History of the Salem Witch Trials

2650 words (11 pages) Essay in History

18/05/20 History Reference this

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The Salem Witch trials is an event in American history that has become well known. It is a historic event that is typically reference a lot in popular culture. In most history classes however, it is not really taught. It is a brief history lesson, with little detail given about the event. Researching this brief episode of American history has produced many books and articles explaining the panic that swept over the Salem Village in 1692. The hysteria that swept over the small village continues to fascinate researchers till this very day. The focus of many of the books and articles are to explain why this phenomenon occurred.

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There are many aspects of our modern culture that we do not know the history of. Such as witches and witchcraft. In today’s popular culture witchcraft and witches are made to seem cool. Many movies, T.V. shows, and books have main characters that are witches and very popular. Although it is popular in today’s culture, back in 1692 it was seen completely different. During the Salem Witch trials if people were accused of performing witchcraft or of being actual witches it led to those people being hanged. It was not seen as cool or fun, but it was something very serious and connected to the Devil. People today actually pay witches or people to do witchcraft on other people.  

During the Salem Witch trials in 1692 religion, specifically the Puritan religion, played a major rule in the accusations. Majority of the people who were accused were women, even though there were many men in the village. Most of the women who were accused were those that did not fit typical roles of women. Such as an Afro-Caribbean women, and women who were not members of the local church. The fact that back then people were very religious and they didn’t believe that no one had so much power besides God they felt that witches were a threat. Their beliefs were not going to change and had no other choice but to hang the witches. If people saw something out of the ordinary they will automatically believe that a witch did it or something related to the devil. Not only women practice witchcraft but as well men, . During that period in Salem the local courts found guilty 20 people, 14 women and 6 men of doing witchcraft and were later hanged.

Men who practiced witchcraft were actually not as punished as much as women, it was actually rare where you would see a guy being punished, now its weird if you see a guy doing witchcraft because it mostly involves women. During the 1600s Indians were threatening to invade english settlements or the neighbors who use witchcraft to harm their enemies. Witchcraft was a big part of the 1692 it was becoming popular in the world the number of witches it increased. There’s been some things that have not changed throughout time, example for them to figure out if the food that a person gave them to it had a spell then they  gave it to a dog and till this day unfortunately people still do that.

Women were accused of doing witchcraft more than men because of “old beliefs” since they were so religious they saw women as weak and  not being able to resist witchcraft. They thought since women were only born to be in the kitchen then women had nothing else to do that to try witchcraft. When people would act different or something bad happen they knew it wasn’t God because God does good things not bad so they knew someone from the village was a witch and they immediately had to kill her or him. Like I said before if you were not seen to go to church or be involved in church they would think you were one of the witches when now its completely different either you go or not doesn’t mean you do witchcraft.

Luckily the event did not last for too long eventually the panic calmed down and it mostly affected small villages.. All articles or books regarding the events of the Salem witch trials focused on different odd things that happened in the village. Some books focused on the actual events that took place in 1962. However others focus on the different side of the history and try to answer different questions. Some books look at the gender side of the history. They try to explain why women were more accused and convicted more than men. Other articles and books look at the economic side of the history, and others look at the religious side and how the Puritan religion influence the and created a bigger panic.

The crazy part of the salem witchcraft is that, even though the Salem witch trials only lasted a couple of months it was not simple. Even though is a bit tricky understanding the panic, the historians have tried to make it easy to understand and have focused on the accused and the accusers. The accusations made against villagers went further than the supernatural. The author of  “Satan’s War Against the Covenant in Salem Village” Benjamin C. Ray, said the location  of the village did have something to do with the event. He explained the events and looked over something and  there were things that were common between those that were accused.[1] There were many villagers that did not like Samuel Parris before the witch crisis. The people who were accused during the Salem witch crisis lived close together, and they did not go to church [2] The people who were accused of witchcraft  lived super close to each other and  were “outsiders”[3] Although the fear of witchcraft was present and believing it to not be a joke, people not being part of the church were quickly accused for their presence not being their.

Looking at the documents of those who were accused and the people being the accusers can give us a clue of what were Puritan values. The beliefs they held were not only condemning of witchcraft or the devil, but they basically believed that nothing was a coincidence and everything was controlled by God. Rather than paying attention to evidence, they went with their first idea of the devil controlling people. In present time, looking over the documents available it actually tells a more complete story than personal stories or diaries written during the time. looking over Ray’s article, it is clear that being part of the deal it motivated the people to accuse the people who were seen as outsiders and then later on those who were not part of the church or even if they didn’t attend church. [4]

Those who were part of the covenant, their accusations were taken more serious than others. According to Ray 65% of the accusers belonged to the covenant.it’s amazing how seventy-six percent were loyal accusers belonged to the church and were supporters of Parris.[5] Examining unbelievable evidence the details that happened during the act of all the witchcraft and to a certain point actually gives us an answer of why it happened. We can conclude even with little doubt, looking at the evidence that there were certain scale that the accused fit, and when they began to go away from that, questions kept coming, of the things that were getting accused of.

