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The Tragedy of the Salem Witchcraft Trials

Throughout history millions of people, eighty-percent of which were women, have been scorned, accused, arrested, tortured, put to trial and persecuted as witch's. One would think that by the time the United States was colonized these injustices on humanity would have come to an end, but that was not so. In 1692, a major tragedy occurred in America, the Salem Witch Trials.
The Salem Witch Trials weren't based as much on the Puritans and their God versus Satan and his followers as it was on human greed, the greed of one man in particular.

Many people who opposed Samuel Parris, a Salem minister, were arrested as witches (Boyer, 61). For Samuel Parris, the witch trials seemed like a convenient way for him to be rid of his enemies. One of the first people accused of witchcraft was Rebecca Nurse, "a deaf old woman whose family had for years been contending with the Puritans (i.e. Parris) in a fight for land" (Levin, xiv). Rebecca Nurse opposed Samuel Parris, and if she had been convicted of witchery she would have lost her possessions, and Parris would have gotten the land. The greed of Parris and his Church cost many people their dignity, possessions and lives.

The Salem Witchcraft incident began when two young girls, 11 year old Elizabeth Parris, daughter of Samuel Parris, and her cousin Abigail Williams began to behave oddly (Zeichner 1, 2). "They crawled under tables, uttered strange sounds, and screamed that they were being tortured" (Boyer, 61). After the fasting and prayer that had been recommended by Cotton Mather, who had treated bewitched children in this way before, Samuel Parris and other ministers failed to exorcise the demons (Levin, xiii), the "suspicion of Witchcraft soon led to the arrest of three women" (Boyer, 61); women who happened to be at odds in some way with Paris.

The three women accused of witchcraft were likely suspects. Tituba, a West Indian woman and conjurer (Levin, xiv) who had been giving palmistry lessons to the girls (Levin, xiii) and was Paris' slave, immediately confessed she, and the others, were guilty (Salem, 84). Sarah Good was a "destitute, wizened, pipe smoking hag" (Levin, xiv) who professed her innocence (Salem, 84). Sarah Osborne had been suspected of immorality and had not been attending church (Levin, xiv). She, too, claimed she was innocent (Salem, 84). Of the three women, only Tituba confessed to being a witch, However, she confessed all three were guilty.

The witchcraft trials were unfair and corrupt. Sir William Phips, the new England Governor, established a special seven person jury (Zeichner 2, 31). Seven, the one digit repeated three times (777) as a supposed counteraction to the devils '666', and the same number as the Seven Mortal Sins, might have had some God-like significance to him. "Jurors were drawn from a church membership list" (Zeichner 2, 31). This no doubt assured their religious character and that they would uphold morals. The chained defendants had no council (Zeichner 2, 31). The accused never had a chance to prove they weren't conspiring with Satan. They could only plead guilty, and be released, or innocent, and hung. "Women who confessed to witchery were saved form the death penalty; those who claimed their innocence were marched to the gallows" (Salem, 83).

Too many people were accused, let alone executed, as witches in 1692. The first trial was scheduled for June second, 1692. Bridget Bishop was convicted and sentenced to hang (Levin, xv). A brief delay followed Bridget Bishops testimony because some judges were uneasy about the validity of spectral evidence--testimony given by the witnesses about voices or apparitions perceived only by them. The trial was resumed after several leading ministers advised the court that such evidence might be used but only with 'exquisite caution' (Zeichner 1, 1). Bridget Bishop, the first to be convicted (Zeichner 2, 31), was hanged, four other 'witches' were hanged on July nineteenth, five more on August nineteenth, and eight more on September twenty-second (Levin, xv). By September twenty-second the court had tried and convicted twenty-seven persons. Nineteen people and two dogs were hung, and one man, Giles Corey, was crushed to death by stones after refusing to enter a plea of guilty or innocent to the witchcraft charge (Boyer, 61). About fifty people had confessed, eleven were in prison awaiting trials, and accusations had touched another 200 (Zeichner 1, 31). In the English colonies, between 1650 and 1710 about 40 people were executed for witchcraft (Monter, 1). Half of the executions occurred in the famous Salem Witch Trials.

Finally, in September, 1692, people started wondering if they were doing the right thing. The Witchcraft Trials of Salem Village have been described as "Americas most notorious episode of witchcraft hysteria" (Zeichner 1, 1). The Salem Witch Trials were the last witchcraft executions in America (Boyer, 61). The trials stopped after Cotton Mather delivered a sermon arguing against the mass convictions, and some clergy began to openly criticize spectral evidence. Governor Phips, after several months of hesitation (Monter, 1), freed all those who were in jail and the executions stopped (Zeichner 1, 1).

After eight months of terror, the Salem Witch Trials ended--but not until after the loss of twenty-innocent people. Samuel Parris was led by his greed, and some may feel the wrong people went to the gallows. Those who were different, who didn't conform to societies incredibly strict standards, were declared witches instead of being accepted as individuals. The trials scared people into admitting they were someone they weren't, and were terrifying examples of corruption. The twenty people (and two dogs) executed were twenty-two lives too many, and action should have been taken sooner to stop the injustices. The Salem Witch Trials were a major tragedy, and those killed are still being mourned today.

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