During the spring of 1692, a small village in Massachusetts forever changed the course of history. It was during this time when many young girls came forward, accusing a number of the local residents of witchcraft. The girls claimed that these people were being possessed by the devil, and were causing them to act in very strange ways. These accusations found locals sentenced to prison, and or dead by ways of public execution. The Salem Witch Trials were a tragic event in history that should have never happened. These events occurred due to the puritans hierarchical belief system. Which made the accused more likely to be tried as a witch because the majority of them were women. Women during this period did not have the same rights as men, and were seen as objects rather than actual people. The atrocities committed during the Salem Witch Trials were made possible due to politics, puritans religion, hierarchical disorder, blackmail, and teen angst.
The Salem Witch Trials was caused by a plethora of different reasons, one specific reason being politics; Or, maybe witchcraft accusations were more grounded in politics than in social tensions, gender bias, or religious belief. It was no coincidence that the outbreak in Salem occurred just as the effects of England’s Glorious Revolution of 1688 were filtering into the colonies (Cawthon 1). Politics were a major contributing factor during these times, as accusations were used to gain political power. Or in some cases to regain diminishing political power. Before the Salem Witch Trials it was known that Reverend Samuel Parris power amongst the community was diminishing. So Reverend Parris used the mass hysteria of the witch trials gain back power, as he forced his slave Tituba to admit to being a witch. A man who is on the verge of losing his high ranking status would do anything to stay in power. Such as making up a story about a woman who he doesn’t care much for. Playing on the Puritans belief in witches, knowing it would erupt in panic and chaos. His daughter was even one of the first accusers, so it isn’t too far fetched to believe that he told his daughter to accuse Tituba, and start the Salem Witch Trials. The puritan religion shaped the argument for the Salem witch trials by their hierarchical beliefs. Accusing women as witches was the perfect ploy for a epidemic of mass hysteria as women had little to no rights. Making the accusations of these women being witches all the more believable due to the puritans beliefs. Some may even argue that the puritans were the main cause of the Salem witch trials due to their outlandish beliefs and core values.
The Puritans were one of the leading causes to the Salem witch trials; To the Puritans though, belief in witchcraft was not based on superstition; it was based on simple fact. All the turmoil surrounding them, to the Puritan mind, was caused by the devil, in partnership with his earthly servants: witches. To them it was no surprise that the devil would test them by placing witches in their communities (House 1). The Puritan Legal Code was created in 1641, 51 years before the Salem Witch Trials had begun. The code essentially listed crimes based its severity, and witchcraft was a more severe crime then murder. So with this state of mind it is understandable why so many lost their lives during the trials. When the young girls behavior started, and there was no medical explanation for their actions, the Puritans blamed it on witchcraft.
As the girls were examined by the villages only doctor, the wounds inflicted and the psychological stress had an undetermined cause. It is also worth noting that the doctor was speculated to be able to read but unable to write. So the examination of the girls was poor in its conclusion to say the least. After the unclear causes, it essentially opened up a flood gate of accusations during this period in time. With the puritans mindset focused solely on witchcraft being the only logical explanation, it did not take long for the spread of mass hysteria to begin. The Salem witch trials were practically inevitable in hindsight. The puritan belief in witchcraft being a more heinous crime than murder, even though witchcraft required no legitimate proof of whether the defendant was guilty or not. While murder, compared to witchcraft was more cut and dry. Not to mention above all crimes was idolatry, essentially banning any other form of religion or thinking other than the puritan belief. This village of Salem was bound to suffer some form of tragedy, in this case it was the Salem witch trials.
The puritans hierarchical view played an integral role in the formation of the Salem Witch Trials; Puritans had a hierarchical view of the world with women being subservient to men, especially in marriage. Many of the accused in Salem (71 of 124 witches whose inheritance patterns can be documented, or 57 percent) came from families with no male heirs. A woman with money and property represented an abnormality, and therefore, a threat to the established order (Scotti 1). These views are the exact reason why something like the salem witch trials occurred. The Puritan jealousy of wealthier women during this period was an ideal reason to peg many women as witches. Even though some men perished during the witch trials, the majority of the deaths/ imprisonments were women. The Puritans couldn’t stand the idea that a woman could be more wealthy than that of a male Puritan. So they pressured young girls into accusing the women that obtained these riches from their families. That way everything would go back to the way it’s supposed to be, with men ruling over women. The Salem witch trials was a form of social control propagated by the rich and prestigious white male to essentially keep women in their place. The oppression that women faced during this period of time and throughout history is unfathomable. This idea of sexism in the late 1600r’s led to the unwarranted death of so many innocent women.
Another reason that these horrific crimes occurred was blackmail; The Salem witch hunt began when several young girls were discovered telling fortunes with a crystal ball. To avoid punishment, the girls claimed that they had been tormented by witches. The attempt by authorities to locate the witches responsible for the girls’ suffering quickly accelerated (Queen 1). Blackmail coaxed the girls into these accusations, and it didn’t take long for officials to abuse this lie for personal gain. In February of 1692, two young girls by the names of Elizabeth Parris and Abigail Williams accused three different women of witchcraft. The accused women were Tituba who was a slave of Reverend Parris, Sarah Good, and Sarah Osborne. Sarah Good and Sarah Osborne claimed to be innocent, but were ultimately found guilty. These women ended up dying as a result of the guilty verdict. As for Tituba, she admitted to being a witch and was quoted as saying during the trials; The devil came to me and bid me serve him (Tituba 1).
Tituba’s confession is key because she confessed to a crime she most likely did not commit. These women were accused only after they were pressured into doing so by John Hathorne and Jonathan Corwin. These two men were both civil officers or judges during the time of the Salem Witch Trials. So not only were the girls lying about the torment, they were pressured into accusing women who were likely suggested by a male puritan of a higher stature. Incidents such as this plagued this poor Salem village, causing the imprisonment and or death of many women.
Teen angst was another vital aspect of the Salem Witch Trials; Still, a widening ring of girls, mostly between 12 and 19 years of age, became afflicted with the symptoms of bewitchment. Accusations and arrests in Salem surged throughout the spring (Conforti 1).
The lack of activities for teenagers during this period of time was key in the surging accusations. One of the reasons why these accusations should have been further reviewed and closer looked at was that all the accusations were from children. It is baffling to believe that a town full of adults, some of who were very well educated, would blindly believed every single accusation made by these girls. George Burroughs was one of the few men who were accused of witchcraft, he was a graduate of Harvard. This graduate was accused of being the so called leader of the witches, commanding the other accused to hurt the children of Salem. Burroughs was publicly executed shortly after the accusation in court. When Burroughs was being publicly executed he recited the lord’s prayer without any mistakes. Witches were not supposed to be able to do that which shed doubt amongst the crowd that day in Salem. The evidence against Burroughs was undoubtedly insufficient as the stories shared in the courtroom that dreadful day grew more and more obscure. The story of the Salem Witch Trials is arguably one of the saddest displays of human intelligence throughout history.
In 1692, Salem Massachusetts faced one of the most unnecessary tragedies in human history, the Salem Witch Trials. The trials claimed many victims as the majority of them were women, although a few men, such as George Burroughs, perished as well. The influx of accusations all stemmed from the initial two girls who came forward first, Abigail Williams and Elizabeth Parris. These two girls accused Tituba, Sarah Good, and Sarah Osborne of witchcraft, Tituba confessed, while Sarah Good and Osborne denied all accusations. This would be the start to the horrific events that are the Salem Witch Trials. . The horrors executed throughout the Salem Witch Trials were achieved because of politics, puritans religion, hierarchical disorder, blackmail, and teen angst.
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