Salem Witch Trials Ergot Poisoning

In the year of 1692 there was a series of hearings and indictments for the people who were accused of practicing witchcraft in colonial Massachusetts. It all began with a group of teenage girls meeting in the home of Samuel Parris to listen to the voodoo-like tails and tricks from the familyr’s slave, Tituba. After multiple visits with Tituba, there were reports of the girls behaving strangely.

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They were lapsing into trances, having hallucinations, claiming to feel as if their skin was crawling, trembling and babbling with no restraint, and were said to be severely ill. The towns people began making accusations of witchcraft and pointing fingers at who they think may have bewitched the young girls. This lead to nearly one hundred and fifty people people being imprisoned, and nineteen men and women being executed by hanging. Though some historians believe that the girls were actually afflicted, the time of illness could have been a coincidence.

Over the course of many years, historians have been gathering information about what really started The Salem Witch Trials of 1692. After substantial amounts of research, they began making different assumptions and theories for the root of this hysteria. Though many of the theories are concluded with adequate evidence and reasoning, there is still no set reason as to what initiated the Salem Witch Trials. Some of these theories include: teenage boredom, the Putnam family rivalries over power, the cold weather theory, and some even believe that the the group of teenage girls were actually afflicted by the witches. Though many of these theories appear to be evidential, the poisoning from ergot seems to have been the most accurate.

The autumn of 1691 was noted as a bad year for harvesting in the New England community. They previously had a cold winter, then a wet planting season, followed with a hot, stormy summer. This lead to failed crops and the people looking to freshly harvested rye grain to make their bread. Claviceps purpurea is a fungi that infects rye and other grains and causes an illness known as Ergotism, or ergot poisoning. It is stated that favorable growing conditions for ergot are cold preceding winters and humid, wet springs. Foregoing, the previous weather conditions of the village had been the same ones suitable for the growing of ergot.

Not only were the weather conditions of Massachusetts a key factor for this theory, but the side effects of this poisoning include: hallucinations, prickling sensations, and mania. As seen in the above paragraphs, the teenage girls experienced some of the same symptoms as being, so called, bewitched. In addition, three out of the group of girls lived on the Putnam family farm where it is said that ergot infected rye was thriving, along with most of the other girls living near supply routes for rye.

In conclusion, ergot poisoning seems to be the most likely reason to be the cause of the Salem Witch Trials in 1692. The fungi was thriving and growing off of the villages weather conditions, the girls experienced many of the same symptoms that were noted to be side effects of ergot poisoning, the girls lived near, or on, farms that were growing infected rye, and the list goes on. After doing research and gathering information there have been substantial amounts of evidence to back up the ?Ergot Poisoning theory.

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