Term Paper: Salem Witchcraft Trials

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[. . .] (Fremon 114) The accused, in one way or another, had somehow offended the Putnams or their allies. Although the links here cannot be proven, it adds to the mystery of the witch hysteria as well as playing on the feuding families. The hysteria and the animosity between the families grew, each seemingly fueling the other.

The Porter's defense of Rebecca Nurse made sense, as she did not fit the typical definition of witch. Others who were eventually executed included Sarah Osborne, a 69-year-old widow, who was physically unable to attend church. Sarah Good also did not attend church, for lack of clothes. (Rice 36-7) According to Kallen, it was more understandable why these two women were singled out, as they were not well liked. It should also be noted that poverty and infirmity "rarely stirred compassion in the Puritan Heart" according to Earle Rice, author of The Salem Witch Trials. (Rice 37) Although there was no real evidence to supporting the claims of young girls who were "tormented" by these women, Nurse, Osborne, and Good were the first women arrested for witchcraft. These women's stories reflect Norton's assertion that gossip had permeated the village, which only fueled fear within the residents.

Many questions swarm around the issue. An interesting point Norton raises is the fact that the young girls' credibility was never questioned. She notes that these girls were "servants who occupied the lower ranks of household hierarchies" whose role was to be "seen and not heard." (Norton 10). Norton quotes historian Jane Kamensky who stated that the girls turned "their society and the courtroom 'topsy-turvey.'" (10). This idea reinforces the belief that the unexplained much somehow be associated with something evil but more than that, it adds to the mystery of the phenomenon, which has yet to be fully explained. According to Mary Norton, author of A People and a Nation, the credibility of the accusers did finally come into question -- once some of the village's most respected residents were accused of being linked with the devil, the ruling class began to doubt the charges. When the girls began to accuse the "richest and most powerful" people in Massachusetts, including the governor's wife, of witchcraft, "voices of reason and dissent took hold" (Kallen 81). In fact, Kallen quotes Frances Hill, from A Delusion of Satan: "In their frenzy of gratified, murderous vengefulness they had come to think of themselves as mightier than the mightiest. They were quickly proved wrong. None of these powerful people was arrested, and a huge backlash ended the witch-hunt" (81). In addition to the new voice of reason, a new royal charter was implemented in late 1692, which ended the "worst period of political uncertainty" and removed a major source of "psychological stress" (Norton, et al. 69). This event backs up the theory that many underlying factors played into the accusations of so-called witches.

The end of the accusations came as quickly as the beginning, but not without consequence or unanswered questions. Norton asserts that indeed a conspiracy of silence shrouds the entire history of the trials. Crucial pieces of evidence are missing because public opinion "swiftly and sharply turned against the trials" (Norton 13). For example, Samuel Parris kept extensive notes about the entire event but only one page of the notebook survives today. She believes Parris burned his notes and any other records kept by judges or the Massachusetts magistrate were destroyed as well. (Norton 13) Roach explains the Salem witch trials as "society's last attempt to recapture a lost sense of holy mission by cleansing the land of evil-doers" (Roach 576). The accusers, according the Roach "projected their own deepest guilt onto innocent scapegoats" noting that the accused were usually "renegades against unjust conformity" (577). It is important to note, adds Fremon, that the lifestyle of the accused "represented worldly interference with the austere Puritan lifestyle" (Fremon 114) Many have questioned the Putnam and Porter conflict, citing the Porters as the real targets. It is important to note, however, that if it was all a conspiracy to destroy the Porter family, it failed. (114) These events illustrate how conflicts within a society can influence how that society thinks and behaves.

Five years after the witch trials, the twelve jurors who found the witches guilty, signed a petition "admitting they took the lives of those convicted on insufficient evidence" (Rice 98). In hindsight, Rice explains, the jurors were able to see how the hysteria had clouded their judgement. Their petition expressed sorrow and declared the we justly fear that we were sadly deluded and mistaken, for which we are much disquieted and distressed in our minds; and therefor do humbly beg forgiveness... And declare according to our present state of minds, we would none of us do such things again on such grounds for the whole world. Praying you accept this in satisfaction for our offense" (98-9).

In addition to this, Judge Samuel Sewell acknowledged his guilt as well, making him the only judge to make a public apology. (99) Thirteen years after the entire experience, Ann Putnam asked for forgiveness and "to be humbled before God for that sad and humbling providence' in 1962 that "made[her] an instrument for the accusing of several persons of a grievous crime, whereby their lives were taken away.' She now believed them to be innocent, she declared 'and that it was a great delusion of Satan that deceived me on that sad time.' She had, though, done it 'ignorantly' without "anger, malice, or ill-will to any person,' and she particularly 'desire[d] to lie in the dust' for her accusation of Rebecca Nurse and her two sisters, which caused 'so sad a calamity to them and their families'" (Norton 310-311).

In conclusion, it might have been the girls instigated the witchcraft craze, it would have not been possible without the participation of teenagers and adults and more importantly, judges and other officials are also responsible for allowing the frenzy to grow out of control. Lives were ruined and lost as a result of a failure to see beyond a strict Puritan belief system. Because the residents of Salem Village allowed their thinking to be clouded with personal opinions that surrounded the Putnam/Porter conflict, they became not only victims of their religious beliefs but of their petty disagreements. These weaknesses in the community created fertile ground for the witch hysteria, which might have been handles better if the community hadn't been so preoccupied with underlying motives. The Salem community represents not only the dangers of fear that has grown out of control, but the devastating results. Finally, the residents of Salem illustrate that reason can triumph in a bad situation. The lost lives cannot be bought back, but the remorse of the jurors and the eventual acceptance of the real truth as opposed to concocted stories brings hope to humanity.

Works Cited

Fremon, David. The Salem Witchcraft Trials in American Society. New Jersey: Enslow Publishers. 1999.

Hoffer, Peter. The Salem Witchcraft Trials. Lawrence: University of Press Kansas. 1997.

Kallen, Stuart. The Salem Witch Trials. San Diego: Lucent Books, Inc. 1999.

Norton, Mary. In the Devil's Snare. New York: Alfred Knopf. 2002.

Norton, Mary, Katzman, David,… [END OF PREVIEW]

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