The Salem witch trials and the subsequent executions that followed it has been linked to a culmination of several factors which include family feuds, church politics, lack of proper understanding of human biology and juvenile delinquency.
Salem is a Village in the Massachusetts Bay Colony (currently Danvers, Massachusetts), USA. The witch trials which it is popularly associated with occurred from June 1692–May 1693. Here are some of the things that happened –
1) How It Started
After Samuel Parris, a merchant was made the pastor of the village church, he settled at the place with his wife, children and two slaves. It wasn’t long before his children started exhibiting some strange behaviors which defied all medical help available to him at the time. The children “screamed, made odd sounds, threw things, contorted their bodies, and complained of biting and pinching sensations.”
When the local doctor couldn’t describe or ascertain what was wrong with them medically, he regarded it as a supernatural condition.
According to records, it is noted that a neighbor suggested they bake a “witch cake” and give the children in order to force out the supernatural thing out of them. The solution which was done by Tituba – one of the slaves, didn’t work and angered Parris.
2) The Accusations
Outraged by the blasphemous act, Parris mandated his children to reveal their tormentor and they reportedly accused Tituba as the one. Previously, she used to entertain them with stories influenced by voodoo tales. They also mentioned two other members of the community who seldom went to church among their tormentors.
When an inquiry was conducted by magistrates who were sent down to the village, Tituba was badgered into confessing that she made a deal with the devil and sealed a contract with him. She also mentioned other alleged witches in the village, including the ones already stated by the children. Expectedly, this led to more hunting to unveil these other witches.
3) More Fits
Within the same period, more fits like that of the minister’s children were recorded. Among them were Putnam’s children, a very influential family in the village. However, it is noted that most of the people accused of being witches by their children were mostly individuals who are not their friends in the community – perceived enemies.
4) Trials, Convictions and Hangings.
Sir William Phips, the governor of Massachusetts Bay Colony convened a court with seven judges after the informal inquiry and subsequent imprisonment of those accused. The trial saw about nineteen (19) persons who have been accused of witchcraft convicted and hanged. However, for those who confessed to being witches, they were spared the fury of the court and left for God to judge due to the Puritans belief at the time.
5) More Accusations
The witchcraft accusations also spread to other surrounding communities. At a point, the Governor’s wife was also accused of being a witch, forcing him to intervene and stop the court he previously convened. In their place, a Superior Court of record was established and use of spectral evidence was abolished in the trial of the alleged witches. This meant that only direct evidence will be admissible in the Court.
Out of the fifty-six (56) persons indicted afterwards, only three were convicted. The Governor pardoned them, including all those who were in custody. It is reported that at least five persons died while in custody.