Salem Witch Trials
To fully grasp the witchcraft scare, you have to remember that the 1690s had its share of religious, political, and social dissension. The last thing these Puritan leaders needed was the accusations made in 1692 by two girls — nine-year-old Betty Parris and her eleven-year-old cousin Abigail Williams. These girls caused quite a stir, not only in the home of the Reverend Samuel Parris, but in the town of Salem itself.
Betty and Abigail began acting quite strangely, running around the house, flapping their arms, screaming, and throwing themselves around the room. Local doctors were at a loss to explain their antics. Witchcraft became the diagnosis of their mysterious ailment.
In Puritan times, the term “witch” was applied to a poor, old person who was also contentious. During this time, people were encouraged to turn each other in, and that led accused witches down an unpleasant path.
Nineteen people were executed in the wake of the Salem Witch Trials, until public opinion turned against the accusers and local judges. In 1696, the General Court adopted a resolution of repentance. Although the Puritan influence declined, the Congregational churches remained dominant in Massachusetts into the nineteenth century.
Betty and Abigail identified the Parris family's West Indian slave, Tituba, as their tormentor, before adding other names such as Sarah Good and Sarah Osborne. As a black slave, Tituba was already at a disadvantage, Sarah Good was vulnerable to such accusations because she was homeless, and Sarah Osborne's morals were in question because she did not attend church.
Many more of Salem's teenage girls began having fits, and the finger-pointing continued. Thus it was what we call today a true “witch hunt” and persecution of the worst kind.
So-called witches reportedly had identifiable marks on their bodies — marks put there by the Devil himself — that professional witch finders could identify since the witches were insensitive to pain. The witch finders had monetary incentive to identify new subjects, as they were paid a fee for every witch conviction.