Massachusetts Massacres: Not Boston, but Salem
Dan Zalewski III
Today marks the 324th anniversary of the end of hangings in the Salem Witch Trials.
In the late 17th century, colonies in the Americas became a budding place of growth in the new world, especially in Massachusetts. One such colony was the town of Salem.
Salem, Massachusetts was very much like other settlements in the northern half of colonial America. Their economy was greatly associated with their port and their abilities to grow agricultural goods.
Most of the citizens of Salem were Christians, more specifically Puritans. Puritans were a subgroup of English Protestants that sought to make the English church more “pure,” claiming that the church was only partially reformed in its practices. Their stricter perspective on the Christian religion added to the cause of the witch hunt.
In the late 1680’s, English monarchs William and Mary started one of England’s many wars with France. In the colonies, the war destroyed many colonial settlements in upstate New York and present day Canada. The colonists in these settlements were forced to relocate back towards the more established colonies on the coast, causing Salem to balloon in size and deplete their resources.
These factors, combined with an unpopular town Reverend, led to tension within Salem. When the Reverend’s young daughters started having fits in January of 1692, it was enough to start accusations.
The accusations in Salem were not the first to call blame on another for black magic or witchcraft. Witchcraft was a widely active concern in Europe from the 1300’s to the 1600’s. As accusations of witchcraft were dying out in Europe, that same mindset followed the Puritans over to the New World.
The young girls named three women within the town, blaming them for their ailments; Tituba, a slave, Sarah Good, a beggar, and Sarah Osborne, an elderly woman.
While being questioned on the matter, Tituba confessed to working for the Devil. She described images of omens and the Devil himself and said she was one of many witches who were tasked with destroying the Puritans. All three women were then imprisoned.
Over the next few months, accusations continued against women of the town. Some of the accused were even devout members of the church, which only heightened paranoia. In total, over 200 were accused of working for the Devil and practicing black magic.
By May, Governor William Phipps created a special court to hear trials regarding the witches of Salem and the surrounding areas. The first case brought before such court was of a promiscuous elderly woman named Bridget Bishop. She was later convicted and was the first person hanged on Gallows Hill.
Many of the elite in Massachusetts denounced the special court, including then president of Harvard, Increase Mather. Despite the denouncement, the trials continued as normal.
By the time Governor Phipps stopped the special courts, 20 people had already been convicted of witchcraft and executed. The last day of hangings occurred 324 years ago today.
It took over 250 years for the commonwealth of Massachusetts to recognize and apologize for the trials. Now, Salem serves as a historic memorial to the lives who were forever changed over 300 years ago.