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May 14 Salem's Witch Trials


The town of Salem in Massachusetts witnessed an outbreak of 'Witch Trials' that lead to the execution of 19 people and destroyed the lives of many others. It is now understood to be an outbreak of Puritan Mass Hysteria and some historians see this as the end of Theocracy in the USA.



Todays trial which began in 1872 was known as the second Salem witch trial, and was short lived. A Lucretia Brown accused fellow Christian Scientist Daniel H. Spofford of attempting to harm her through his "mesmeric" mental powers. The judge dismissed the case and it is now considered to be the last witchcraft trial held in the United States. It received wide news coverage because of the first Salem witch trials that had occurred 280 years earlier between 1692 and 1693.


The infamous witch trials are now considered to be a case of Puritan mass hysteria, with more than two hundred people tried, thirty found guilty, nineteen executed by hanging (fourteen women and five men). One other man, Giles Corey, was pressed to death for refusing to plead, and at least five people died in jail. Salem had been used in political rhetoric and popular literature as a vivid cautionary tale about the dangers of isolationism, religious or ideological extremism, false accusations, and lapses in due process. A 1953 play by Arthur Miller called the Crucible, was a dramatized and partially fictionalized story of the Salem witch trials. Written as an allegory for McCarthyism, when the government persecuted people accused of being communists. Miller was then questioned by the House of Representatives' Committee on Un-American Activities and convicted of contempt of Congress for refusing to identify others present at meetings.


In the seventeen century, Witch Trials were not unique, but had begun to fade out across much of Europe by the mid-17th century. However, they continued on the fringes of Europe and in the American Colonies. The excesses, had a sobering affect on civil development and according to historian George Lincoln Burr, "Salem witchcraft was the rock on which the theocracy shattered." The Massachusetts government had been dominated by conservative Puritan secular leaders. Puritans had opposed many of the traditions of the Church of England, including use of the Book of Common Prayer, the use of clergy vestments during services, the use of sign of the cross at baptism, and kneeling to receive communion, all of which they believed constituted popery. King Charles I was hostile to what he considered an extreme viewpoint and his hostility lead to major migration to colonial North America. The puritans established several of the earliest colonies in New England, of which the Massachusetts Bay Colony was the largest and most economically important.


They intended to build a society based on their religious beliefs. With exacting moral standards, throughout their daily lives, Puritans, actively attempted to thwart attempts by the Devil to overtake them and their souls. The Puritan belief was that women were inherently sinful and more susceptible to damnation than men were. and Women's souls were seen as unprotected in their weak and vulnerable bodies. 78% of people accused and convicted of witchcraft were women. Those who did not conform to the norms of Puritan society were more likely to be the target of an accusation, especially those who were unmarried or did not have children. Quarrels with neighbours often incited witchcraft allegations. The atmosphere was stoked by a minister called Cotton Mather, who was a prolific publisher of pamphlets, including some that expressed his belief in witchcraft. Particularly how "stupendous witchcraft" had affected the children of Boston mason John Goodwin. His eldest child had been tempted by the devil and had stolen linen from the washerwoman Goody Glover. Glover, of Irish Catholic descent, was characterized as a disagreeable old woman and described by her husband as a witch; this may have been why she was accused of casting spells on the Goodwin children. Four out of six Goodwin children began to have strange fits, neck and back pains, and loud random outcries; other symptoms included having no control over their bodies, flapping their arms like birds, or trying to harm others as well as themselves. These symptoms fuelled the craze of 1692. Although the last trial was held in May 1693, In the decades following the trials, survivors and family members sought to establish the innocence of the individuals who were convicted and to gain compensation. In November 2001, years after the 300th anniversary of the trials, the Massachusetts legislature passed an act exonerating all who had been convicted and naming each of the innocent