The Salem witchcraft trials are only one example of the hysteria that took over many parts of North America as well as Europe. During the 1500 to 1700s, tens of thousands of people were put to death on such charges. Exact records are hard to come by considering the time period and the widespread nature of the events.
The trials in Salem weren’t just a singular event. There were a number of separate accusations, arrests and trials during 1692 that make up this time in history. The particular incident that started the entire mess is the best known, involving several young girls who began to point fingers.
It started with Betty Parris and Abigail Williams (age 9 and 11), who were close relatives of the local reverend. They began to have “fits” that included making strange sounds, throwing things and crawling around on the floor. Other girls began to have the same behaviors. It didn’t take long for the church officials to start thinking witchcraft. The first people to be accused were Sarah Good, Sarah Osborne and a slave woman named Tituba. Not surprisingly, these women had no powerful connections in town (Sarah Good was actually a homeless beggar), so they were easy targets.
As time went on, more accusations were fired about town, creating a long list of potential witches in Salem. With dubious evidence, libelous testimony and coerced confessions, dozens of people (mostly women) ended up in jail as witches. In several cases, women who started off as accusers were eventually accused and tried themselves.
This went on for some months. In early 1693, new courts and magistrates were assembled, and charges started being dismissed. Though more people were still arrested at this point, the overall momentum was shifting. People were found not guilty, and “guilty” ones were pardoned. By the middle of the year, the entire episode had passed and the Salem witchcraft trials came to an end.
Victims of the Salem Witchcraft Trials
Over the course of a few months, the following people were executed in Salem for witchcraft. They all died by hanging, except for Giles Corey who was pressed to death while they tried to extract a confession from him.
George Jacobs Sr.
Giles Corey (pressed)
This is just the list of people who were executed. There were many more who died in prison before they got to be officially killed by the courts.
Of course, the reality was that none of these people were witches and none practiced witchcraft (well, at least it was highly unlikely). The entire scenario was based strictly on the desire to exercise power over others, and religious-based fears. Called it “hysteria” is perfectly accurate.