February 1692 in a small township in Massachusetts events began that would change the life of 200 and end the life of 19. The witch trials of Salem were not the first, witch persecution has taken place for hundreds of years going back to the 1300r’s in Europe and continued until the last known execution for witchcraft taking place in Switzerland in 1782. Salem Town was a poor farming community of some 500 persons known as Salem Village. The village itself had a noticeable social divide that was worked by the rivalry between its two leading families. The well-heeled Porters, who had strong ties with Salem Townr’s wealthy merchants, and Putnamr’s who sought greater cohesiveness for the community and were the standard-bearers for the less-prosperous farm families. Squabbles over property were commonplace, and litigiousness was rampant. In this time it was encouraged to sue each other and a way to curb the ongoing violence.
In 1689 Pastor Samuel Parris took his post at the villager’s Congregational church. Parris was assigned this post due to the influence of the Putnams. Parris, whose largely theological studies at Harvard College had been halted before he could graduate, was in the process of changing careers from business to the ministry. He brought his wife, three children, a niece, and two slavesJohn Indian, a man, and Tituba, a woman. Parris divided the congregation due to his radical and theological preachings as well as his constant demands for greater compensation. Salem Village was one of the most contentious in the Massachusetts Bay Colony, and previous ministers such as George Burroughs had been hounded out of the pulpit by acrimony atid the refusal of the congregation to pay “rates” to support ministers they did not want (Starkey 1963, 5). The hiring of Parris was acrimonious. In a process that took most of 1689, Parris demanded “unheard of things” such as “clear and pertnanent title” to the parsonage and its grounds and a salary of 66, with 22 paid in provision (Starkey 1963, 5-8). However, the congregation allowed use of the parsonage during occupancy only, and denied Parris common courtesies such as complimentary firewood provision during winter. His refusal later to ordain deacons and his promotion of public penances for trivial matters suggested that Parris felt animosity over this earlier treatment (Mixon)
In January 1962 Betty Parris and Abigale Williams Began to act strangely. They screamed, made odd sounds, threw things, contorted their bodies, and complained of biting and pinching sensations. We now know that there could have been any causes for these actions, the most common suspect it Ergots. Ergotism is caused by the fungus Claviceps purpurea, which affects rye, wheat and other cereal grasses. When first infected, the flowering head of a grain will spew out sweet, yellow-colored mucus, called honey dew, which contains fungal spores that can spread the disease. Eventually, the fungus invades the developing kernels of grain, taking them over with a network of filaments that turn the grains into purplish-black sclerotia. Sclerotia can be mistaken for large, discolored grains of rye. Within them are potent chemicals: ergot alkaloids, including lysergic acid (from which LSD is made) and ergotamine (now used to treat migraine headaches).
The alkaloids affect the central nervous system and cause the contraction of smooth muscle ” the muscles that make up the walls of veins and arteries, as well as the internal organs. Toxicologists now know that eating ergot-contaminated food can lead to a convulsive disorder characterized by violent muscle spasms, vomiting, delusions, hallucinations, crawling sensations on the skin, and a host of other symptoms ” all of which, Linnda Caporael noted, are present in the records of the Salem witchcraft trials. Ergot thrives in warm, damp, rainy springs and summers. When Caporael examined the diaries of Salem residents, she found that those exact conditions had been present in 1691. Nearly all of the accusers lived in the western section of Salem village, a region of swampy meadows that would have been prime breeding ground for the fungus. At that time, rye was the staple grain of Salem. The rye crop consumed in the winter of 1691-1692 ” when the first unusual symptoms began to be reported ” could easily have been contaminated by large quantities of ergot. The summer of 1692, however, was dry, which could explain the abrupt end of the bewitchments. These and other clues built up into a circumstantial case against ergot that Caporael found impossible to ignore. (Leela) These actions lead many people in the small town of Salem to suspect witch craft.
The nature of the Willams and Parris would lead to devastating effect on the little town. Without the advances of todays medicine, witch craft was the more reasonable explanation. And with politics playing in the back ground it seemed like a perfect cover to get your enemies out of the picture. When pressured by Parris to identify their tormentor, Betty and Abigail claimed that Tituba and two other members of the community that did not attend church, Sarah Good, a beggar, and Sarah Osborn, an elderly bed-ridden woman who was scorned for her relationship with an indentured servant. Tituba came before the authorities in Salem Village on March 1, 1692, to answer to witchcraft charges. The first two suspects denied all knowledge of sorcery. When Tituba met her interrogators that Tuesday morning, she stood before a packed, nervous meetinghouse. It was the one in which she had prayed for the previous three years. She had already been deposed in prison. The local authorities seemed to understand before she opened her mouth that she had a confession to offer. No other suspect would claim such attention; multiple reporters sat poised to take down Tituba’s words. And someone — presumably hard-edged, 51-year-old John Hathorne, the Salem town justice who handled the bulk of the early depositions — made the decision to interrogate her last.( SCHIFF) Tituba began with a denial, the court reporters of the time barely bothered to document. Hathorne had asked the first suspects who they had hurt the girls. The question was ask to Tituba but with a different spin. “The devil came to me,” she revealed, “and bid me serve him.” Tituba being a slave, could not afford to sound a defiant note. And it was easier for her to admit she served a powerful man than it might would have been for her fellow accused. Tituba though that since she was a slave her confusion would carry no weight, but she was very wrong.
