Friday, July 6, 2012

A Very Brief History of the Salem Witch Trials

From June through September 1692, nineteen men and women, all having been convicted of witchcraft, were carted off to Gallows Hill for their punishment--hanging; another man was pressed to death under heavy stones for refusing to submit to a trial on charges of witchcraft; and hundres more faced accusations of witchcraft. These months, which are known for the period of the infamous Salem Witch Trials, was the unfortunate product of mass hysteria that swept through Puritan Massachusetts. In 1689, Samuel Paris, a wealthy Barbados planter and reverend, traveled to Salem, Massachusetts to take over the congregation and preach there with his wife, daughter Elizabeth (whose nickname was Betty), neice Abigail Williams, and slave Tituba. Betty and Abigail began acting strangely in 1692, convulsing and having high fevers. Four years earlier, in 1688, a 13-year-old girl named Martha Goodwin exhibited the same behaviors after having an argument with luandress Goody Glover. Two days later, the other two Goodwin children started exhibiting the same behaviors. Glover was arrested, tried for bewitching the Goodwin children, and later hanged. A doctor who attended to Betty and Abigail suggested that witchcraft may have been the cause of their strange behavior. At the request of a neighbor, Tituba baked a "witch cake" (a cake of rye and the urine of the "afflicted" girls) and fed it to a dog. According to an old English folk remedy, feeding a dog this kind of cake would counteract the spell put on Betty and Abigail. The reason the cake is fed to a dog is because the dog is believed to be a "familiar" to the Devil. Being pressured to say who caused their odd behavior, Betty identified Tituba and two other woman named Sarah Good and Sarah Osborne and accused them of witchcraft. This accusation, along with petty jealousies and hatred of the young girls towards citizens in their town, was the start of the Salem With Trial. Although dozens were arrested and tried before her, Bridget Byshop (or Bishop), who was hanged at Gallows Hill on June 10, 1692, was the first to be convicted of witchcraft. She owned two taverns in Salem, wore bright red dresses often, and would flirt with the men of the village. But was she, or any of the other 18 women and men who lost their lives due to witch hysteria, really a witch? We may never know the answer.

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