Salem Witchcraft Trial Hysteria of 1692
In the 1600’s rumors of witchcraft spread throughout England and even more so in New England. Though punishing someone by death for practicing witchcraft was not unheard of, it was all but common; that is, until the year 1692 in Salem, Massachusetts. From the tenth of June to the twenty-second of September, twenty men and women were killed, all by hanging except one, because they were accused and convicted of practicing witchcraft; the convictions escalated in number and frequency. The question at hand is whether or not these convictions came unwarranted and if not, why?
What caused such hysteria of witchcraft in this small city? Three years prior to the hysteria, a very admired and respected minister, Cotton Mather, told of how, “these evil spirits are all around” – “these evil spirits” being the workers of Satan who are working against the power of God. In Document C, he is quoted as a secondary source countering the theory that witchcraft was only performed by Indians. He supports his own theory by referring to the growing number of witchcraft cases that are occurring in Christian households.
Salem Witchcraft Trial Hysteria of 1692 Essay Example
He makes a general statement warning everyone to spread his word of the growth of the evil spirits and to take caution. This quote seems to plant the seed of witchcraft in everyone’s mind. Once warned, the people of Salem walk on egg shells trying to find signs of witchcraft, but also avoiding them as much as possible. Continuing with another primary source, the examination of Bridget Bishop, a young lady accused of being a witch, was recorded by the Village’s minister, Samuel Parris. Document F demonstrates how the accused was put on trial and examined with “solid” evidence.
In this examination it is noted how Bishop’s actions would affect the afflicted girls. They all accused Bishop of hurting them and bewitching Bishop’s first husband. When she would come in close proximity to the girls, they would tall into the anxious fits that were said to be a tell-tale sign of bewitchment. In another document, Document H, the anxious fits were further analyzed and described. The fits were described as “very likely genuine,” “born of… a magic that threatened to overpower them.
” It was very unlikely that these fits would be fabricated. When Bishop would gesture, the accused would have pain inflicted upon them in some way. For example, when Bishop shook her head to deny something the examiner said, the accusers were tortured and when Bishop rolled her eyes in disgust the accusers’ This examination was right before the hysteria flourished, it proves everyone’s fears about witchcraft and helps to water that witchcraft seed. Finally, the depositions of Ann Putnam Jr. and Sr.
in regards to the harassing by Rebecca Goody (Document K and Document L) are prime examples of how the witchcraft hysteria could have been taken advantage of for personal gain. Goody was rumored to have started the witchcraft and to be afflicting curses upon the Putnams. Though there was no “solid” evidence against Goody, there were plenty of accusations from the Putnams who had reason to lie and incriminate her. In some instances, and in many theories of the brisk growth of witchcraft, the fear of witchcraft was fed by those with personal vendettas against others.
The Putnams and Goodys are said to be land rivals. There had long been turmoil between the families over whose land was whose. The Putnams, being highly regarded and respected, would have never been doubted or questioned directly out of fear that there would be repercussions for those who were to confront the Putnams. The incestuous accusations circling Salem just led to its making it into the history books. So many people were accused, and possibly convicted, due to personal gain. Others were accusing every which way so the attention would be off of them and on others.
When the word spread about such a salient issue, paranoia set in and people would start to see signs of witchcraft everywhere and they would be cautious with their actions and words. There was so much insanity and chaos happening at the time and the word of the respected was so regarded and highly looked upon, no one ever questioned it. In a sense, very little could have been done to prevent it, but very little was done to start it. The word of those respected and the accusations of those who were over-analytical and paranoid seemed to be the deep, early roots of the hysteria.