The Salem Witch Trials

What effect did the Trials have on America and government?

In a small, farming community in colonial Massachusetts, horrible accusations were thrown at innocents who couldn't defend themselves due to unfair judgments. For months on end, a hysterical town executed people who didn't do anything wrong. The townspeople were corrupted by madness and crippled by fear. After what happened, America could never be the same. Our country never forgot, and we never will.

Two Young Girls Begin Exhibiting Possesed Behavior

Sunday, Jan. 20th 1692 at 3pm

Salem, MA, United States

Salem, MA

These girls were Betty Parris and Abigail Adams.

The When and Where

In Salem, Massachusetts, the population was almost all devout Puritans. In the very religious area, in 1692, they hosted the Salem Witch Trials. From the beginning of the year in January to late October, the town was in a state of madness where young and old alike accused innocent civilians of witchcraft.

Causes for Accusation

In January, Betty Parris and Abigail Adams listened to stories from a foreign slave, Tibuta. After hearing the stories, they began to act strangely and convulse in epileptic like fits. Their parents brought in many doctors, and all of them couldn't diagnose either them with any medical problems. The doctors decided that the fits must have been caused by possession or it was demon-inflicted. After the girls were diagnosed with possession, they began blaming people for possessing or afflicting them. Those accused were tried and found guilty. Soon after, other girls of all ages, began to accuse other girls of signing the devil's book and becoming witches. Recent speculation has deduced that during the time of the Trials, that because of Small Pox and the Indian Wars, that is was as if the devil was active, so that put the population on edge. Another factor in causing the Trials was that since most of the town were devout Puritans, they were guided by the fear of the devil. All of these contributing elements came together to fuel the hate fires of the civilians.
What Caused The Salem Witch Trials?

What Happened to the Accused?

141 alleged "witches" were jailed on the account of practicing magic. While they were on trial, evidence known as Spectral Evidence could be used against them. Spectral evidence was when the "afflicted" victim would remember the shape or see an apparition of their attacker. This couldn't be proven, but the courts counted it as reason to find the accused guilty of witchcraft. 19 were executed after their trial. There is four recorded deaths in jail, but there may have been many more. One man who was accused was pressed to death in his trial. No one was found innocent, but when the judges found one person innocent initially, immediately the

accusers starting screaming and rolling on the court floor

until the judges overturned their original statement and found

the "witch" guilty. At the very end of the trials, they released all

the people jailed for witchcraft because they finally realized that

they weren't witches.

All Remaining Witches in Jail Freed

Wednesday, Oct. 29th 1692 at 12pm

16 Lynde St

Salem, MA

The address listed is a historical dungeon that was used to hold witches.

What was the Purpose of the Trials?

As previously stated, the Puritans were very religious and very scared of the devil. They thought the "witches" were the devil's way of getting to them, so they took it upon themselves to rid the town of the devil and the devil's servants. The accusers said that the witches signed the devil's book, and they had attacked them for the devil. The townspeople saw the trials as the only way to protect the town. Some people believe that when they "afflicted" accused people, it was just another way of getting rid of people they didn't like.
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How did the Trials Effect Society and the Way of Life?

Many injustices that happened in the courts that tried the witches had to be changed in law, so a monstrosity like the Trials could never happen again. The Bill of Rights says that every trial will have an impartial jury. In the Witch Trials, they jurors already thought that the accused were guilty. The Bill of Rights also says the accused can have a lawyer to defend them, but in the Trials they accused didn't have lawyers, so they had no one to help them defend themselves. In the colonies after the Trials, people began to see the faults in Puritanism and it's practice declined. Communities back then relied a lot on the church. The government was also run in part by the church and it's ministers. Post-trials, it was discouraged for government and religion to go hand-in-hand, so that if the church thought something was wrong, the government would intervene and the church could control everything. As a result, the ministers would only govern the church instead of the whole town and the church. These trials influenced government and the court system in more than one way.
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Interesting Facts

Scientists and historians have a theory that the hysteria could have been caused by ergot fungus on wheat damaging the nervous system. The fungus could have caused the epileptic-like fits and odd behavior.

If an accused person couldn't recite the Lord's Prayer, then it was considered evidence of witchcraft and possession. Another form of evidence was acting unladylike, for instance, yelling at her husband in public.

In the trials, the youngest person accused was Dorcas Good. She was four years old at the time. During the investigations and and executions, no witches were burned in Salem, but in Europe, they did burn convicted witches.

The Result

The Trials changed government, the Bill of Rights, the court system, and churches roles in the community. Without the Trials, America would'n't be governed the same way or deal with trials the same way. As a result of the Salem Witch Trials, America is a much more fair place for everyone, the accused and the accuser. Even though the Trials were a horrible thing, if they had never happened, then who knows how the U.S. would be run? I can almost guarantee you that it wouldn't be the same.