Salem witchcraft trials
Witches of Salem Massachusetts
Salem witchcraft trials were trials that resulted from the largest witch hunt in American history. The trials were held in 1692 in Salem, a town in the Massachusetts Bay Colony. Nineteen people, both men and women, were convicted and hanged as witches. Another man was pressed to death with large stones for refusing to enter a plea of innocent or guilty to the witchcraft charge. About 150 other people were imprisoned on the witchcraft charges. The Salem trials resulted in the last witchcraft executions in America.
The Massachusetts Bay Colony was an English colony, and many people there had brought the belief in witchcraft from England. Under English law, witchcraft was punishable by death. Sixteen people had been hanged as witches in New England before 1692.
The Salem trials occurred as a result of a witch hunt that began nearby in the small farming community of Salem Village (now Danvers, Massachusetts). Early in 1692, several village girls began to behave strangely. They crawled under tables, uttered weird sounds, and screamed that they were being tortured. Suspicions of witchcraft soon led to the arrest of three women. More arrests followed. They included prominent people, such as a former village minister and the wife of the wealthiest merchant in the town of Salem.
Some historians believe a dispute over a local minister, Samuel Parris, led to the witch hunt. Parris received much of his support from the poorer farmers of Salem Village. To them, Parris and the village church represented stability and traditional values. The poorer farmers saw Salem, with its increasingly important merchants, as a threat to their way of life. Parris and his supporters helped lead the witch hunt. Many villagers who opposed Parris or had links with Salem were arrested as witches.
The witchcraft scare lasted about a year. The colony's leading ministers helped stop it. In 1693, the people still in jail on witchcraft charges were freed. In 1711, the colony's legislature made payments to the families of the witch-hunt victims.
Contributor: Paul Boyer, Ph.D., Prof. of History, Univ. of Wisconsin- Madison.
SOURCE: IBM 1999 WORLD BOOK
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