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The Historic Salem Witch Trials

The Historic Salem Witch Trials

For more than a year in the early 1690s, fear and paranoia regarding witchcraft swept through the Puritan town of Salem Village in Massachusetts. This paranoia took hold during a time when fear of Satan was at an all-time high, as were other problems such as rivalries and disputes between Salem Village and Salem Town and between various families and groups within the town. Also during this time, witchcraft, which was associated with the devil, was considered a crime that would be punishable by death. Death for the guilty in this case meant death by hanging. The hysteria that was the Salem Witch Trials started with the unexplained behavior and accusations of two girls. The accusations and bizarre behavior soon spread, reaching a point that saw as many as 200 people imprisoned for witchcraft and 20 people executed. Although the Salem Witch Trials came to an end in a relatively short period of time, the devastation that they wrought would never be forgotten. To this day, there are many theories as to why the tragedy occurred, ranging from malicious intent to mold on rye bread.

January 1692: Elizabeth "Betty" Parris, the nine-year-old daughter of Salem Village's Rev. Samuel Parris, along with his niece, begin to display erratic behavior. This behavior included throwing items, screaming, and moving their bodies into unusual positions. Later this month, more girls, including 11-year-old Ann Putnam, also begin to display unusual, unexplained behavior.

February 1692 (mid-month): The village physician, a man named William Griggs, examines the girls following the request of Rev. Parris due to his concerns regarding the unnatural nature of the behavior. The physicians determines that the girls are bewitched, as he can find no cause for their behavior.

February 25, 1692: Rev. Parris's Indian slave, a woman named Tituba, makes a witch cake including the afflicted girls' urine and feeds it to a dog. The cake is meant to break any spell on the girls. Some accounts say the recipe is given to Tituba by Mary Sibley, a neighbor.

February 1692: Betty Parris is questioned and pressured into giving a name of who bewitched her and her cousin. Both say it was Tituba. A homeless beggar named Sarah Good and Sarah Osborne are also accused. Most accounts do not provide an actual date of when these accusations are made.

February 29, 1692: Good, Tituba, and Osborne are arrested for witchcraft.

March 1, 1692: Interrogations of the three women begin. The interrogations are performed by the local magistrates and last for several days. Good and Osborne maintain their innocence, although Tituba confesses and implicates the other two women.

March 11, 1692: More women show alleged signs that they have been afflicted by witchcraft. These women are Mercy Lewis, Mary Warren, and Mary Walcott.

March 12, 1692: Martha Cory is accused by Putnam of being a witch.

March 19, 1692: Rebecca Nurse is accused of being a witch by Abigail Williams.

March 23, 1692: Four-year-old Dorcas Good, the only child of Sarah Good, is arrested by a Salem marshal.

March 28, 1692: Another woman by the name of Elizabeth Proctor is arrested. She is accused by her servant, Warren.

April 3, 1692: The sister of Nurse, named Sarah Cloyce, is arrested after attempting to defend her sister's name. She is accused of being a witch, too.

April 11, 1692: John Proctor protests his wife's examination and is arrested and incarcerated. He becomes the first man during the witch trials to be accused of witchcraft.

April 1692: Warren rescinds her accusations against her employers, the Proctors. She claims that she and the others lied.

April 13, 1692: Giles Cory is accused of witchcraft by Putnam. As a part of her accusation, she claims to be haunted by a person who has died in the Cory home.

April 19, 1692: Warren once again changes her statement regarding lying and the Proctors.

April 22, 1692: In another round of examinations, the magistrates examine yet another sister of Nurse. This sister is Mary Easty.

April 30, 1692: The Rev. George Burroughs, who is the former minister of Salem, is accused of witchcraft.

May 4, 1692: In Maine, Burroughs is placed under arrest.

May 7, 1692: Upon being returned to Salem, Burroughs is jailed.

May 9, 1692: Following examination by the magistrates, Burroughs is relocated to a jail in Boston.

May 10, 1692: Osborne dies while imprisoned.