Titubar’s false confusion only led to more mayhem. When the village heard the confusion the automatically assumed there were more witches amongst them. Many of the accused were only accused to save the life of the accuser. But why did they perpetuate the lie, surly if they all had spoke up and told they truth someone would have listened right? Well it depended on who you were and who you knew, for example lets look at Elizabeth Hubbard. By the end of the trial Elizabeth Hubbard had testified against twenty-nine people, seventeen of whom were arrested, thirteen of those were hanged and two died in jail. As a strong force behind the trials, she was able to manipulate both people and the court into believing her.
One way she and the other girls did this was through their outrageous fits in the courtroom. The fits, they would claim, were brought on by the accused. Elizabeth was especially known for her trances. She spent the whole of Elizabeth Procter’s trial in a deep trance and was unable to speak. The original documents state that Elizabeth testified that in April 1692 “I saw the Apperishtion of Elizabeth procktor the wife of john procktor sen’r and she immediately tortor me most greviously all most redy to choak me to death….and so she continewed afflecting of me by times till the day of hir examination being the IIth of April and then also I was tortured most greviously during the time of hir examination I could not spake a word and also severall times sence the Apperishtion of Elizabeth procktor has tortured me most greviously by biting pinching and allmost choaking me to death urging me dreadfully to writ in hir [devil’s] book” (Salem Witchcraft Papers). At the trials in which she was able to speak, she usually charged the accused with pretty much the same thing. An example is the case of Sarah Good. She testified “I saw the apprehension of Sarah Good who did most grievously afflict me by pinching and pricking me and so she continued and then she did also most grievously afflict and tortor me also during the time of her examination and also severall times sence hath affected me and urged me to writ in her book.” This type of spectral accusation was typical of all the girls. Elizabeth’s used it against the twenty-nine people. (Godbeer) Some witnesses came forward and testified against the character of Elizabeth. She was not charged as a witch but James Kettle and Clement Coldum both took the stand and attempted to show that Elizabeth was religiously deviant.
As the trials progressed, accusations spread to other communities, among them, Beverly, Malden, Gloucester, Andover, Lynn, Marblehead, Charlestown, and Boston. On October 3 Increase Mather, an influential minister and the president of Harvard, condemned the use of spectral evidence and instead preferred first hand accusations: On \ 29th of October, as the accusations of witchcraft extended to include his own wife, Governor Phips stepped in, ordering a halt to the proceedings of the Court of Oyer and Terminer. In their place he established a Superior Court, which was instructed not to allow spectral evidence. Trials resumed in January and February, but of the 56 persons accused, only 3 were convicted, and they, along with everyone held in custody, had been pardoned by Phips by May 1693 as the trials came to an end. In total Nineteen persons had been hanged, and another six had died in custody. This does not account for those whor’s mental faculties were damaged along the way.
The witch trials were a horrible blight on history, but we see many similar things accruing in todays society. Mass hysteria is a regular occurrence today, from religious persecution to rigged elections and biothreats. The US recently had its first case of Ebola, this particular desease takes out a large portion of the African population ever few decades. But when cases were found in the US it sparked a hysterical event. We saw a similar hysteria with the AIDS Epidemic in the 1980s. IN 1984, public school officials forced a seventh-grader to learn his lessons at home over the telephone when they learned he had hemophilia and HIV. They eventually allowed him to return, but other students refused to sit near him. The boy was taunted, and windows of his home were smashed. Cashiers at the grocery store avoided touching his mother’s hands. The reaction was typical of the time: As many as 50 percent of Americans believed people with HIV should be quarantined. After his death at 18 in 1990, Ryan White became a symbol for all that had been wrong about the public’s response to HIV.
By 1985 researchers knew that HIV was transmitted through sex, breast milk and the transfer of blood”not casual contact. But blind hysteria continued for years, with homosexuals, hemophiliacs and heroin users the prime targets of discrimination. In 1987, President Ronald Reagan announced a federal plan to end the epidemic through sexual abstinence and a ban on HIV-positive immigrants and visitors entering the U.S. Needless to say, that did not work.
Those on the receiving end of AIDS-related discrimination and ill-conceived policies were reminded of the ’80s and early ’90s when the governors of New York and New Jersey announced on October 24 a strict quarantine policy that applies to anyone who might have had contact with an Ebola-infected individual in West Africa, even when the person shows no symptoms. The policies disregard decades of experience with Ebola that strongly suggest the disease is not contagious before high fevers, vomiting or other signs of an infection emerge.
After the governors announced the quarantines, current and former members of ACT UP, an early, influential AIDS activism group, created a Facebook profile called ACT UP Against EBOLA, calling for a “smart, science-based reaction” to the disease. They shot a letter to New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, co-signed by 114 AIDS researchers, activists and public health experts, calling quarantines unscientific and a shameful distraction in the midst of an epidemic needing urgent attention at its source in West Africa. Within eight hours, he responded and scheduled calls between his staff and the group. To date, the calls have not led Cuomo to reverse his position.(Maxmen) No matter the issue, religious, ignorance or disease, humanity is lost in the sight of mass hysteria.
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