Essay Title: 

Salem Witch Trials

March 29, 2016 | Author: | Posted in american history, history

Salem Witch Trials

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November 30 , 2006 Introduction

In the summer of 1692 all of eastern Massachusetts trembled in fear as neighbors and kinfolk accused one another of practicing witchcraft Hundreds were jailed , and in the first round of the ensuing trials from June 2 to September 21 , 1692 – the most extensive mass trials of suspected criminals in the colonial period of American history – all of the defendants were convicted by juries and sentenced to death by hanging by the special court of Oyer [banner_entry_middle]

and Terminer Empaneled to hear the cases . Fifteen women and four men were hanged , and one eighty-year-old defendant was pressed to death with heavy stones for refusing to accept the authority of the court . Four of the indicted and detained suspects had died in jail and many more had sickened . But when the trials resumed in the winter of 1693 , juries refused to convict an overwhelming majority of the defendants and by May of that year Governor William Phips had pardoned all those still in custody . Decisions about the law of evidence and trial procedure were largely responsible for both the initial round of convictions and the later pattern of acquittals . The trials remain arguably the most infamous event in New England history and the year 1692 remains etched in American consciousness

How it began

It began early in 1692 in Salem Village , an outlying region of the town of Salem , Massachusetts , and a community long beset by deep divisions focused on the local church . The outbreak started in the household of the Village ‘s beleaguered minister , Samuel Parris , where a group of girls engaged in fortune-telling rituals . The most active of these girls was twelve-year-old Ann Putnam , daughter of Parris ‘s chief supporter (Godbeer , 1992 ) By summer ‘s end , according to one account , accusations were being made so freely and widely that accurate records of the official proceedings were no longer kept (Boyer , Nissenbaum , 31 ) By February the girls were experiencing fits , and witchcraft was diagnosed Pressed to say who was hurting ‘ them , the girls first named three marginal neighborhood women , including Parris ‘s West Indian slave Tituba . The three were questioned and jailed . But the girls ‘ afflictions continued , and through the spring their accusations escalated , targeting people (according to Godbeer some 30 percent of them were male ) who were increasingly respectable , pious , and prosperous

Legal Disputes

In May , with the prisons filling up , the newly appointed Massachusetts governor , Sir William Phips , established a special court of Oyer and Terminer to try the cases . In early June , after the court condemned to death its first defendant , Bridget Bishop , one of the judges resigned in protest (Karlsen , 105 ) The key legal dispute concerned the validity of spectral ‘ evidence , when the afflicted girls testified that they were being hurt by a visual representation of their tormentor – presumably the Devil in the accused person ‘s shape . Although the court sought other corroboratory evidence – voluntary confession at best , or at least such circumstantial evidence… [banner_entry_footer]


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