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Thursday, May 05, 2005

Salem Witch Trials of 1692

We have all heard of the Salem Witch Trials from history class and/or other sources. What is the first thing that pops into your mind when you hear the word "witch?" You automatically assume that it's a female. But how many of you knew that men were also prosecuted as witches during those long four months in 1692? Nineteen men and women were convicted of witchcraft and sentence to hang at Gallows Hill. One man was pressed together under stones for refusing to go to trial. Hundreds of other men and women were accused of witchcraft while dozens were kept in jail without a trial. So here's the question. How did it all start?

In 1688, John Putnam, an elder of Salem Village, invited Samuel Parris, a planter and merchant in Barbados, to preach in the Village church and later on accepting the offer to be Village minister. He moved his wife Elizabeth, their daughter Betty, his niece Abagail Williams and their Indian slave Tituba to Salem Village. During February of 1692, young Betty Parris suddenly became ill. She complained of fever, contorted in pain, dove under furniture and dashed about. Her symptoms could have been a combination of things such as stress, asthma, epilepsy, etc. Cotton Mather had recently published a book called Memorable Provendences that described the witchcraft of an Irish washerwoman and Betty's symptoms was very similar to hers.

Talks of witchcraft increased when some of Betty's playmates started having the same symptoms. When William Griggs, a doctor, was called to examine the girls, he suggested that their problems were more supernatural than physical which the widespread belief made it seem like his diagnoses was very likely true.

Mary Sibley, a neighbor, told Tituba to make a rye cake with the urine of an afflicted child and feed it to a dog (It was said that dogs performed devilish tasks for witches). This was to be like a counter spell. By that time, Tituba had already been suspected of witchcraft and the urine cakes fueled the suspicions. She was later arrested a long with two other women, Sarah Good and Sarah Osborn.

Meanwhile, the number of afflicted girls rose to seven. They went from a group of friends to juvenile delinquents. They began to complain about being pinched and bitten, they would fall over into frozen positions, contort in grotesque poses. With this affliction and beliefs of the devil being close at hand, the situation soon became an obsession among Salem Village.

After Tituba, Sarah Good and Sarah Osborn were arrested, they were examined. At first, Tituba denied being a witch, but later on she admitted being approached by a tall guy in Boston (who appeared as a dog or a hog at times) and was forced to sign his book and do his work. She also said that her and four other women flew through the air on poles as well as other things. With Tituba's confession, the witch hunts and trials began.

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