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Salem witch trials
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
The Salem witch trials were a series of hearings and prosecutions of people accused of witchcraft in colonial Massachusetts between February 1692 and May 1693. More than two hundred people were accused. Thirty were found guilty, nineteen of whom were executed by hanging (fourteen women and five men).
One other man, Giles Corey, was pressed to death for refusing to plead, and at least five people died in jail.
Arrests were made in numerous towns beyond Salem and Salem Village (known today as Danvers), notably Andover and Topsfield. The grand juries and trials for this capital crime were conducted by a Court of Oyer and Terminer in 1692 and by a Superior Court of Judicature in 1693, both held in Salem Town, where the hangings also took place. It was the deadliest witch hunt in the history of colonial North America. Only fourteen other women and two men had been executed in Massachusetts and Connecticut during the 17th century.
The first three accused witches were brought before the magistrates Jonathan Corwin and John Hathorne and questioned, even as their accusers appeared in the courtroom in a grand display of spasms, contortions, screaming and writhing. Though Good and Osborn denied their guilt, Tituba confessed. Likely seeking to save herself from certain conviction by acting as an informer, she claimed there were other witches acting alongside her in service of the devil against the Puritans. As hysteria spread through the community and beyond into the rest of Massachusetts, a number of others were accused, including Martha Corey and Rebecca Nurse–both regarded as upstanding members of church and community–and the four-year-old daughter of Sarah Good.
The episode is one of Colonial America's most notorious cases of mass hysteria. It has been used in political rhetoric and popular literature as a vivid cautionary tale about the dangers of isolationism, religious extremism, false accusations, and lapses in due process.
It was not unique, but a Colonial American example of the much broader phenomenon of witch trials in the early modern period, which took place also in Europe. Many historians consider the lasting effects of the trials to have been highly influential in subsequent United States history. According to historian George Lincoln Burr, "the Salem witchcraft was the rock on which the theocracy shattered."
At the 300th anniversary events in 1992 to commemorate the victims of the trials, a park was dedicated in Salem and a memorial in Danvers. In November 2001, an act passed by the Massachusetts legislature exonerated five people, while another one, passed in 1957, had previously exonerated six other victims. As of 2004, there was still talk about exonerating all the victims, though some think that happened in the 19th century as the Massachusetts colonial legislature was asked to reverse the attainders of "George Burroughs and others". In January 2016, the University of Virginia announced its Gallows Hill Project team had determined the execution site in Salem, where the 19 "witches" had been hanged. The city dedicated the Proctor's Ledge Memorial to the victims there in 2017.