Overview of the Salem Witchcraft Trials of 1692

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The Salem Witchcraft Trials took place in Salem, Massachusettsin 1692. Throughout the time of these trials 19 men and women were condemned to death while still others were sent to jail. Many people have said that this event was caused by mass hysteria while others state that there were political motives behind them.

Why Were They Held

The Salem Witchcraft Trials began in February 1692. At this time several adults in Salem Village accused three women of being witches. These women included:

  • Tituba: A servant in Reverend Samuel Parris’ house
  • Sarah Good
  • Sarah Osborne

The accusers claimed these women caused several children in the village to become ill. Therefore, these women were examined and put in jail in Boston. While this may have been the end of it all, a “witch hunt fever” broke out and lasted for an entire year.

While the first women to be accused were of low standing within the community, the next two women to be accused (Rebecca Nurse and Martha Corey) were well respected and of high social class because their husbands were gainfully employed. The group of accusers was also growing at this time. Eventually, in April and May, there were a lot of accusations and the first person (Bridget Bishop) was hung on June 10, 1692. This only served to draw more attention to these “trials.”

By July there were several people waiting for their trials, several of whom were eventually put to death as well. One of them was Giles Corey who was pressed to death when he refused to confess of being involved with witchcraft. It was also around this time that Increase Mather found that a lot of those who previously confessed to being witches now wished to recant. This raised questions about how legitimate a lot of the previous confessions and convictions actually were.

Effects on Society

Governor Phips put a stop to the Salem Witchcraft Trials in May 1693. Anyone who was accused of witchcraft was pardoned and those who were still in jail simply had to pay for the food that they ate while there. Unfortunately, a lot of these folks lost everything that they had ever owned and the community had been torn apart. It is also very likely that the 19 people who were killed throughout these trials were innocent.

Ever since this time, historians have debated the cause and effect of this historical event. There are several theories as to what actually caused the trials. Some of these theories have included:

  • Rye bread that was contaminated with ergot (a disease in plants that is caused by the ergot fungus)
  • A plea for attention from the young women who were involved
  • A calculated political move on the part of Samuel Parris and the Putnams, both of whom played a major role in these trials
  • The Puritans were attempting to hunt down and destroy anything that was different from them

Who was Put to Death?

During the Salem Witchcraft Trials the following people were found guilty and executed:

  • Bridget Bishop
  • Rebecca (Towne) Nurse
  • Sarah (Solart) Good
  • Elizabeth (Jackson) Howe
  • Sarah (Averill) Wildes
  • Susannah (North) Martin
  • George Burroughs
  • Martha (Allen) Carrier
  • George Jacobs, Sr.
  • John Proctor
  • John Willard
  • Martha Corey
  • Mary (Towne) Eastey
  • Alice Parker
  • Mary (Ayer) Parker
  • Ann Pudeator
  • Margaret (Stevenson) Scott
  • Wilmot Redd
  • Samuel Wardwell Sr.
  • Brett Vickerman

There were also three other people who died during this time. The first was Giles Corey who refused to enter a plea and was pressed to death. Then two others (Sarah Warren Osborne and Roger Toothaker) were in custody when they died.

Why The Salem Witchcraft Trials Are Important

These trials offer us a view into the numerous social distresses and injustices that have occurred throughout history. This is why numerous plays and books have been written about them throughout history. One such example is “The Crucible” by Arthur Miller.