The Salem Witch Trails
The Salem witch trail is a heartrending story of the history of New England and specifically the Salem Village and its environs that lasted over fifteen months. Ray explains that these trails traversed over twenty four communities leading to 162 arrests, fifty four confessions, twenty-eight convictions, twenty executions, and five deaths in jail due to poor conditions. At least 1,600 people are named in about 950 existing court records (“The Salem Witch Mania” 40). Several history books have previously highlighted the political, social and economic perspectives intentionally or unintentionally leaving out the religious basis for these trials. This paper seeks to establish the gender and religious norms of the people of Salem as well as why and where the trails began.
It is worth noting that these trails can be traced back to the reign of the newly appointed minister of Salem village, Reverend Samuel Parris in 1689. The people’s tribulations began in 1692 after a series of disagreements between the locals and the priest early that year. The disagreements began when there was a sudden decline in new membership of his churches thus numerous non members’ households and escalated when the new members of the village committee voted were non members of his church. As a result, the opponents blocked his salary and the growth of his church (“Satan’s War”70).
Parris severally rebuked his opponents terming them as Satan’s objects of attack on Salem’s covenant. He constantly warned his congregation of Satan’s attack on Salem and this was confirmed when the first to be afflicted were Parris’ own daughter, Betty and niece, Abigail. Ray explains that after a local doctor was unable to medically relate their attacks he confirmed what Parris and the ministers had suspected – they had been touched by an ‘evil hand’. After sometime, the children confirmed their attack and began to assign names. (Satan’s War 70).
Ray further explains that after witchcraft claims were officially confirmed by Dr. Griggs, Mary Sibley secretly planned with John Indian, Parris’s slave for a witch cake to be made from the children’s urine to enable the children identify these witches. The witchcraft not only confirmed the witches but also marked the beginning of the very first accusations of February 29 (“Satan’s War” 81). Tituba is said to have and frightened the two young girls by telling them witchcraft stories and performing magical rituals, the girls then became hysterical after experimenting independently in fortune-telling (“Salem Witch Mania” 43).
Career placement among the people of Salem can be said to selective or discriminatory. The males took up high ranking jobs in society as compared to women. Parris’ slave, Tituba is a female whereas all magistrates and ministers in Salem are men. The village meeting held in October 1691 voted a five man governing committee namely: Joseph Porter, Joseph Hutchinson, Joseph Putnam, Daniel Andrew, and Francis Nurse (“Satan’s War” 76). Hathorne, Corwin and Gedney, were influential members of the Bay Colony’s central government and also the magistrates during trial. William Phips, the Governor who stopped the trials is also male.
Those who were afflicted were mostly female. Tituba, Parris’ daughter and niece, his slave, Thomas’ twelve year daughter, Ann and Dr. Griggs seventeen year old niece, Elizabeth Hubbard, are all victims of witch craft were all females. Tituba also testifies against fellow women, Sarah Good and Sarah Osborne in court (Satan’s war 82).
Lawson raises his concern over witchcraft attack in a minster’s house attributing the death of his wife and daughter to mysterious powers (“Satan’s War” 83). During Lawson’s sermon two other females encounter fits: Mary Walcott and Abigael Williams (“Satan’s War” 84). Martha Cory is also jailed for being a witch and Mercy Lewis confirms that she had witnessed some satanic masses near the vicarage (“Satan’s War” 85). Rebecca Nurse a member of the congregation is also accused of witchcraft (“Satan’s War” 86).
Women are viewed to be a weaker sex as this is confirmed by rumors that Reverend George Burroughs abused his wife. Ray also reveals that Tituba is beaten by her boss during her confession to involvement in witchcraft. She is also forced to admit several accusations some of which she does not know but since she is afraid of the wrath, she admits them. She is forced by the magistrates to admit having signed the devil’s book which she does and also describes what the devil looks like (“Salem Witch Mania” 48). Tituba is forced to tell the magistrates what they would want to hear because she fears for her life. She is interrogated five times more than other accused persons. (“Salem Witch Mania” 48).
In church men held high positions of leadership compared to women. The church leadership even before Parris’ leadership was of males only. The next bishop who took over after Parris is also said to be male. Joseph Green is carefully selected as Parris’ new successor and is warmly welcomed by the villagers. New members come to the church and his service is characterized by the baptism of many children (“Satan’s War” 94).
In Salem Village, for one to be recruited as a full member of the church, their children had to be baptized, receive Holy Communion among other requirements. Confessions were also made requiring men to deliver theirs before the whole congregation whereas women would write down their professions of faith and to consult privately with the minister (Satan’s War 76).
The religious norms of the peoples revealed their existence of God and Satan. During the sermons, Parris constantly mentioned Satan’s attack on the church and the people of Salem. Ray says that this was not uncommon for the Puritan belief. (“Satan’s War” 76). The people of Salem were also not tied to attending a specific church. Everyone had the freedom of choice of religion thus the reason why those attending church were fewer than church members. Some of Parris’ church members had even started failing to attend church service. (“Satan’s War” 78).
In 17th century America the people of Salem believed in mystical powers and the presence of witches. When accusations of witchcraft erupt, the people of are convinced of this as more accusers turn up to accuse several other people of their engagement in witchcraft. In court the accused are given an avenue to demonstrate their fits as evidence against the accused. Some accusers even raise instances of the accused appearing to them in spectral form to force them to sign the devils book (“Salem Witch Mania” 51).
In conclusion it is evident that the religious inclination of Reverend Parris to the leadership of Salem was responsible for the trials. The church appointed the three judge bench to execute those found guilty. It is for this reason that the judges had a high inclination to the church thus the result of several people falling victims to these trials. The strong belief in religion, the existence of God and Satan, as well as reliance on spectral evidence are also to blame since many critics would give testimonies based on such; though these were not substantial.
Ray, C. Benjamin. “The Salem Witch Mania: Recent Scholarship and American History Textbooks”. Journal of Islamic Studies 78.1 (2010): 40-64. Print.
Ray, C. Benjamin. “Satan’s War against the Covenant in Salem Village 1692” New England Quarterly 80.1 (2007): 69-95. Print.