If you are unfamiliar with the Salem Witch Trials, they were a series of hearings held before local magistrates to prosecute people that were accused of witchcraft in Essex, Suffolk, and Middlesex Counties of colonial Massachusetts. The trials took place between February 1692 and May 1693 and more than 150 people were arrested and put in to prison; more were accused but were not formally pursued by local authorities. Twenty nine people were actually convicted of the capital felony of witchcraft; fourteen women and five men were hanged. One man who refused to enter a plea was ordered to be crushed to death under heavy stones and it is said that at least five more died while in prison. Let’s look at the timeline of events that took place and led up to the famous Salem Witch Trials.
•In 1692 in the Salem Village Betty Paris (age nine) and her cousin Abigail Williams (age eleven) began to have fits that were described as “beyond the power of Epileptic Fits.” The fits consisted of the girls throwing things across the room, said strange things, and would contort their body into unusual and peculiar positions. They complained of being pinched and pricked with pins constantly; they would not be the only ones in the village to complain about such things. Many other young women began exhibiting the same symptomatic fits and complained too of being pricked by pins.
•Sarah Good, Sarah Osborne, and Tituba were accused and arrested for allegedly inflicting these pains on Betty Paris, Abigail Williams and two other young girls. ‘They look the part of a “witch”‘ said many of the villagers and therefore no one stood up for them. They were brought before local magistrates and later sent to jail.
•In March of 1692 many other accusations followed; Martha Corey, Dorothy Good, and Rebecca Nurse were also accused, and this concerned the community deeply. As Martha Corey and Rebecca Nurse were both members of the Church in Salem Town, suspicions of everyone being a witch flew around town. Dorothy Good was only four years old at the time of her questioning; she was the daughter of Sarah Good and apparently her answers during questioning implicated her mother in witchcraft.
•In April Sarah Cloyce (Rebecca Nurse’s sister) and Elizabeth Basset-Proctor were both arrested. Objections were made by her husband John Proctor during the proceedings which resulted in his arrest as well.
•Within that same week, there were multiple arrests made. Giles Corey, Abigail Hobbs, Bridget Bishop, Mary Warren, and Deliverance Hobbs were all among those accused and arrested. Abigail, Mary, and Deliverance all confessed and began naming other people as accomplices.
•After the confessions, more arrests followed: Sarah Wilds, William Hobbs, Nehemiah Abbot Jr., Mary Eastey, Edward Bishop Jr., and his wife Sarah Bishop, Mary English, and on April 30 Reverend George Burroughs. Lydia Dustin, Susannah Martin, Dorcas Hoar, Sarah Morey, and Philip English would follow in line next. Warrants continued to be issued for many more people but the proceedings were still only investigative.
•On June 2 1692 the court convened in Salem Town. Bridge Bishop was the first to go to trial. She was found guilty on the same day and was hanged on June 10 1692.
•At the end of June grand juries approved indictments against Sarah Good, Elizabeth Howe, Susannah Martin, Elizabeth Procter, John Procter, Martha Carrier, Sarah Wilds, and Dorcas Hoar. Good, Howe, Martin, and Wilds along with Rebecca Nurse were all tried at the same time; found guilty and were executed on July 19, 1692.
•In August grand juries indicted George Burroughs, Mary Eastey, Martha Corey, and George Jacobs Sr.. On August 19 1692 Carrier, Jacobs Sr., Burroughs, Willard, and Procter were hanged.
•By September grand juries had indicted eighteen more people.
•On September 19, 1692 Giles Corey refused to plead at arraignment and was subjected to a torturous death; he was crushed beneath a heavy load of stones.
•On August 22, 1692 eight more individuals were tried and hanged.
•The court was dismissed in October although this would not be the end of the trials.
To this day it is still unknown what ailed the girls in Salem village. Historians have said it could have been due to many other things beside witchcraft as there was little evidence to prove some of the accused guilty. Although the last trial was held in May of 1693, response by the public continued to pour in. There were many that were unjustly accused and petitions were filed between 1700 and 1703 with the Massachusetts government demanding the convictions be formally reversed. The Salem Witch Trials was a dark day in which many individuals were innocently killed.
Learn more with at these Salem Witchcraft Trials websites.