In the pages which follow, then, the story will be sketched in rather briefly: Starkey, a book that captures all the grim drama of the period without losing any of its merit as a scholarly work. To begin with, the political outlines of the commonwealth had been subject to sudden, often violent, shifts, and the people of the colony were quite uncertain about their own future.
In some teenage girls in Salem, Massachusettsaccused a West Indian slave named Tituba and two white women of practicing witchcraft. The girls behaved strangely and were subject to bodily fits.
Most Puritans believed in witchcraft, and witches had been prosecuted in Massachusetts several times in the preceding decades. By April the girls began to denounce others as witches, including a former minister. The events that followed are notorious in American history.
A special court was convened in which the judges were not trained in the law and in which the accused had no attorneys.
Such a specter could only be seen, it was believed, by the victim, so the evidence could neither be refuted nor corroborated and for that reason had not been admitted in the past. The trials that followed resulted in hundreds of accusations, over one hundred guilty verdicts, and the executions of twenty persons, mostly women.
By early several ministers had expressed grave doubts about spectral evidence, and the governor pardoned those condemned and eventually suspended all the trials. Even though the hysteria was not limited to Salem, a close analysis of the community reveals some patterns concerning witchcraft accusations throughout New England.
Most of the accusers came from the more rural Salem Village, with a third of the accusations originating with members of the Putnam family. The accused generally were prosperous and from the commercially oriented Salem Town. Most of the young girls who made the accusations had lost a parent in Indian raids and now worked around Salem as servants, while most of the accused were prosperous, older women without husbands or sons.
More broadly, the witchcraft hysteria of reflected deep anxieties among Puritans that the idealized, pious way of life they had created was ending. They had lost their charter in the s, and under the new charter of the male members of the Puritan Congregationalist churches had to share the vote and office-holding with Anglicans.
The tight-knit religious communities of their founders were giving way to more business-oriented and competitive towns. These changes, coupled with their sincere belief in a spiritual world in which good and evil fought for the souls of humans, made it easy to believe that there were witches among them causing all sorts of problems.
Even so, the simple legal error of admitting spectral evidence turned what would have been isolated, ugly episodes into a yearlong horror for Massachusetts.
Harvard University Press, ; Carol F.
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The Salem Witch Trials are no little matter since this is how almost everyone in Salem Massachusetts began to act and caused the great trials of Salem. How to cite this page Choose cite format: APA MLA Harvard Chicago ASA IEEE AMA.
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