Real Facts about Salem and Witch trials

I spent all of spring semester working on an honors contract, which is a semester-long independent research project. And by all semester I mean I did a little bit throughout but did most of it a few days before it was due. But, because I got to choose what I researched, I decided to look at the Malleus Maleficarum and the Salem witchcraft crisis. I took the misogynist guide for witch hunting and compared it to what happened in America, and looked at how gender affected the trials.

But anyways, I figured since I did all this research I’d share some of the cool facts I learned about (I love doing research and sharing it with people, my poor partner has to hear it about pretty often).

  1. No one was burned on the stake in America.

It is interesting to hear in talk about the Salem trials. There is a lot of false information that many believe as fact, which happens with events in history pretty often. But, almost all of the people executed by their fellow villagers in Salem were hung. Only one, Giles Coy, was pressed to death for refusing to confess. There are some, such as a newly born baby of a convicted witch, who died in jail.

  1. It wasn’t just the fear of witches that caused these the Salem crisis.

The trials were hugely political and social along with being religious. The society was changing, and the town was affected by a growing economic system. It was a battle between families. The main accusers in the trials were the Putnam family, who were facing inheritance and financial problems, and the Parris family, who were good friends of the Putnams. The families had issues with other families like the Porters, who had different political views and were doing better financially and with their land. The Porters had at least nineteen of their family members and friends accused by the Putnams. The doctor that first evaluated the girls that were afflicted, one of the main accusers was Ann Putnam, was related to one of the girls. The girls were all friends. There’s a lot more to this of course, but this is just a basic idea of how it wasn’t just fear of the invisible world that lead to these trials.

  1. No one who confessed to Witchcraft was hung.

There was something the courts wanted when they would go into a witchcraft trial, a confession. They saw each person as guilty, no matter what they said. Confessions were the best proof that they could get, and they wanted confessors to accuse others. Many of the accused did not realize this at the beginning of the trials, which lead to the execution of many such as Bridget Bishop, the first person killed. But by September of 1692, it was clear that confessing guaranteed survival. The accusers saw confessing as a willingness to reform, which is different than Europe, where they thought witches couldn’t reform. The accused saw confessing as going against God, for they were innocent.

  1. Age is an interesting factor to look at, along with gender, in Salem.

The youngest person jailed for witchcraft was a six-year-old, the daughter of Sarah Good, who was forced to testify against her mother. Good also was pardoned of execution until she had her baby, who died shortly after in jail. For my project, I looked at each of the women who were executed and looked at their ages, if they were married and how many times they had been married, and if they had children. Out of thirteen that I looked at, eleven of them were over the age of fifty, one being thirty-nine, and one’s age unknown. At least three were widows and unmarried at the time they were accused, at least four of them were married more than once. It seems as if all of them had at least one child. Of course, these ideas are complete guesses, but it is interesting to see the targeting of older women.

  1. While women were heavily targeted in many places, men were in others.

In places like Russia, Estonia, and Iceland, the victims of execution for witchcrafts were largely male. Why this is, I have no idea, but I’d love to look into it sometime.

  1. In Salem, the men who were executed were either family or had sexual relations to accused witches.

Of the six men killed, four had wives accused, one was a former minister who was said to have led female witches and had killed his former wives, the last was accused by his wife’s family.

I really loved doing this project. All the things I listed above were things I hadn’t known before I started. I could probably talk for hours about all the things I learned and my own ideas because it’s so interesting. While it is hard to get consistent information, I found a lot of great sources with unique ideas.

*I used Wikipedia and other websites from google searches to get general information on the trials, people involved, etc. I read a lot of scholarly articles and journals. If you want to know where I got a fact or piece of information, let me know because there are too many sources to list here but I am willing to let you know if you contact me. I’d love to share the sources with people! I have an entire notebook full of information and sources, but remembering it where I got it off the top of my head is harder than remembering all the facts.

**picture from Wikipedia


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