people that did not attend church were in the highest percentage of the accused. The evidence collected shows that besides non-church members, women were actually the most being accused of doing witchcraft. According to Carol Karlsen women were the most accused. Combining anecdotal evidence with statistics it gives us information of why more women were accused.[6] Not only during the Salem witch trials but for centuries, women were seen as more likely to be more susceptible to be influence by demonic influences. These old beliefs were brought over from the European colonies when settlers immigrated to the New World.[7] Karlsen examines different times of hysteria outbreak during the colonial times. In each and every chart women are accused more than men, and prosecuted more often than men.[8] During the Salem outbreak, the total number of women accused was 141 contrary to the number of men with only 44 of them accused.[9] The women who were accused 52 of them were tried, compared to only seven men of the 44 accused. The gap between the women and men who were executed gross smaller with 14 women executed and 5 men executed. During the Salem witch trials, women were five times more likely to be convicted of witchcraft than men.[10]

Women faced greater persecution than males because of old beliefs and religious views. It was believed that women were weak and unable to resist demonic temptations.[11] The idea of witches came to represent and be associated with women who did not represent the ideal womanhood in the Puritan society.[12] Women who showed discontent with the rules of the society was seen as being discontent with God.[13] Signs of discontent women participating in petition to courts manifested itself to witch accusations.

Although the most often characteristic of an accused witch is her gender, other characteristics came into play. The number of women accused in a certain agree group was similar during the colonial times of New England. According to the data women who were in their 40s were more likely targeted than younger women, and women in their 50s or older.[14] Karlsen argues that through this data we can infer what the Puritan society saw as “old”. Despite that women in their 40s were more susceptible to accusations, women through all ages were accused from the years 1620-1725.[15] As revealed by the data 3 females under the age of 10 during these years were accused all the way up to one woman in her 80s.[16] Karlsen states that this is another indicator of Puritan’s view on women. Women who were forty and over were not as productive as the younger women. They were past the age of childbearing and were less likely to reproduce. Women’s role in society during the colonial times was limited to motherhood and when women were past the age they were seen as unnecessary to the Puritan society.[17]

Marital status and economic factors also similar factors of the women who were accused during colonial times. Although marital status played a more significantly less important role than age or economic factors, the amount of married women who were prosecuted and executed

was significant. Contrary to popular belief that single women were more prone to be accused is not completely accurate, as Kepler states. Some husbands did protect their wives against witch accusations but it hardly prevented them from being tried, convicted or executed.[18]

 Economic status was also factor of the women who were accused of witchcraft. Kepler presents the stories of individual women with different economic backgrounds, what they all had in common however was a male in power of their financial holdings. Women who were accused as Kepler states “daughters of parents who had no sons (or whose sons had died), women in marriages which brought forth only daughters (or in which the sons had died), or women in marriages with no children at all.” [19] What they all had in common was the potential of women having authority over the household’s financial holdings. We can infer that the Puritan society did not want women holding such reasonability.

 Another perspective that is given according to the data collected and analyzed by Paul Boyer and Stephen Nissenbaum is that the crisis could have been those who were wealthy and those who were not. [20] This conflict can be traced back to those who identified close to the prosperous Salem Town and those who identified more closely with the Salem Village.[21] Those who were accused of witchcraft were those who were seen more closely with the Salem Town. There were many factions inside of Salem which led to tensions before the Salem witch trials.[22]

 Drawing from the examples provided by all three materials the importance of the dynamics of Salem Village played a central role in identifying and accusing those of witchcraft. Those who were accused were not spontaneously chosen. Studying the history of the witch crisis how it evolved and how it played out during the following months provide evidence that backs the author’s thesis. Relying on numbers, rather than words written by those present at the time of the witchcraft, provide a different picture of the events and an explanation of why the event occurred. 

Bibliography

  1. 1.Boyer, Paul, and Stephen Nissenbaum. Salem Possessed: The Social Origins of Witchcraft, Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1974
  2. Karlsen, Carol F.The Devil in the Shape of a Woman: Witchcraft in Colonial New England. New York: Norton, 1998
  3. Ray, Benjamin C. “Satan’s War Against the Covenant in Salem Village, 1692,” The New England Quarterly (2007): 69-95.

[1] Benjamin C. Ray, “Satan’s War Against the Covenant in Salem Village, 1692,” The New England Quarterly (2007): 92

[2] Ibid., 92

[3] Ibid., 92

[4] Ibid., 89

[5] Ibid., 89

[6] Carol F. Karlsen, The Devil in the Shape of a Woman: Witchcraft in Colonial New England (New York: Norton, 1998) 14 did

[7] Ibid., 16 did

[8] Ibid., 46-50 did

[9] Ibid., 51 did

[10] Ibid., 51 did

[11] Ibid., 118 did

[12] Ibid., 119 did

[13] Ibid., 128 did

[14] Ibid., 64 did

[15] Ibid., 64 did

[16] Ibid., 64 did

[17] Ibid., 71 did

[18] Ibid., 74 did

[19] Ibid., 101

[20] Paul Boyer and Stephen Nissenbaum, Salem Possessed: The Social Origins of Witchcraft (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1974) 81

[21] Ibid., 93

[22] Ibid., 181

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