May 14 1692: A charter ending the 1684 prohibition of self-governance within the colony arrives in Boston. The new governor of the colony brings this charter with his arrival.

May 18, 1692: Roger Toothaker is charged with and arrested for witchcraft. On the same day, Easty, sister of Nurse, is released from prison. She is re-arrested, however, due to her accusers protesting the release.

May 27, 1692: A Court of Oyer and Terminer is commissioned and judges appointed. Among the seven judges is magistrate John Hathorne. The court allowed evidence in the form of reported dreams or visions, which was known as spectral evidence.

May 28, 1692: Eight more people are arrested, including Mary Toothaker, Wilmot Redd, and ten-year-old Margaret Toothaker.

June 2, 1692: Bridget Bishop becomes the first person in the trials to be found guilty of witchcraft and is sentenced to death.

June 10, 1692: Bishop becomes the first person accused in the trials to die by hanging.

June 15, 1692: The Rev. Cotton Mather, a Puritan minister and the author of Memorable Providences, Relating to Witchcrafts and Possessions, sends a letter to the Court of Oyer and Terminer. In his letter, he makes the request that the trials be completed in a timely manner and that the court ignore all spectral evidence. Little heed is paid to the latter request.

June 16, 1692: Roger Toothaker dies of what coroners later claim to be natural causes while imprisoned.

June 29, 1692: The trial begins for five of the accused: Nurse, Sarah Wildes, Susannah Martin, Sarah Good, and Elizabeth Howe.

June 30, 1692: The trial concludes with all of the accused found guilty, although Nurse is originally found innocent before public outcry causes a change in the verdict. They are all sentenced to death by hanging.

July 19, 1692: The five women who where tried and convicted over the two days in June are hanged at the gallows.

August 5, 1692: Six others are found guilty and sentenced to hanging, including John and Elizabeth Proctor, George Jacob Sr., and the Rev. George Burroughs.

August 1692: On an unspecified date in early August, Philip English and his wife, both jailed for witchcraft, escape from prison, not to return to Salem until an end comes to the trials and it is safe for them to do so.

August 19, 1692: John Proctor and four of the others sentenced to death on August 5 are hanged. Due to her pregnancy, Elizabeth Proctor's death is postponed temporarily.

August 20, 1692: One day after the hanging of her grandfather and Burroughs, Margaret Jacobs retracts her testimony, which played a large part in his sentencing and subsequent death.

September 9, 1692: Easty, Martha Corey, and four others are found guilty and are sentenced to die by hanging.

September 17, 1692: Redd, Abigail Hobbs, and seven others are also sentenced to hanging after they are given a guilty verdict following their trial.

September 17, 1692: Peine forte et dure, which is a form of torture by pressing with heavy rocks, is applied to Giles Corey because of his refusal to enter a plea.

September 19, 1692: The weight from the peine forte et dure is too much and crushes Giles Corey to death.

September 22, 1692: Easty, Martha Corey, Redd, and seven others are executed by hanging. Dorcas Hoar's execution is delayed due to her confession.

October 3, 1692: Increase Mather, the father of Cotton Mather and the president of Harvard, says, "It were better that ten suspected witches should escape than one innocent person be condemned," in his denouncement of spectral evidence.

October 12, 1692: The arrest of further suspected witches is suspended by Gov. William Phipps. Orders are also issued to protect prisoners who are in custody.

October 29, 1692: The Court of Oyer and Terminer is dissolved by the governor.

November 25, 1692: The remaining cases are put before the Superior Court of Judicature. The court does not accept spectral evidence.

January 1693: Of the 26 remaining cases heard by the Superior Court of Judicature, only three are found guilty. The remaining are released as the initial arrests were due to spectral evidence.

May 1693: The last people in prison due to witchcraft charges are pardoned by Phipps.

January 14, 1697: In remembrance of what happened in Salem, a day of fasting and soul-searching is ordered by the General Court.

1702: The Salem Witch Trials are declared unlawful by the General Court.

August 25, 1706: Putnam apologizes in a written letter that is read in front of the church by the pastor.