There are very few people who have not heard of Salem and the infamous witch trials that were held there in 1692. These trials cost twenty people their lives, they were executed, while another two hundred were imprisoned, and five of those people died as well. What started it all anyway, was it just the Puritans dealing with a witch kick hysteria? Did they use less desirable, or perhaps too desirable of people as scapegoats for their own failings? To be fair and not be guilty of the same crimes as the Puritans were in 1692, we will look at their beliefs in an effort to understand.
Salem Village was torn by disputes between neighbors over whether or not Samuel Parris should be the first ordained minister. At the same time, at the east end of Maine, there was a terrible massacre by the Abenaki Indians. They killed many of the citizens of York and who they didn’t kill they took captive.
Neighbors also feuded over land because families were growing and their economy was based on farming. Bad weather could come and wipe out an entire year’s crop. It became harder and harder to support a family, which forced farmers to push their lands into the wilderness where they would come across the people that lived there. With the Puritans dedication to spreading their religious beliefs, this added even more tension to an already boiling environment.
The losses seemed to overwhelm them, crops, livestock and children combined with earthquakes and bad weather that were all attributed to being the wrath of their God. It is a Puritan belief that one’s soul is predestined at birth as to whether it will go to heaven or hell. They were in constant search of signs to let them know where they were going to end up. The world of God and Angels and the Devil was as real to them as the woods that surrounded their farms. Combined with the belief that women were to be subservient to men and that women were more likely to work for the Devil than a man would, women were seen naturally as lustful beings. Restrictions heaped upon the females, the adventures of the males and the inability for secrecy in such a small town was a feeding ground.
But it was two little girls that would bring to life the witch trials. Betty Paris who was nine, and Abigail Williams who was eleven were victim to fits that were beyond natural disease. It is reported that these girls screamed and threw things, made strange sounds, crawled under furniture and put themselves in odd positions. During sermons, the girls would cover their ears in fear. Dr. William Griggs, who did their examination, could find no signs of ailment. Then others in the village began to exhibit the same symptoms.
They believed that this hysteria was caused by a slave called Tituba who entertained the little girls. It was Tituba, Sarah Osborne and Sarah Good that were the first three to be brought to trial. All of whom were undesirable people, one because of ethnicity and the other two because they were old and unpleasant. Once accused, the possessions of that person were taken. It is enough to make one wonder if the Salem Witch Trials were because the people were unhappy, and unwilling to except fate, they needed someone to blame and pay for what they felt they were owed.