The Salem Times
1693
“Salem Times Every Time”
 

After many years of unjust persecutions, the Court of Oyer and Terminer has finally been dissolved.

Procedure

In 1692, a witch-hunt began in Salem Village. During the hunt, a procedure for accusing and trying suspected witches was developed. When a witch was first suspected, the accuser made a complaint to the local magistrate. Little evidence was required during this complaint, yet most magistrates believed accusers. The magistrate then issued an arrest warrant to authorities, and the suspected witch was taken into custody. Before the trial, a pre-trial examination was held. The purpose of the examination was to determine whether or not there was enough evidence to find the witch guilty. If there was enough evidence, the suspected witch was brought in front of a jury.

A suspected witch was brought in front of the Grand Jury and tried. The Grand Jury was made up of ministers, judges, and prosecutors from Salem and nearby towns and decided whether or not the witch should be sentenced. During early cases, the Grand Jury ruled most defendants guilty. He or she was then given a sentence, which was usually hanging, and was sent to prison to await their execution. The Grand Jury was not a formal court but it served a similar purpose. It wasn’t until Bridget Bishop that a formal court was established in Salem. Bishop was the first suspected witch to Court of Oyer and Terminer.

The Court of Oyer and Terminer, or to hear and determine, was convened on June 2, 1692. Oyer and Terminer was the first formal court that was brought to Salem. The court Lieutenant Governor William Stoughton, the Chief Magistrate, the Crown’s Attorney Thomas Newton, and Clerk Stephen Sewall headed the court. William Stoughton strongly supported the use of  “Spectral evidence.” “Spectral evidence” was when a supposed victim of witchcraft complained of being tormented by the witch’s “spectre”. On April 19, 1692 the first “witch” was tried in front the jury of the Court of Oyer and Terminer. This witch was sentenced to death due to “spectral evidence” and an earlier accusation against her. Many other accused “witches” were tried in front of the Court of Oyer and Terminer. Most were ruled guilty. It was not until October of 1692 that “spectral evidence” was banned because was not a practical method of trying a witch and not until early 1693 that the entire court was dissolved.

Trials End

There are many reasons that the Salem Witch Trials ended in early 1693. Many villagers stopped hunting for witches because they had lost friends and family during previous trials.  They felt that innocent people were being executed and wished to end the witch-hunt. Another group of villagers began to doubt evidence provided in court. They claimed that some of the evidence was not practical and that confessions were being forced through torture and were not true. Speculation also grew around the accuracy of “spectral evidence.” Villagers thought that complaints of being tormented by a witch’s “spectre” were not all true and that spectral evidence was not practical enough to prove that someone was a witch. Many of these methods were outlawed because of their lack in accuracy and this caused the number of guilty witches to decline.

The largest reason, however, for ending the trials was because accusations made were becoming too bold. During the beginning of the trials, people with little to no power were accused because it was harder for them to defend themselves. For instance, Tituba, a slave from Barbados, was the first witch accused. She was quickly sent to jail because she was of such low status because she was a slave, a woman, and was of color. As the hunts continued, the accusations were made toward villagers of higher status. Some of these accusations shocked the Salem Villagers but trials and executions were still carried out. Towards the end of 1692 accusations that were too bold were including one against Governor Phipps’ wife. The town quickly turned down charges against the accused witch and as the accusations grew even bolder, the trials came to an end.

In 1693, Governor Phipps dissolved the Court of Oyer and Terminer and all trials were moved to a higher court. This superior court did not allow “spectral evidence” and, since most of the earlier accused witches had been executed due to this evidence, any remaining “ witches were all ruled innocent. Then, the people of Salem realized that previous trials had been ruled incorrectly and that innocent people had been executed. After realizing this, the people of Salem immensely regretted their actions.

Aftermath (in the Future)

When Salem villagers realized that the witch-hunt had resulted in executing innocent people, they greatly regretted their actions. The Court of Oyer and Terminer was blamed for the wrongdoings of the witch-hunting and the jurors and judges of the court began to lose their status as villagers.  These accusations eventually forced the jurors to flee the village or apologize.

In May of 1693, Governor Phipps pardoned all accused “witches” currently in custody, including Tituba, who was sold back into slavery. Later, on January 14, 1697 the general court of Salem ordered a day of fasting to commemorate the innocent lives that were lost during 1692 and 1693. In 1702, the general court of Salem named the 1692 witch trials un-lawful. The trials then became a dark and shunned part in American history.

Many Salem Villagers that were involved with the witch-hunt apologized for their actions. In 1697, Samuel Sewall, the court clerk, publicly confessed of his wrongdoings and nine years later in 1706, Ann Putnam Jr., one of the youngest leading accusers during 1692, also apologized. Putnam said, “I desire to be humbled before God for that sad and humbling providence that befell my father's family in the year about ninety-two; that I, then being in my childhood, should, by such a providence of God, be made an instrument for the accusing of several persons of a grievous crime, whereby their lives were taken away from them, whom, now I have just grounds and good reason to believe they were innocent persons; and that it was a great delusion of Satan that deceived me in that sad time, whereby I justly fear I have been instrumental, with others, though ignorantly and unwittingly, to bring upon myself and this land the guilt of innocent blood; though, what was said or done by me against any person, I can truly and uprightly say, before God and man, I did it not out of any anger, malice, or ill will to any person, for I had no such thing against one of them; but what I did was ignorantly, being deluded by Satan.

And particularly, as I was a chief instrument of accusing Goodwife Nurse and her two sisters, I desire to lie in the dust, and to be humble for it, in that I was a cause, with others, of so sad a calamity to them and their families; for which cause I desire to lie in the dust, and earnestly beg forgiveness of God, and from all those unto whom I have given just cause of sorrow and offense, whose relations were taken away or accused.

After Ann Putnam Jr.’s apology, Salem was renamed Danvers in 1752 as a way of showing that they were different people and regretted the actions of their ancestors. The final action made to denounce the Salem Witch Trials and clear the names of those executed was that on the 300th anniversary of the trials, a memorial was dedicated to the horrors that had taken place during the trials.

Even the people were leading accusers, judges, and supported the Salem Witch Trials later acknowledged that the trials should not have taken place. Salem, ashamed of its past, has performed many actions to atone for its deeds. The village dissolved the Court of Oyer and Terminer, publicly apologized many times, changed its own name, and finally dedicated a memorial to the trials. Salem also began to dissolve the idea of witchcraft in general.  The horrors that took place in Salem have greatly affected people’s thoughts and ideas about witchcraft and make up a large piece of American history.


By Shaunak P., Danny K., and Tobias G.

Court of Oyer and Terminer Dissolved