One of the most controversial, infamous, historical events to occur on American soil was the Salem Witch Trials that lasted from 1692-1693. Taking place in a Puritan settlement, also known as Salem Village, Massachusetts, the spark of the Trials ignited in January, 1692 and the hysteria of witches did not conclude until May, 1693. Through the course of the Trials, over two hundred people were accused of witchcraft during the Salem Witch Trials.
However, of those two hundred, between one hundred forty and one hundred fifty people were arrested during the witch hunt. Alongside, twenty four people had died: nineteen were hanged, one was pressed to death, and four died of other causes while in prison. Due to the aftermaths the Salem Witch Trials have caused, there has been controversy on whether these trials were either valid or inexcusable. In the defense of Puritans, who were presumably religious, went by the word of God. They did not believe in the separation of church and state. Despite the Puritans strict religious beliefs, The Salem Witch Trials were unjustifiable due to lack of government regulation, negligible evidence to prosecute one of being a witch, and the bias of societyr’s sexist view on women.
The Salem Witch Trials were unjust due to lack of government regulation. In that time period, there was no established Government able to properly run the Salem Witch Trials.
At the beginning of the Salem witch craze, the Massachusetts colony was without a charter, a governor, or a legally recognized government. If these heinous executions were to happen today, America would go into chaos; however, America today has a proper Government, that prevents such actions to pursue. The lack of a legitimate government and the suspension of courts until the arrival of a new governor meant that the witch scare could not immediately be resolved. This allowed a period of time whereby there was a negotiation of folklore and theological beliefs within the public sphere. The Puritans took advantage of not being governed by permitting their religious beliefs to be their tool in resolving the witch craze, which ironically made it worse due to costing several innocent lives. In this environment of political instability, the accusations and arrests of witches took place in a vacuum lacking a legal framework. Without the guidance and justification of law, the magistrates found the necessary validation for their actions in the word of God. The Puritans found that if there is no law permitted, it was appropriate by all means to cause a quarrel among the village. The law did not then use the principle of innocent until proven guilty if you made it to trial, the law presumed guilt. If the colony imprisoned you, you had to pay for your stay. The Trials were prosecuted poorly and were disorganized due to improper jurisdiction, and lack thereof regulation. The trials were lazily processed, giving the defendant a slim chance of being proven not guilty.
Due to inconclusive evidence and poor reasoning, the Trials lead to heinous deaths of several innocent lives. In the Courts of which the Salem Witch Trials were held – The Court of Oyer and the Court of Terminer, the three main types of evidence used against the defendant were: confession, the testimony of two eyewitnesses of the acts performed in witchcraft, and spectral evidence. How confessions worked in the Courts was that one had to testify and confess that they were a witch involved in witchcraft – and even named other witches.
Although confessing to something that seemed awfully illicit, those who confessed were pardoned by the courts, on the condition towards the Puritans belief that them and the other witches they named were to obtain punishment from God. Spectral evidence involves claims by the victims that they had seen and been attacked (pinched, bitten, contorted) by spectres of the accused, whose forms Satan allegedly had assumed to work his evil. Claims and accusations were thrown everywhere, and based on the fear of witches, many were assumed to be true. It was believed that they employed demons to accomplish magical deeds, that they changed from human to animal form or from one human form to another, that animals acted as their familiar spirits, and that they rode through the air at night to secret meetings and orgies. These fallacies leave many in worry, disgust, and in determination to banish all witches.
The hunts were efforts to identify witches rather than pursuits of individuals who were already thought to be witches. A person could easily label one as a witch and put that person in danger or in a wrongful place, which is not ethical if the person is innocent. Mrs. Howe, one of many of the accused, was taken into custody in May, 1692. She was charged with sundry acts of witchcraft upon the bodies of Mary Walcott and Abigail Williams, and others of Salem Village. She was examined the next Wednesday at the house of Nathaniel Ingersoll of that place. She pleaded not guilty, denied all knowledge of the matter and testified that she had never heard of the girls, Mary and Abigail, till their names were read in the warrant. But in court they fell down, they cried out, they were pinched and pricked, and they accused Mrs. Howe. She was remanded to prison to await the action of the Jury of Inquest. She remained powerless in the Courts, regardless of examination. The dramatic cries of others were enough to send her to prison. The Salem Witch Trials divided the community. Neighbor testified against neighbor. Children against parents. Husband against wife. Children died in prisons. Families were destroyed. Churches removed from their congregations some of the persons accused of witchcraft. The irony of the Salem Witch Trials was that it was put in place to eliminate evil stemmed from witchcraft – only to result in disaster and problematic family drama. Luckily, spectral evidence was removed from the Courts in solution of the destruction of Salem, and a new Court was put into place. The Court of Judicature put a halt on the witch craze and took over the court cases. From then on out, most cases were unable to be proven guilty with plausible reason. Spectral evidence is what spiraled the Salem Witch Trials to be much more than it needed to be.
Because of the inferiority of women, the Salem Witch Trials were filled with bias with the reasoning of women being vulnerable towards the Devil. During this time period, women werent necessarily viewed as equals to men. It was young women’s discontent with their work, with their economic circumstances, and with their marriage prospects, the writings show, that led the Devil and his witches to think that they in particular could be tempted with wealth, material possessions, husbands, and relief from daily chores. Women were believed to be easily seduced by the Devil because of their supposedly vulnerable character. The Antichrist, although despised and feared by the Puritans, was capable of power. Not only did Puritans fear the Antichrist, but also women in power. Driven by fear, women were accused of being witches in result of performing male tasks. The majority of the accused and executed were women.
In the time the Salem Witch Trials took place, the results of it may have been perceived as justifiable at first.
However, the Trials were quickly revoked from the hysteria it caused amongst Salem Village. The Salem Witch Trials could have taken a different turn in history if Government and Jurisdiction were regulated by law rather than religion. Families, instead, turned their backs on one another, accusation after accusation, striving themselves away from the true meaning of Puritanism. From the deaths of innocent lives to the wrongful imprisonment of witches, The Salem Witch Trials has gone down to being one of the most infamous events in history, and labeled and unjustifiable due to little to no legitimate government, ludicrous sounding evidence to prove one guilty of being a witch, and societal bias on the accused women.
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