The Salem Journal: Legal News
By Nora G, Roxanne N, and Grace T
Trials have been held in Salem Village ever since the hysteria of Witchcraft started. These trials were held considering the population of witches hiding in Salem. Many people have been accused so far in this historical crisis. The court procedures have changed with the arrival of Governor William Phips.
Governor Phips founded the court of Oyer and Terminer. The court was established in January of 1962. Governor Phips was determined to find out if there was truly witchcraft or if the afflicted were just being possessed by the Devil. The court has been separated form the church. This happened because the witches are supposedly associated with the Devil. Governor Phips does not want the Devil to be associated with the church. It was more official than when all trials had been run through the church. There are rumors that the court is going to close in September 1962 because the afflicted girls are accusing the wives of magistrates and the governor. Here is a quote from Governor William Phips: "When I first got here, I saw screaming and un-orderly conduct. The accused were being tested, and a crazed town full of people possessed by the devil. I had seen something of that sort thirty years ago in Sweden, but not like this. So, I fulfilled my true reason to be here, to establish between if the accused were witches, or if it was just possession. I examined previous court orders in Salem, and found some of the accused were innocent. I then established the Court of Oyer and Terminer on June second of 1692. I appointed Lieutenant Governor William Stoughton to lead the court."
The court follows a specific procedure. First, an afflicted person goes to the magistrates, and accuses another of witchcraft. The magistrate then has the accused witch arrested. The suspected witch is inspected thoroughly by a couple magistrates. If the magistrates believe that the person is guilty, the accused person is sent back to jail and awaits another examination and trial. The accused person is presented to the grand jury, and if there are possibilities of being guilty, the accused person is sent to the Court of Oyer and Terminer. From there a trial is held in front of the magistrates and the jury. If the person is accused of being guilty then a date is set for a death sentence. At the Court of Oyer and Terminer, information and confession is tortured out of the accused witches.
There were many ways for a person in Salem to be accused of witchcraft. One way would be accusing oneself. This person would come out to the court and say they are a witch. When a person is accused, they can attempt to flee Salem; however this will probably only work if one has money or power in the community. It is believed that if one has been tortured by a witch, they cannot be a witch themself. The most common action is to confess to witchcraft. The problem with this is that the one who confessed would lose all land and property. However, this person will not be killed and marked as a witch. One could also plead innocence, but then one would have a trial. If the court found the defendant guilty, they would be taken to Gallows Hall and would be hanged. This action would put the family of the suspected witch into some trouble. The family might be kicked out of church, or accused of witchcraft themselves.
Twenty-four people died during the trials. Nineteen people were hanged, four died in prison, and one was crushed to death by rocks. Most of these trials were held in the Court of Oyer and Terminer. Bridget Bishop was the fist accused person to have a trial held in the Court of Oyer and Terminer. Bridget Bishop was at a disadvantage going into her trial because she had been accused of witchcraft before the hysteria started. Bridget Bishop was the first person to be killed during the Salem Witch Trails.
During the Salem witch trials, the people working in the court were very important. They helped to make the decisions that affected the lives of others. Jurors were normally people form other towns near by. This way people wouldn't be biased towards or against certain people. The Salem Witch Trials, the magistrate of the court was very important. The magistrate conducted the court, and helped to convict people and decide their punishments. The magistrate acted as a judge during some trials. The magistrates would examine and question the accused person.
The most important five out of the seven Court members were John Hathorne, Wait Winthrop, Samuel Sewall, and William Stoughton. William Stoughton was the leader of the Chief Justice of the Court of Oyer and Terminer. He was a very important man in the whole process of each trial.
Chief Justice William Stoughton was born in England on the thirtieth of September in the year of 1631. Ever since William Stoughton was little, his parents owned lots of land in the Massachusetts area. Stoughton went to Harvard Collage until age nineteen when he earned his degree. He then went to England to study at Oxford University until 1660. In 1662, Stoughton came to the New World and was a pastor at a church in Dorchester Massachusetts. William Phips appointed William Stoughton as Chief Justice in the court of Oyer and Terminer.
The Court of Oyer and Terminer had certain ways in determining who was a witch and who is not.
- A witch can not recite the Lord's Prayer without disruptions
- Water represents purity, a witch when tied to a chair will float when put in water (not accepting the witch), however, a non-witch will sink.
- A witch has two devil bite marks. If one sticks a needle through the bite marks, and the accused witch feels pain, or bleeds, they would be innocent. If the accused witch does not feel pain, are be guilty.
- An accused witch is also asked to touch the person that they afflicted. If the afflicted person screams or feels pain, the accused one is guilty. But if the afflicted person does nothing, the accused witch is innocent.
Twenty-four people died during the trials. Nineteen people were hanged and four died in prison and one was crushed to death by rocks. Most of these trials were held in the Court of Oyer and Terminer.
Overall the Court of Oyer and Terminer has been very effective so far. The Court of Oyer and Terminer has created a more orderly and effective way of determining the fate of the witches, as well as determining who is a witch and who is not. This has changed the way that many people that work in courts see the different cases. They are now more cautious about not making a mistake that could affect the lives of many as happened in the Salem Witch Trials.