The Salem Witch Trials are remembered as one of the darker points of American history, when mass hysteria and fear led to the executions of 20 individuals without fair trial under the suspicions of witchcraft.
The Salem Witch Trials took place between February 1692 and May 1693. Of the 20 sentenced to death, fourteen were women and all but one of those prosecuted were executed via hanging, the other, Giles Corey, was killed through ‘peine forte et dure’ (the placing of heavy stones upon an individual until they are crushed to death) despite having never entered a plea for guilty or not guilty.
The Salem Witch Trials were not a unique tragedy of the time. In Colonial New England if a Magistrate found it credible to believe that witchcraft had caused the death or harm of an individual, then those accused of committing witchcraft were to be arrested and tried in often unfair court settings with little to defend them against accusations. The Salem Trials were simply a prime example of the epidemic of isolationist fear and failure of due process in Colonial America.
The trials began in February when two girls in the Parris house, the niece and daughter of Reverend Samuel Parris, became afflicted with fits that were “beyond the power of Epileptic Fits or natural disease to effect”. Several other women began to show similar signs and symptoms. Witchcraft was quickly named the root of the issue and the three women were promptly tried and executed for their part in the black magic ritual that had afflicted Salem and neighboring villages and towns.
This happened again and again throughout the year of the Salem Witch Trials and men and mostly women were tried and hung in order to save the land from the evils of witchcraft and demonic possession.
Today we remember the Salem Witch Trials as a cautionary tale against the dangers of government run on fear and the importance of due process in court. It’s name is remembered throughout literature and cinema and ghost stories of the souls of damned witches seeking revenge in the wilderness of Massachusetts. It’s one part of history that will probably never lose its popularity with novice and expert historians alike.
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