Salem witch trials


Salem witch trials
[pl]
a series of trials in 1692 in Salem, Massachusetts, of people accused of being witches. They began after a group of young girls started behaving in a crazy way and saying that they were ‘possessed’. People in the town were quick to accuse each other, and the trials ended with 20 people being executed, on very little evidence. Arthur Miller used the trials as the basis for his play The Crucible (1953).

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(May–October 1692) American colonial persecutions for witchcraft.

In the town of Salem, Massachusetts Bay Colony, several young girls, stimulated by supernatural tales told by a West Indian slave, claimed to be possessed by the devil and accused three women of witchcraft. Under pressure, the accused women named others in false confessions. Encouraged by the clergy, a special civil court was convened with three judges, including Samuel Sewall, to conduct the trials. They resulted in the conviction and hanging of 19 "witches" and the imprisonment of nearly 150 others. As public zeal abated, the trials were stopped and then condemned. The colonial legislature later annulled the convictions.

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▪ American history
 (May–October 1692), in American history, a series of investigations and persecutions that caused 19 convicted “witches” to be hanged and many other suspects to be imprisoned in the town of Salem in the Massachusetts Bay Colony. Stimulated by voodoo tales told by a West Indian slave, Tituba, a few young girls claimed they were possessed by the devil and subsequently accused three Salem women, including Tituba, of witchcraft. As Tituba and other accused persons were pressured and consequently incriminated others in false confessions, public hysteria over the threat of witchcraft mounted throughout Massachusetts.

      Civil magistrates, encouraged by the clergy, set up a special court in Salem to try those accused of practicing witchcraft, and Samuel Sewall, John Hathorne, and William Stoughton were chosen as the court's judges. The list of the accused increased (even Massachusetts governor William Phips's wife was implicated) until 150 people had been imprisoned and were awaiting trial. By September, however, the climate of mass hysteria had begun to abate, and public opinion first stopped, and then condemned, the trials. Governor Phips dissolved the special court in October and released the remaining prisoners. The Massachusetts General Court (legislature) later annulled the witch trials' convictions and granted indemnities to the families of those who had been executed.

Additional Reading
Useful sources include Marion L. Starkey, The Devil in Massachusetts: A Modern Enquiry into the Salem Witch Trials (1949, reprinted 1989); and John Demos, Entertaining Satan: Witchcraft and the Culture of Early New England (1982).

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Universalium. 2010.

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