Saturday, April 7, 2012

the salem witch trials

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The infamous witch trials of Salem remain as one of America¡¯s icons of mystery, concealing a story of human greed and sin that led to lethal results. Arthur Miller¡¯s The Crucible tells a sensible story as to what could have turned ludicrous accusations of witchcraft into an event of such mass hysteria. But Miller¡¯s account is deviant from the truth behind this Puritan village, having made the story much more dramatic and spectacular for the theatre. Evidence and records found pertaining to the Salem witch trials tell us a great deal of what happened in the Massachusetts town, offering some explanation of the setting in Salem before the heated accusations and court hearings. Although the trials still stand as one of the most upheld mysteries that remain unexplained, some of the true story of the events in Salem can be acquired.

Known facts about the Salem suggest the idea that the witch trials came about because of an unfortunate mix of events and settings that eventually led to such extreme measures. Salem, in 16, was divided into two parts, Salem Town and Salem Village. Salem Town stood as the economic center of the community while the Village remained mostly farmland. Villagers became discontented with the fact that Salem Town seemed to oppose the Puritan rule of community, separating themselves and becoming more individualistic. One of the most prominent families of Salem Village was the Putnams, who tried to separate from Salem Town by forming a new congregation, which was later led by Reverend Parris by 168. Parris took the pulpit during amidst a period of change in Salem, when a ¡°mercantile elite was beginning to develop, prominent people were becoming less willing to assume positions as town leaders, and a debate was raging over how independent Salem Village, tied more to the interior agricultural regions, should be from Salem [Town], a center of sea trade¡± (Sutter). The anger between the two regions turned out to influence the accusations made by the afflicted girls, whose general count came from Salem Village under the Putnams. The afflicted girls came into the attention of the community when Reverend Parris¡¯ daughter, -year-old Betty Parris, began to show unusual signs of an illness. She and her cousin, 1-year-old Abigail Williams, spent idle winter days listening to ghostly and magical stories told by the Parris¡¯ Indian slave from Barbados, Tituba. Forbidden to play games (as her father believed games resulted from idleness, which allowed the Devil to work his mischief) they would listen to Tituba tell fortunes and stories of witchcraft and mystic animals. But the fortune-telling would sometimes scare Betty. She began to show strange signs of mental torment. She would dash about, contort into grotesque positions, cry out from pinching sensations, and dive under furniture. The village doctor, William Griggs, was unable to find any reason for her distress, and suggested that it had some supernatural origin, pointing specifically to witchcraft. The spark had now ignited the burning conflict between Salem Town and Salem Village.

The accusations of the girls who joined Betty in mental torment began to point at others in the community, beginning first with immoral and unusual characters, then going on to point fingers at those who stood as prominent members of Salem, but whom the Putnams were discontent with. Tituba was accused along with Sarah Good and Sarah Osborne. Both social deviants because of their manner, Good accused under various reasons including begging to homes but mumbling curses when nothing was offered. The elderly Osborne was a grouchy and stubborn woman, not attending church for over a year. People came forward with evidence which the court took very seriously, such as illness coming unto animals after Sarah Good left mumbling, cheese and butter going mysteriously bad when Sarah Osborne came near, etc. But it was Tituba that kept the wheel spinning. Although these accusations could have ended only with admonishments, Tituba confessed, for yet unknown reasons, and claimed she was ¡°approached by a tall man from Boston--obviously the Devil--who sometimes appeared as a dog or a hog and who asked her to sign in his book and to do his work. Yes, Tituba declared, she was a witch, and moreover she and four other witches, including Good and Osborn, had flown through the air on their poles¡± (Linder). The people of Salem, under the belief that confessed witches¡¯ were capable of naming other witches, deemed the accusations by Tituba credible, and the story became increasingly twisted.


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Linder, Douglas. An Account of Events in Salem. Internet. http//

Sutter, Tim. Salem Witchcraft. 000. Internet.


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