The Salem Witch trials started in 1692, and ended with 19 innocent people executed. By the autumn of 1693, the governing bodies in Massachusetts were on trial for allowing such a miscarriage of justice.
What started as a hyped up game of telephone, turned neighbor against neighbor. No could even say why it started, and were too afraid to go against the powers that be.
The Salem witch trials history
The Puritans came to America to practice their religious views as they saw fit. The Puritans idea of religion was wrapped tightly in the disguise of control. If you love God according to their beliefs you can go without basics needs. The Puritans saw the most basic comfort as indulgent. For example: If your shoes had holes, you should pray for inclement weather not to affect you. You were weak if you fixed the hole in your shoes, your roof wherever. If you didn’t have enough food, you should pray for your hunger to go away.
It is hard to imagine a deity like the Puritans did their God. Their God made horrible things happen to you to teach you life lessons. If your only milk cow died, it was because you missed church they would say. That makes absolutely no sense, and has no biblical merit. If you had any knowledge of scripture, you would know this not to be true. No one would stand in a pulpit of reasonable people and speak this lunacy.
There was the biggest problem of all, very few of the Puritans could even read. It was easy for those in power to say what is what, when the masses couldn’t even read the most basic books. Why would anyone go along with such a group that used fear as a God? That answer will take us back to England.
When Henry the VIII started the Church of England to marry Anne Bolin, Catholics worshipped in secret. Henry had cut all ties with Rome, had the monasteries looted, and church followers jailed. His daughter Mary came into power, reinstated the catholic church and killed thousands of protestants. The only safe religion was the religion of the powerful and in charge. It was a horrible, dark time in history. You didn’t go to church because you loved God. You went to church so you were not thrown in jail. If you were even given a hint of impropriety, you could have your home taken away. No one was to be trusted. People were very poor, not well educated at all, and afraid. The powers to be in England would pay good money if you had evidence of treason. There was very little treason, people were starving to death. The political unrest made greedy people in power greedier. The poor and uneducated citizens were forced into making false statements about their neighbors. Here do what I say, even though it’s a lie, and I will give you some food. No one trusted anyone at all.
The few religions that did practice did so behind closed doors. The few Lutherans and Catholics that were not thrown in jail, formed a rag tag faith together. This is what led to them forming the Puritans, and eventually leaving England. They tried to go to Holland and Denmark, but their cruel inhumane ways got them thrown out. Their only choice was to find a place to make their own rules, and be in power.
The Salem witch trials timeline
In the colony of Massachusetts, Salem was being ripped apart. The groups that had to get along in England, couldn’t get along here. The ministers were either too this or too that. The town of Salem Massachusetts split from this stress. Part of it became Salem Village, and Samuel Parris became pastor. Reverend Parris was known as being cold, power hungry and greedy. He wanted a larger parish, but had been thrown out of several. He owned a slave named Tituba. Tituba used folk lore from her childhood to make people obey Parris. Tituba would say right before a rain storm that God would make the sky full of silver knives. You know lightening looks like a silver bolt or sharp knife. Most folks couldn’t predict weather, let alone disobey a minister. Tituba knew that and got people to obey because they were afraid.
The Salem witch trials facts
There were two women living in Salem Village that Tituba had arguments with, Sarah Goode and Sarah Osborne. Sarah Goode was a wanderer, Sarah Osborne was a widow. For whatever reason, Tituba got Reverend Parris’ daughter and niece to throw wild fits, like tantrums. When the girls were examined by a doctor, he said the devil caused these fits. The girls would have these fits only when others were around, conveniently. These fits also occurred after the girls had been around either one of the Sarahs in question. It is now believed that the doctor was being bribed by Parris, but who knows for certain. Tituba knew as a slave she had very few options, she would do whatever Parris told her. Slaves, women and children were seen as property by the law. You could actually beat anyone of the three with an object as long as it wasn’t wider than your thumb. If you had no power, no rights under the law, what do you do? You either get powerful, or go along with the status quo.
In 1692, the colonies were still unknown lands. You had to grow every bit of food you could. Hunting and fishing were the only was to have meat. There were no roads, no stores, no ready-made shelters. Those who came over on the Mayflower lived aboard the ship as long as they could.
This happened in 1620, and progress was had to come by. Many people died due to starvation and disease. Living on a coastal region with snow and bitter winds is horrible. Can you imagine trying to keep out of the elements, growing food and building houses? That is what a colonist life was, brutally hard. If someone offered you food, or shelter for a lie, what would you do? Few of us have been threatened with starvation or death, but these people were.
The puritan faith was built out of fear and ignorance. If you had something bad happen, it was because you made God angry. Whatever misfortune came your way, it was your own doing. This was a horrible fate for those who had an illness such as epilepsy. You made God mad that is why you have seizures. Women were cursed during childbirth with pain, they taught. There is no medical basis for such ignorance. This was accepted and openly taught. There were no outsiders to challenge a belief either. If you had to travel, it was dangerous with no roads.
