The Salem Witch Trials

By: Jaclyn Beeter

Historians have no way of stating the definite cause of the Salem Witch Trials. No one knows why they happened the way they did or what really, truly caused them. It's all just theories.

When and Where?

The Salem Witch Trials started in February of 1692 and ended in May 1693. They occurred in Massachusetts Bay Colony, a colony that the Puritans established to get away from religious persecution in England.
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People Involved

In total, there were about 180 people convicted in Massachusetts of witchcraft. 19 people were hanged, and 1 man was stoned to death. The others were simply put in jail.

What was the purpose of the Salem Witch Trials?

The purpose of the event was to try and rid the colony of any "satanic" people. The Puritans were a very religious group so it was really important for them to follow all "rules".They had lost control of the society that they had established strictly for religious reasons. No one really knows why the trials happened the way they did, but later, the colony admitted that the trials were a mistake. They compensated the families of those convicted also.


It is interesting how most of the people who were convicted of witchcraft had strayed from the church recently. This kept some people skeptical about the real reasons behind the accusations. Eventually, those who voiced their objections were accused too, so that caused more speculation. The Trials were never over until the city of Boston police intervened and said that the accusations were absurd. Many believed the accusations were purely based on trying to get revenge on the neighbors who the accusers resented.

The Theories

The first person to be tried in court of witchcraft was Bridget Bishop. Speculation occurred after she started to rebel from the Puritan lifestyle. She was convicted solely on the fact that she wasn't living the Puritan way and started to dress inappropriately for their liking.


Doctors and Historians say that a number of things could have caused the people who were convicted to act the way they did. Stress, asthma, guile, boredom, child abuse, epilepsy, and delusional psychosis are just some of the things that could have caused the strange behavior. In conclusion, it is unclear as to why they were thought to be witches.


Another cause could have been a crop the colonist had been growing. Rye, a popular crop in the Massachusetts Bay Colony, could be infected with a fungus called ergot if grown under the right conditions. In the months leading up to when the first accusations came, it was a wet, damp few months. Just the right conditions for ergot to sprout. Ergot was known to cause muscle spasms, delusions, seizures, and contortions if eaten. All of these symptoms were symptoms reported of the girls who were acting strange. But still, nobody can name the real cause of the Salem Witch Trials.

How It All Got Started

A preacher named Samuel Parris moved to the Puritan colonies to try to start his religious career. He had a slave from the Caribbean named Tituba. Some of the teenage girls in the colony started hanging out with her, and later, they would be seen doing strange things in the woods at night. People believed the girls had been put under a spell by Tituba. At first, Tituba denied any involvement in witchcraft, but then she changed her story. "Tituba claimed that she was approached by a tall man from Boston--obviously Satan--who sometimes appeared as a dog or a hog and who asked her to sign in his book and to do his work."("Salem Witch Trials") She admitted to being a witch and named 4 other witches that had flown on a broomstick in the air. Her confession opened up a whole new world and sparked a manhunt for other witches across the area.
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The Legal System is Changed

Right before some of the cases went to court, Governor Phips created a new court. He called it "the court of oyer and terminer".("Salem Witch Trials")There were 5 judges appointed to the court for hearing the defendants cases. There were many things the judges looked for as signs of witchcraft, but some unusual things were let into the prosecution. Gossip, unsupported evidence, and stories were let in as reliable evidence. The defendants were denied basic rights that the accused have today. They were not allowed to have witnesses speak under oath on their behalf. Defendants could testify themselves, cross-examine their accusers, and produce evidence.


The Salem Witch Trials brought some changes to the legal system in America. It changed the way testimonies were handled and the way witnesses were treated.

The executions that occurred during the Trials were the last executions of accused witches in the United States.

Work Cited

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  • Kids' Games, Animals, Photos, Stories, and More -- National Geographic Kids." Kids' Games, Animals, Photos, Stories, and More -- National Geographic Kids. N.p., n.d. Web. 15 Apr. 2015
  • Kids' Games, Animals, Photos, Stories, and More -- National Geographic Kids." Kids' Games, Animals, Photos, Stories, and More -- National Geographic Kids. N.p., n.d. Web. 15 Apr. 2015
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  • Wilson, Lori Lee. The Salem Witch Trials. Minneapolis: Lerner Pub., 1997. Print.