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The Salem Witch Trials of 1692 were a dark time in American history. More than 200 people were accused of practicing witchcraft and 20 were killed during the hysteria.
Ever since those dark days ended, the trials have become synonymous with mass hysteria and scapegoating. The following are some facts about the Salem Witch Trials:
What Were the Salem Witch Trials?
The Salem Witch Trials were a series of witchcraft cases brought before local magistrates in a settlement called Salem which was a part of the Massachusetts Bay colony in the 17th century.
Several centuries ago, many practicing Christians and those of other religions had a strong belief that the Devil could give certain people known as witches the power to harm others in return for their loyalty. A “witchcraft craze” rippled through Europe from the 1300s to the end of the 1600s. Tens of thousands of supposed witches—mostly women—were executed. Though the Salem trials came on just as the European craze was winding down, local circumstances explain their onset.
In 1689, English rulers William and Mary started a war with France in the American colonies. Known as King William’s War to colonists, it ravaged regions of upstate New York, Nova Scotia and Quebec, sending refugees into the county of Essex and, specifically, Salem Village in the Massachusetts Bay Colony. (Salem Village is present-day Danvers, Massachusetts; colonial Salem Town became what’s now Salem.)
The victims were all women.
Every October, Halloween confirms what we learned from “The Wizard of Oz”: Witches are women. Pop-culture depictions of the trials, such as the show “Salem,” focus almost exclusively on the female accused.
Indeed, misogyny powered the European witch hunts of the 15th and 16th centuries, but Salem was different. Of the 19 who hanged in Salem, four were men, including a feckless, fortune-telling carpenter and a 42-year-old Harvard-educated minister. Accused witches came in every variety, from the richest of Salem merchants to the dutiful wife of a blind farmer. The terror was all the greater for its very arbitrariness; no one noted a letter to authorities from a group of men late in the summer, had cause to think himself safe. The youngest accused witch was a 5-year-old girl. Having spent most of 1692 in miniature manacles, she wound up insane.
Gender did play a vital role in the hysteria. Women would not incriminate husbands, while a number of men eagerly informed the court that they had long suspected their wives to be witches. Family fingers pointed in all directions, although no son ever accused a father, or father a son. The wizards, however, attracted more attention in contemporary accounts, both for their supernatural powers and for their dignity en route to the gallows. Even skeptics assumed the worst of the Harvard-educated minister. From the start, he was thought to have been the diabolical mastermind, a role for which no woman, however nefarious, seemed qualified.
Events of the Salem Witch Trials:
The witchcraft hysteria in Salem first began in January of 1692 when a group of young girls, who later came to be known as the “afflicted girls,” fell ill after playing a fortune-telling game and began behaving strangely.
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