Christianity; therefore no ties exist between them and the Christian embodiment of evil. Witchcraft has been confused in the popular mind with pointy black hats, green aces and broomsticks. This is a misrepresentation that witches are anxious to dispel.

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