In the year 1692, 19 innocent people were hung to death for practicing witchcraft. A man was also squeezed to death under heavy boulders because he refused to stand trial, while four other innocent people died in jail awaiting their trials. How did one simple little village get caught up in such frenzied madness?
The Salem Witch Trials ended on October 29, 1692. By the end of these trails, 19 supposed ‘witches’ had been hung. The husband of one of these women was crushed to death, and many innocent people had died in prison. Since then, stories of this horrendous period have been the source of books, movies, and plays.
These were all real people, with real lives. Many of them had families and children to care for; people who went to church diligently and lived moral lives. Today, in the memory of those who lost their lives, the town has erected a Salem Witch Trials Tercentenary Memorial, which is adjacent to the Charter Street Old Burying Point, where many of the accused who lost their lives were buried.
The End is the Beginning
- The seeds of hysteria were first sown in the January 1692, when a small group of young girls began to display what some would call very bizarre―and inexplicable for the medical science at the time―behavior.
- The tight-knit puritan community was at a loss of words to explain the ‘blasphemous’ screaming, convulsive seizures, and the trance-like states that seem to have come upon the youngsters.
- Physicians were called in to examine these girls, but they could find no definite natural cause for the disturbing behavior. Since the source of these afflictions was not attributable to any certain physical malady known at the time, the community concluded that it must be the work of Satan.
- In the month of February, the whole village joined hands to pray and fast, to rid itself of Satan’s influence.
- The girls were forced to reveal who was causing their behavior. Three women were then accused, and later examined.
- One was Tituba, a slave, who confessed to seeing the devil himself. He came to her in the form of a hog or in the form of a dog (“sometimes like a hog and sometimes like a great dog”). Tituba also confessed that a great conspiracy of witches had somehow permeated the village.
- In March, the afflicted girls then accused Martha Corey. The three girls were previously denounced by the community because they were ‘colluding with the devil’, but they were only marginal citizens.
- Martha Corey, on the other hand, was very different. She was one of the upstanding members of the Puritan congregation, and her being accused of being a witch just ‘proved’ that Satan’s influence had managed to reach into the very core of the community.
- After that, the event snowballed out of control as the accusations intensified, and reached a feverish pitch. From March to fall, many people were examined, charged, tried at court with highly biased juries, and condemned to death.
- The actual hangings started somewhere in June with the hanging of Bridget Bishop, and continued till September. As winter approached, criticism of the legal procedures surfaced and grew.
- In October, the colonial governor had the local Court of inquiry dissolved, and with this, all the convictions and condemnations for witchcraft also stopped.
- Nineteen victims of this terrible witch hunt were killed; one was crushed to death under heavy stones, and at least four people died in prison awaiting their trials, and their fates.
The Trial of Martha Corey
- March 11, 1692, was a solemn day of prayer and fasting in Salem. It was on this day that the community’s minister, the honorable Rev. Samuel Parris, requested the girls to reveal their head witch. After much persuasion they did, and the accusation of theirs shocked the whole village, for it implicated Martha Corey, a new yet upstanding member of the Puritan congregation.
- A delegation was sent immediately to the Corey farm to interrogate the accused, in the hope of clearing this discrepancy, but Martha Corey’s highly sarcastic response to the accusations disappointed the entire delegation, and they immediately called for her arrest.
- Her trial was the scene of much talk and agitation. In the courtroom, her accusers visibly writhed in agony, as they claimed that they were ‘compelled by an unseen power’ to mimic her every movement. For instance, when Martha Corey shifted her feet, the girls would also shift their feet.
- They claimed they saw the shadow of a black man bending over Martha, and that they could also hear the drum beats calling all the witches to convene on the meeting-house lawn.
- When asked why she was torturing the three girls, Martha Corey simply explained that she had not done anything to them, and that she did not know who did it.
- At that time, the number of afflicted persons was about ten (4 married women, 3 maids, and 3 children). These were all present at Corey’s trial, and all of them vehemently accused her in front of the whole assembly, accusing her of pinching, biting, and strangling them.
- All of them said that in their convulsive fits, they always saw her coming towards them and bringing a book to them.
- They also said that she had a yellow bird that perched on her fingers and sucked between her fingers, but when questioned, Martha claimed that no such spirit visited her, and that she was a woman of the gospel. To this, the afflicted women called her the gospel witch.
- On her part, Martha Corey said that the women were merely poor and distracted children, and no one should pay heed to what they were saying. But this was to no avail, as the whole congregation believed that the women were bewitched.
- One afflicted woman, Mrs. Pope, complained of suffering from a grievous torment in her bowels, and that it felt like they were being torn out. She accused Corey of being the main instrument behind her affliction, and even threw her muff at the woman.
- Martha, however, denied all that she was accused of, and said that the court could not prove that she was engaged in witchcraft.
- Later that afternoon, she was imprisoned in the Salem prison, after which the women claimed that she did not appear to them so frequently, and did not afflict them like before.
None of these accused ever confessed to, or was proven to be, engaging in witchcraft.