David Marks Staff asked 4 years ago

What were the Salem witch trials

I’d like to know the reason, setting, location, timeline, outcome, and casualties of the witch trials. Can you also help me understand how the characteristics of the region of Colonial America were impacted, and what were the American ideals or philosophies about this subject. Thanks.

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1 Answers
David Marks Staff answered 4 years ago

The Puritans were losing their influence in England in the early 1600s. Their hostility to Protestantism was not appreciated by King Charles I. Many of them then migrated to the New World. They established some of the earliest colonies in the Massachusetts Bay, which would be the setting for the Salem trials.
In the new home, life was harsh, and the land was alien and often hostile. There was an impending fear of, and hostility towards alien religious and metaphysical views. There was a special mistrust towards the natives, and other races. There were political tensions between the natives, and the English settlers who were encroaching on their land, which sometimes resulted in open war. The most relevant one in during this time period was King William’s War, in 1690.
In Salem, where some of the most important and well recorded trials took place, there were also internal disputes that constantly disrupted the community. In February of 1692, Betty Parris and Abigail Williams were taken by strong epileptic fits that made them scream, crawl under furniture, contort. This was explained through the Puritan fear of the supernatural. The girls accused Tituba, Sarah Osbourne and Sarah Good of performing witchcraft on them.
Interestingly, all these women seem to be social rejects, living lives that do not conform to Puritan standards. Good was a begger, defying the Puritan rule of self-sufficiency. She had also married thrice, and was described as aloof and resentful. Osbourne was rarely seen in church, remarried (an indentured labourer, this time), and was said to have plans on her son’s inheritance from her previous marriage.
Tituba is usually described as part native American (some sources trace African lineage), and was a storyteller, narrating strange tales picked up from the Caribbean to children. Moreover, she seems to been superstitious, claiming to know spells to protect herself (and not to harm, as she emphasised in her trial). She did admit, however, to making a spell-cake, but it was intended to help Parris. She is a particularly interesting case, showing how alien metaphysical views were misinterpreted. This, along with all the conflicts, even minor ones (family feuds are also suspected to be part of the reason), and social attitudes like the above mentioned came together to create a sense of mass hysteria that culminated in the execution (all except one by hanging) of twenty people, fourteen of them women.
Another noteworthy point is the nature of the evidence used. It was usually sealed with a cause-effect connection made between diseases and injuries suffered by the village people, and some secret action by the accused. Sometimes the touch test was employed: the accused were blindfolded, their hands placed on the victim, if the victim was healed of the fit, they were formally condemned.