Under British law, the basis for Massachusetts Bay Colony legal structure in the 17th century, those who were accused of consorting with the devil were considered felons, having committed a crime against their government. The punishment for such a crime was hanging.
This image is a depiction of the Reverend George Burroughs’ hanging at Gallows Hill on August 19, 1692.
The “afflicted” were those supposedly “possessed” and “tormented”; it was they who accused or “cried out” the names of those who were supposedly possessing them.
This is a complex question. There are many theories to explain the “fits” of the young girls who accused so many of practicing witchcraft. Among the theories are adolescent hysteria and ergot poisoning; however, there is no definite answer.
Tituba, an Arawak or Carib Indian from Barbados, was Reverend Samuel Parris’ slave. Her documented role in the witch trials includes arrest and confession of witchcraft on March 1, 1692. Her influence on the afflicted girls’ behavior is unclear.
Actually, men were accused as well. Five men were convicted and hanged, and one man, Giles Corey, was pressed to death for refusing to cooperate with the court.
With the exception of Giles Corey, who was pressed to death, the following were hanged:
- Bridget Bishop
- George Burroughs
- Martha Carrier
- Martha Corey
- Mary Easty
- Sarah Good
- Elizabeth Howe
- George Jacobs, Sr.
- Susannah Martin
- Rebecca Nurse
- Alice Parker
- Mary Parker
- John Proctor
- Ann Pudeator
- Wilmott Redd
- Margaret Scott
- Samuel Wardwell
- Sarah Wildes
- John Willard
This question remains unanswered. It is believed that the bodies were cut down and dropped unceremoniously into a crevice on the side of Gallows Hill. Tradition has it that several families came to Gallows Hill to claim their relatives and buried their bodies privately. A memorial honoring the victims of the witch trials was built in Salem in 1992.
The witch trials era lasted less than a year. The first arrests were made on March 1, 1692 and the final hanging day was September 22, 1692. The Court of Oyer and Terminer was dissolved in October of 1692.
Jurors and magistrates apologized; restitution was made to the victims’ families and a Day of Fasting and Remembrance was instituted. Little is known of the lives of the afflicted girls. Tituba is believed to have been sold and taken out of the Salem Village area. The 300th anniversary of the trials served as an opportunity to bring a sense of reconciliation and an appreciation of the lessons of that time.
It is widely understood that witchcraft is a pantheistic religion that includes reverence for nature, belief in the rights of others and pride in one’s own spirituality. Practitioners of witchcraft focus on the good and positive in life and in the spirit and entirely reject any connection with the devil. Their beliefs go back to ancient times, long before the advent of Christianity; therefore no ties exist between them and the Christian embodiment of evil. Witchcraft has been confused in the popular mind with pointy black hats, green faces and broomsticks. This is a misrepresentation that witches are anxious to dispel.
“Hunting for Salem “Witches” in Your Family Tree” by Maureen A. Taylor, AmericanAncestors.org. An excellent research resource.
The Salem Witch Trials and The Salem Witch Trials Facts web sites are good sources of information on the Salem trials.