The Salem Journal: The Hysteria

Witches' Remise

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Guilty Until Proven Innocent

By Florence A

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In the years 1692 to 1693 in Salem, Massachusetts, families were ripped apart, enemies were made, and over 150 innocent men, women, and children were accused of witchcraft.

In the beginning of March, in 1692, the very first people accused were three women of low status. The first was Tituba, the wife of John Indian, and the slave of Reverend Samuel Parris. She was a Native American born in Barbados. She was accused of telling Abigail Williams, Betty Parris, Ann Putnam Jr., and several other girls dangerous stories and practicing black magic with them. The next accused was Sarah Good, a thirty-nine year old with a harsh, unfortunate past that made her appear to be more than seventy. She was not close to others, and even her husband claimed that she was a witch. She was a beggar, and when she pleaded for food and was turned down, she would mutter and grumble, which would make others assume that she was casting malicious spells. Another reason that people believed that Sarah Good was a witch, was because she did not attend church. The third accused woman was a frail sixty-year old named Sarah Osborne. Earlier in her life, her husband died and she got in trouble for living with another man. She too, did not attend church.

Throughout the month March, three more people were accused. The next was Martha Corey, a well-established eighty one year old who was a loyal churchgoer and took religion seriously. She was well respected, though very opinionated, and when she was younger, she sparked some controversy by giving birth to a child of mixed racial descent. The following suspect was Rebecca Nurse, a seventy-five year old who was renowned throughout the village for her kindness and piety. She faithfully attended church and was considered to be a model citizen. After Rebecca Nurse was accused, Rachel Clinton was the next suspect. She had a complicated past that led to her losing all her money and property. When she plummeted into poverty and despair, she was ignored and became a beggar, viewed as an outcast and a burden. By the time she became a suspect, she was already an elderly woman. Though one would wonder why these women were accused, there is a pattern to the reason these people were suspects.

In the April of 1692, twenty-three more suspects were targeted in Salem Village, along with several other neighboring towns. Though these first accusations in March and April seemed to be random, and the suspects seemed to be different, there were connections. Many of the first accused were women who were poor, elderly, or outcast. Most had no male relatives to defend them or take revenge of the accusers. This made these people very easy targets for the accusers. Another connection is that most of the accusers came from Salem Village, in the west, where people worshipped Reverend Samuel Parris's ministry. Most of the accused came from Salem Town, in the east, where people opposed Reverend Samuel Parris's ministry.

When the accusations began, it seemed like it they would only stay within those groups of people. But soon the accusations started to spread, not just to more people of low status, but soon to people of middle and even high status, and geographically as well. Though the accusations were still happening in the east, they started to spread to the west, near Salem Village.

The accusations continued on through October, and the girls started to become more outrageous, crying out on magistrates, merchants, Lady Phipps, the wife of the Governor of New England, and Increase Mather, the father of Cotton Mather. Soon after these high authorities were accused, spectral evidence was forbidden. Spectral evidence was evidence that was used against the suspect, that if the specter or ghost of the suspect was seen, then he or she was guilty. Also after the high authorities were accused, all males of the community were allowed to be a part of the jury, not just the members of the church. The afflicted girls were no longer the main determinants of who were witches. Slowly, the number of accusations of witchcraft diminished. The accused people in jail were granted trials, but they often waited up to a year before they even had a chance to appear in court. It may not have seemed like a good thing, but when the girls became more outrageous, that was what led to the end of all the accusations.

Though these patterns of who was accused may have been harsh, it has edified us to see how our biases and beliefs could lead us to be oblivious to what is truly right and wrong.

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