The book was read widely and told people how witches worked for the devil and the various ways they could torture and kill people. After reading this book and another anti-witchcraft book, Relating to Witchcraft and Possessions, by Cotton Mather(a local priest) which encouraged colonists that even torture was fine to convict people of sorcerery(since real witches couldn't feel pain) it was no wonder that the Puritans of Salem took it upon themselves to expel witches in God's name. Another cause of the trials was a problem brewing in Salem itself. For many years Salem Town and Salem Village had been separate parts of Salem. Salem Town had the rich merchants and markets while Salem Village had poor bitter farmers. In an effort to get itself separated from Salem Town, Salem Village hired a priest named Samuel Parris since they thought since they had their own congregation they could be their own little town
The people of Salem Town were angry that Salem Village wanted to separate so many of the townspeople didn't attend Parris's services. Parris used this to his advantage by telling the villagers that those who did not come to the church were witches since they obviously did not believe in God. People were helpless as more and more were accused of devil's work by Parris and many others. More than 150 men and women were accused of witchcraft in Salem ranging from rich to poor, farmers to merchants. The first 3 women accused were misfits of Salem.
One of them was Parris's (the village minister's) slave Tituba. The other two supposed witches were Sarah Good and Sarah Osborne. Sarah Good was very poor and had to beg for money and food while Sarah Osborne had had 3 different husbands. Parris's daughter was the first child along with her cousin to be bewitched. While under their spell they accused many people.
Most historians think the girls acted this way to cover up the fact that they often listened to Tituba's story of magic from her native town in Barbados (since tales that weren't biblical were not allowed by Puritans). At first they only accused Tituba of witchcraft but Parris told the children to accuse other women as well to take any blame off of his since Tituba belonged to him. Even men were sometimes accused of being wizards. Sometimes people were accused because their behavior was different than the idea of how people should act in Salem. One of these types of accused was a woman from Salem Town who had a lively temperament and a child by an affair. She went against the ideas of Puritan women being quiet and gentle.
She even loudly defended herself at her own trial. Even a few wealthy people were also accused like a successful merchant's wife and a farmer with various properties. Although a variety of people were accused their trials were all mostly the same. Just being accused of being a witch was enough to declare someone guilty. People thought that the more supposed witches tried to prove their innocence the more they were actually guilty.
Spectral evidence could also be used against the witches like the supposed sighting of ghosts around their home. The bewitched children were also brought in to the court where they usually got into their frenzy and pointed at the accused like they were being bewitched right at that moment. For the judge this was usually enough evidence to convict the accused person. The guilty person was usually hanged but this was different in the case of Giles Corey, one of the accused wizards. Giles Corey, a grizzled old man, thought the trials were a joke and refused to admit to being guilty or innocent so he was stoned to death.
However as the trials went on the people of Salem started to have doubts about the accused witches. The trials finally stopped with the Massachusetts governor stepping in and accused people still jailed were released. The Salem Witch Trials remains a topic of interest in colonial history. Although the Puritans stopped their witch hunting more than 350 years ago we still like to think how the way people lived in those times affected the way people thought of religion. The Salem witch trials are still studied to find out more about the accused, the accusers and other people involved.
Finally these trials remind us how fear can make us cruel and suspicious towards people we have known and trusted for years.
“This will never be a civilized country until we expend more money for books than we do for chewing gum.”
- Elbert Hubbard