Salem Witch Trials- Mini History Refresher

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Salem, Massachusetts girls
Cry Innocent Salem Bridget Bishop

“I am innocent, I know nothing of it.  I have done no witchcraft.  I am as innocent as the child unborn.”

– Bridget Bishop, Hanged June 10th, 1692

In 1692, the Witch Hysteria came to Salem, Massachusetts, leading over 200 to be accused & jailed, leaving 25 innocent people, dead in the wake. Young girls started the claims of being afflicted by witches & their spirits, then some boys & grown men & women quickly joined in. Men, women & children, alike, were accused with reckless abandon and deadly consequences. The youngest, little Dorothy, was accused & jailed at just 4 years old, along with her pregnant mother, Sarah Good. She remained in the dungeon-like jail, even after her mother was hanged & others in the jail around her died. There were at least 8 kids under 12 accused of witchcraft, 2 teen boys were tortured under questioning. By the end of just a little over a year, 19 people were hanged, 1 crushed to death, and 5 more innocents, young & old, died in the horrible conditions of the jail dungeons. The smallest, an infant born to her jailed mother, an accused ‘witch’ (Sarah Good- also little Dorothy’s mom, above). The baby died in jail, shortly after birth, her mother hanged just after. Even animals weren’t exempt from the Witch Hunts and 2 dogs were shot & killed as ‘witches’, as well.  There were so many jailed that they had to be imprisoned among neighboring towns to hold them all.  
The ‘convicted’ were hung, as opposed to burning as they had done throughout Europe because in the New England colonies, English law characterized witchcraft as a felony punishable by hanging.  In Europe, witchcraft was considered heresy against the church, punishable by burning at the stake or hanging.  During the European Witch Hunts in the 1500s through 1660, up to 80,000 victims were executed as ‘witches’, so Salem was not totally out of sync with the times.  American witch accusations, trials & sometimes executions weren’t limited to Salem, including nearby towns, such as Boston, and in other states- Maine, New York, New Jersey, Maryland, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, Tennessee & Virginia.  People are being accused & murdered as ‘witches’ in other parts of the world, still today.  By the 1700s, educated people in the colonies grew to doubt the existence of witches, but pockets of accusations, trials & sometimes executions persisted.  In the US, people were accused late into the 1700s, one in 1878, more than a century after the American Revolution.    
Salem was made up of two separate parts in 1692, Salem town & Salem village.  Salem village, where the witch hysteria, accusations & afflictions began, is known today as Danvers, Massachusetts.  The village was glad to change their name in 1752 to shed the association and to distance their beloved town from the shame & tragedy of the past.  After consuming Salem village, the Witch Hysteria quickly spread to Salem town- the Salem that is known today. The Puritans fled England from religious persecution, only to find themselves in the clutches of many more dangers. The threat of the ‘Indian wars’ was near & ever-present, there were disease outbreaks, wolves and wilderness abound, an uncertain future & uncertain laws for their unchartered colony. The challenges were many, the threats were broad, fear & nervous tension crackled under the surface and it didn’t take much for it to ignite.  There were no shortage of threats & dangers in the New World, yet the scariest may have been when a finger points to you and someone cries, ‘Witch!’  Just because. No one was safe, not a small child, not the elderly, not the pregnant, not the men, not the wealthy, not the mentally challenged, not a minister, not the church members, devout, God loving people.  Not the governor’s wife. Not anyone.   
Any arguments you gave to prove your innocence were twisted & used to prove your guilt.  The fact that you had a birthmark, a freckle, a mole, a scar, that you’d had a relative or animal die, that your neighbor did, someone around you got sick or you did, how you recited the Lord’s prayer- either too well or not well enough, that you had muttered irritation or spoke angry words to someone, if you tried to use logic to calm the madness, all were used as proof of your devilish lies & witchcraft.  Entire families were sometimes arrested, parents & kids.  Relatives turned on one another, children turned on parents & grandparents to save their lives or avoid speculation.  New faces in the crowd, gawkers from other towns were accused.  Former residents from years prior were hunted down in other states.  It was a frenzy.  Once you drew attention, just popped into an accuser’s head, you were in a game that you could not win.  The Salem Witch Trials were the devil himself and he had come to Salem.     




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Salem Witch Trials- Mini History Refresher