The Salem witch hunt of 1692 is one of the best known events in American history. It was a time where many feared for their life and became paranoid of everyone around them. People began to accuse each other without any authentic evidence and others agreed with the accusations as they did not want to be associated nor accused with being a witch.
Since technology was not advance during these times, the evidence offered against the accused were in most cases, the verbal word of individuals who testified of their experiences in where they either witnessed an act of witchcraft or were a victim of it. In each case there were several people who testified against the accused, and although each slightly vary, for the most part, the same experiences occur. Many claim to be grievously tormented by “pinching and pricking”(p.73), some experienced more violent acts in where they were “choking to death”(p.78) or “pressing me on my stomach till the blood came out of my mouth”(p.97). There are many who claimed the accused would urged them to write in a book which was seen as signing your soul away to the Devil. Another form of evidence used was when girls would become hysterical and have strange fits when the accused were brought into the room. The girls claimed that they would see invisible animals or evil spirits talking to the “witch”.
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Salem Town was a small community which meant that the “everyday life was intensely personal”(p.15) as everyone seem to know and be connected to one another in some way. They depended on each other both physically and mentally, so the uprising of these witch hunts negatively affected many and their relationships with their neighbors. The conflicts between neighbors were usually due to revenge for refusing a request, an exchange of goods that went awry, or someone allegedly damaging property. In the case of Sarah Good, one neighbor claimed that “Gadge’s cows died in a sudden, terrible, and strange unusual manner”(p.78) without a natural cause after Good was not allowed to enter the house of the Gadge’s, which resulted into Good “muttering and scolding extremely.. If she would not let her in she should give her something.”(p.78) Another neighbor who offered Good and her husband housing out of charity claimed that they “began to lose cattle”(p.80) after she forced Sarah and her husband to leave due to Good being “turbulent a spirit, spiteful, and so maliciously bent.”(p.80) Sarah Goods unfortunate past and situation along with her “reputation for holding a grudge, and for muttering curses against those who crossed her”(p.69) did not help her case during the trials, as there was no one to defend her.
During a formal trial, the accused were not represented by lawyers but were allowed to ask questions to the accusers and witnesses. Since most of them were not educated enough nor emotionally prepared to defend themselves, being able to ask questions did not help much. The accused were often faced with easily faked evidence as “the afflicted girls were almost certainly influenced by the attitudes and fears of the adults with who they lived”(p.23). It was found that if the accused complied and were calm during the trial, they would be questioned less and would be treated slightly better. Historically, a confession as the best way to gain a conviction and to avoid an execution as you would be in repentance for your sins. It’s ironic how those who confessed were not executed while those who refused to confessed were all executed.
The Salem witch trials of 1692 was time of great despair for a small religious town. For a community that was once closely knit, many friends and family were turned against one another. Out of the nearly one hundred people accused of practicing witchcraft, nineteen were persecuted and killed. It is unfortunate to think of the many innocent lives taken away as one of the witnesses during these trials, Ann Putnam, later admitted in a public confession that she had “good reason to believe they were innocent persons; and that it was a great delusion of Satan that deceived me”(p.178) These events will remain controversial as it made an impact on American society and history, however, as times and technology has now advanced greatly, it is very unlikely that an event like this will reoccur.
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