Any ships coming over from England brought needed supplies like food, cloth and building supplies. There were no medical books, or scholars coming over with the truth. Salem Village was looked down on because of Reverend Parris and his narrow views. No one wanted to visit, and there was no way to leave.
If you have little options to survive, what do you do? Everything bad was your fault. If you were cold, you were weak in character. If you had sewn a button onto a coat, you were vain. There was not only a hold of knowledge, but a very strict dress code. Sarah Osborne was believed to be a widow. Under the laws of Reverend Parris and puritan society, she was to wear all black and keep her head covered. Accounts state she did not go along with the law of dress. It was then rumored she killed her husband. Over half of those who sailed on the Mayflower died in the first year. That did not matter to those in power. Whatever Sarah had done, it was her fault. The fact that she had done nothing was mute.
The Salem witch trials victims
With fear being used as a weapon, residents of Salem Village became paranoid. They were subject to church services lasting several hours, attendance was mandatory. There was no one to complain too, nowhere to run. Salem Village was its own worst enemy. The outside world disliked its leader, Reverend Parris vehemently. No one dared challenge him or his laws.
If you had been marked by Tituba for witchcraft, you were soon thrown in jail. Some were marked from birth though. Several of the people accused of black magic had very distinct birthmarks. A birthmark is nothing more than a group of cells grown together. The bible verse speaking of the mark of the beast was used as fuel. Babies and elderly people could all have birthmarks for any reason. If it could not be explained, you were said to be marked by a curse.
As more settlers came to the new world, the villagers of Salem Village kept close knit. Reverend Parris would often preach of outside influences that would turn you from God. He knew there was no basis for this hysteria. It kept him in power, and fed his greed. Anyone new coming into Salem Village would see the charges and trials for what they were, a farce. This lead Parris to ban all travel, no goods could be brought into Salem Village. For people that were already starving, near death with illness; this only fueled the desperation. There were rewards offered for any suspicious behavior reported to the authorities. Neighbors began to turn in neighbors, no one was safe.
The spring of 1692 brought small pox to all of Massachusetts. For the city of Salem, Salem Village and towns nearby, this was a death sentence. What little supplies people had were soon gone, small pox was ravaging. John Proctor and his third wife Elizabeth were outspoken against this mock charges. They had a successful farm, and also owned a tavern. In the summer of 1692, Elizabeth was pregnant with their third child. She also worked in the tavern which went against all of Reverend Parris rules. Rumors began circling that John Proctor had made a deal with the devil. Why else was his farm so successful? John was a smart man who had much more schooling than anyone around. He knew much about agriculture and farming. The truth was he worked hard at farming. When he was seen planting under a full moon, he was openly accused of witchcraft. He was thrown in jail. Elizabeth was pregnant, running the tavern, farming and caring for their children. Parris and his followers knew of the Proctor’s wealth. Elizabeth was soon thrown into jail also. Reverend Parris knew word would get out that a pregnant woman had been jailed, so he called for a magistrate. A Salem witch trial hearing began swiftly, and on August 19, 1692 John Proctor was hanged for witchcraft. John and Elizabeth had several children who were still living on their farm. Even though the Proctor’s sons could have taken over their father’s duties, all their property was seized. Proctor’s sons legally owned it, but a conviction of witchcraft made all ownership null and void. The Proctor children were all thrown out and shunned. Elizabeth was pregnant, in jail awaiting trial. All of their material goods were sold at a trumped up auction. The Proctor children had no father, a mother in jail and nothing to live on. This outrage started word to begin traveling to the powers that be.
By this time the trials had escalated. If suspected of witchcraft, you may have been dunked. You were tied to a chair slung from a rope or large branch over a body of water. You were immersed three times, each time longer than the first. If you floated, you were a witch. If you remained in the chair, you were innocent. The insane thing is, anyone who broke through the ropes would float. Innocent or not, you were dead. Reverend Parris taught that it was better to go to heaven as innocent. That is a horrible thing to justify your own crimes.
By this time, 20 people had been hung, drowned, or died in jail before trial. Governor William Phipps heard of the Proctor families unjust trial and conviction. In May of 1693, he ordered all released from jails and all convictions overturned. Reverend Parris was removed from his position, but never held accountable. Elizabeth Proctor gave birth in jail to her son, John. She had nothing to go home to. She and her children lobbied the Massachusetts powers to return their property. Most of all, she wanted her husband John’s name cleared. This finally happened in 1711, formally.
The Salem Witch Trials of 1692 were false charges, lies and rumors held up as truth. Without any basis, lives were ruined forever. Just because we don’t understand something different does not make it wrong, it makes it different. We are all not the same, we all have strengths and talents. To punish another for their difference is nothing short of bullying. Ask about what you do not know, learn all that you can, and never stop asking why. The Salem Witch Trials are a good reminder of our fragile existence and how much we need each other.