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In 1692, witchcraft led to the death of 20 people allegedly in the Salem Witch Trials. Many were brought to death without any evidence against them on the basis of baseless testimony of others there if the victim said no! but if by any chance they said yes, they were spared in the Salem Witch Trials. But how the trail really began and what caused it?

Supposed scene from the courtroom
Witchcraft at Salem Village Wikimedia

In 1641 The Puritan Lega Code was created and established a hierarchy of crimes starting with the frost the list goes as Idolotary, Witchcraft, Blasphemy, Murder, Poisoning, and Bestiality.

Girls acting strange

In January 1962, when 9-year-old Elizabeth Parris and 11-year-old Abigail Williams began exhibiting strange behavior. Elizabeth and Abigail were the daughter and niece of Reverend Samuel Parris respectively. The girls were behaving quite weirdly, they started making odd sounds and screaming, twisting their bodies and started throwing objects.

Girls reported that an invisible pain was biting and pinching them and shortly after other girls in Salem began acting similarly. The only doctor in the Salem village took no time and termed their behavior as supernatural. The only doctor in the whole Salem village could read but was unable to write.

This 19th-century representation of "Tituba and the Children" by Alfred Fredericks, originally appeared in A Popular History of the United States, Vol. 2, by William Cullen Bryant (1878)
This 19th-century representation of “Tituba and the Children” by Alfred Fredericks, originally appeared in A Popular History of the United States, Vol. 2, by William Cullen Bryant (1878)

A few days later on February 9, 1962, the girls accused three women of causing the pain they felt earlier. Jonathan Corwin and John Hathorne, magistrate of the village pressured the girl’s into naming the people afflicting them. Three accuse women were named Sarah Good, Sarah Osborne, and Tituba.

Sarah Good and Sarah Osborne professed their innocence but died as a result of the trials. Tituba was a slave of Reverend Parris, and strangely admitted to afflicting the girls saying that “The Devil came to me and bid me serve him.” She also had visions of Eerie animals including red cats, yellow birds, and black dogs.

wikimedia
Wikimedia

Many believed that the testimony from Tituba was rather forced, as it was the longest in the entire Salem witch trials. She added that other witches are also working to harm the Puritans in Salem. The judge put her in jail but Tituba said them to blind her as it was a punishment from the devil himself because she chooses to speak about it so candidly. Tituba was released after serving a year and 3 months in jail.

Spirits flying in the courtroom

The infamous special court of Oyer and Terminer where the spirits were seen flying around to get justice to the victims was seen was established by Governer William Phips on May 27, 1692. As time went on more and more girls were afflicted with witchcraft and someone warned that in the court a witch would attack someone and then the victim would start to act strangely.

Tituba’s testimony regarding the devil (here, a 1692 transcript) riveted the courtroom: “I must serve him six years and he would give me many fine things.” (North Wind Picture Archives)
Tituba’s testimony regarding the devil (here, a 1692 transcript) riveted the courtroom: “I must serve him six years and he would give me many fine things.” (North Wind Picture Archives)

Bridget Bishop, the town gossip was determined guilty of the witchcraft and the old lady became the first person to be executed in the Salem Witch Trials. From July to September 1962, a total of 18 people were accused and executed which included four men and rest women using witchcraft.

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Among four accused man there was a Harvard Educated minister, George Burroughs, who was accused by other alleged witches and being called their mastermind. The claims made in court against Burroughs will take you back to the Harry Potter universe. They claimed that Burroughs was biting them during their testimony.

Bite marks were matched and allegedly matched up with Burroughs, the only possible way to match the bite marks would have been to bite their hands or something that can reflect the bitemarks and then matched.

After the bitemark was matched the idea of him biting people in the courtroom and not being seen by anyone seemed stupid but the people in the courtroom had the answer to anything. Many people in the room, not just the accusers claim to see spirits in the room. A girl claimed that the spirits were faces of Burroughs’s dead wife colored as red as blood and was thirsting for justice to be served to their husband.

Salem Witch trial courtroom
witch in a courtroom Wikimedia

The chief justice suggested that George Burroughs was given invisibility cloak by the devil himself. Before being executed, Burroughs made an emotional speech where he recited the Lord’s prayer without any mistakes. Witches were not supposed to do that, and this act of Burroughs planted the seeds of doubt in the crowd gathered.

Increase Mather, the Puritan minister implored the court not to consider spectral evidence in the trials. and in October Governor Phips wife was brought in for interrogation, after interrogation with Phip’s wife, Mather released some of the people jailed for witchcraft halted all further arrest and replaced the court of a warrior and terminated with the Superior court of Judicature which was not permitted to consider testimonies of spectral evidence.

The deposition of Abigail Williams v. George Jacobs, Sr.

Overall 20 people were executed in the Salem witch trials, 14 out of the 20 were women and the rest were men. Though numbers vary as further thirteen people perished in jail on charges of witchcraft. Strangely all the accusers were women between 9 and 20-year-old, which is unusual due to the fact that most witch trials saw the majority of the man doing accusations.

A witch takes the stand during the Salem Witch trials
A witch takes the stand during the Salem Witch trials Wikimedia

None of the persons executed ever admitted to witchcraft and none of them were given a proper burial and were buried in unmarked graved somewhere in Salem. Some believe that the graves are buried on gallows hill. Gallows hills have the reputation of being extremely haunted.

Nobody knows why the Salem Witch trial occurred but there are multiple theories, let’s look at what could have gone through their mind while executing 20 people allegedly.

One of them was crushed to death, for the specific death penalty the accusers piled up stones on the chest of an 81-year-old farmer until he could no longer breathe. Giles Corey, who refused to enter a plea when he came to court.

Giles Corey was pressed to death during the Salem witch trials in the 1690s
Giles Corey was pressed to death during the Salem witch trials in the 1690s

Theory 1—Economic Problem

The first theory came from the Havard Ph.D. Student Emily Oster points to economic prospectives, she suggests that the Little Ice Age that lasted between 1500 and 1800 and intensified between 1680 and 1730 caused economic problems that caused the population to blame one another for their hardship.

Theory 2— Fungus

Behavioral scientist Linnda Caporael believes that the afflicted girl could have been exposed to a kind of fungus called Ergot which caused convulsive Ergotism, which includes Hallucinations, muscle contractions, vertigo, and crawling and tingling sensations.

Ergot on Rye
Ergot on Rye University of Hawaii

Ergot could be commonly found in Rye the air and the grains lengthy storage which increased the likelihood of an infestation.

Theory 3—To gain more power

The final theory is indeed strong and makes a valid point. This theory comes from one of the people in the community at the time of the trials. Salem merchant named Robert Califf accused Reverend Parris of exploiting the trials for social-political gain in the community.

Robert proposed that Reverend Paris forced his slave Tituba to admit to witchcraft so he could use the resulting paranoia to gain much more power in Salem village.

In the end, no one knows what caused the witch trials but what is known for certain are fates of the executed victims and all the people that suffered. In 1957, the state of Massachusetts apologized for the Salem witch trials. In 1992, 300 years after the Salem witch trials the witch trials Memorial in Salem was dedicated by Elie Wiesel.

Loved reading about the spirits in the courtroom, read more from the horror stories, and find interesting insights on Sallie House.

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