Saturday, October 5, 2013

In Honor of Those Lost During the Salem Witch Trials

Examination of a Witch by T.H. Matteson

In honor of the witchy season, Samhain and Halloween, I decided to write about and honor those who were killed during the Salem witch trials of 1692. Most of us, especially witches, know what happened during this horrific time. Many say the chaos of the Salem witch trials, as well as the witch trials around the rest of the world, was a war against women, not just witches. I tend to agree but I also think that during that time period mass hysteria spread about evil and the devil which stemmed from the fear of their God or religion. Because of this thousands of women were burned at the stake or hung for being accused of witchcraft. There were also many men that were murdered during this terrible time in our history.

The witch hunts began in Europe around the 14th century and by the 1700's tens of thousands of people accused of witchcraft had been tortured and burned at the stake or hanged. About 75% of those killed were women. According to Steven Katz, author of "The Holocaust in Historical Context",  this can be seen as a time of "genderized mass murder". When people migrated to the states and settled in the New England area they brought their fear of witchcraft and women with them. The first women accused of witchcraft in Salem was Tituba, a slave to Revered Samuel Paris.

Tituba: First women accused of witchcraft in Salem. It is thought that Tituba practiced a form of folk magic and was said to have been caught teaching the Reverend Paris's daughters, Betty and Abigail, how to perform divination. Revered Paris beat Tituba until she confessed. Once on trial, Tituba, trying to save herself, wove a tale about all the women in the village being witches. She named Sara Good and Sara Osbourne as practitioners. Tituba was never killed for witchcraft. Instead because she gave up the supposed other witches in town she was jailed for a few months.

Sara Good: Born in 1653, Sara married William Good around 1687 or so. The couple was very poor and practically beggars in the village. She was an easy target for accusations of witchcraft. Sara was not well liked in Salem and was put on trial for witchcraft in 1692. She was the first one put on trial. She was also accused of afflicting Betty and Abigail. People were scared into testifying against her including her daughter and her husband. She never confessed to the crimes but was condemned to be hung after the birth of her child. Her infant died in jail before Good was executed at the gallows.

Sara Osbourne:
Born in 1643, Sara was married to Robert Prince who died prematurely in 1674. She then became involved with Alexander Osbourne who she hired as a farm hand. She had a legal battle with her children over her deceased husbands estate and was not well liked by his family. She was brought to trial for witchcraft in 1692. Sara never confessed nor did she accuse anyone else of witchcraft. She died shackled in prison before she could be hung at the gallows.

Rebecca Nurse: Born in Norfolk county, England, Rebecca was 71 years old when she was accused of witchcraft. Her sisters, Mary Easty and Sarah Cloyce, were also accused of witchcraft. It is said that Rebecca was one of the most unlikely of those accused due to her flawless reputation and her age. While she was on trial many people spoke up for her declaring her innocence. The jury originally gave Rebecca a verdict of not guilty but because of the outcry from the two afflicted girls, the judge asked the jury to reconsider and so they then gave Rebecca a guilty verdict. She was executed on July 19 and there is said to be outrage at her execution. This was seen as the first time any negative voice towards the executions was heard from the people of the village.

Bridget Bishop: Born sometime between 1632 and 1637, she married three times and her last was to Edward Bishop. Bridget is said to have owned a tavern in town and was accused of witchcraft because of her "flamboyant ways". She liked gossip, entertaining guests at her home until late, drinking and fighting with her husbands. She is said to have worn the color red at times which was seen as a sign of evil and she was accused of conversing with the devil. All this made her a prime target for accusations of witchcraft in Puritan New England. Bridget was the first to be hanged for witchcraft and she professed her innocence up until the moment she died.

Giles Corey: Giles was accused of witchcraft by Abigail Williams and Ann Putnam Jr., the afflicted girls. They claimed to have seen his spector and that he asked them to write in the devils book. Giles was eighty years old when he and his wife Martha were put in prison for five months on accusations of witchcraft. When it was time for his trial, Giles refused to stand for trial and there was a severe punishment for this. In September of 1692 Giles was stripped naked and a board was placed upon his chest where heavy stones were to be placed. Giles was pressed to death, slowly, as the whole town watched. It is said that he begged for more weight so that his death would come quicker. He was buried in an unmarked grave on gallows hill.

During the Salem Witch Trials more than 200 people were accused and 20 were executed. May we honor the lives of those lost and may we never forget what mass hysteria and paranoia can cause.

To read more about the Salem witch trials and the people involved check out: Famous American Trials


  1. Precious post kind Tara..and thanx for honouring those precious souls who were harvested in a time when theocracy shattered...A dreadful and puritan time when music, dancing, and folk songs were absolutely forbidden...what can we expect of those who thought that praising human love and nature, were expressions rooted in Paganism, being Paganism associated directly to the Devil? Executions were even held before 1692 in New England too! I agree with you that it was a mass hysteria...probably conceived by their fear of what they labeled as "supernatural" and was cause of their social misfortunes...Anyway,even when there are no similar "witch hunts" today, there are still many motivations who lead to discrimating ways...isn't it?.

  2. Wow, this post was incredibly interesting. Thank you for sharing. I have to admit, I've watched few documentaries and read a small amount of books about the witch trials, so this made many things clearer for me.
    The Wildcraft Chronicles


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