The Salem Witch Trials: Fact or Fiction
American history is a collaboration of all of the wonderful events and the not so successful ones that make up this great country that we call the United States. Records of this fabulous nation date back all the way to dates way before our original founding fathers
. However, few episodes of American history have aroused such intense and continuing interest ad the trials and executions for the witchcraft which occurred in Salem Massachusetts in 1692. Historians have scrutinized the event from many perspectives; novelists and playwright from Nathaniel Hawthorne to Arthur Miller have capitalized upon its inherent dramatic possibilities. The value, then, of a collection of primary documents relating to this event would seem to be clear, or would it.
Witchcraft had been around long before the Salem witch
trials. “Indeed by 1692 the “witch craze,” which had begun in Europe around 1500, was distinctly on the wane so that the trials in the Salem Village
were among the last of the major outbreaks-if the execution of only twenty persons entitles this outbreak to be called “major” in the history of European witchcraft.” However, if this was one of the last instances of witches, why is it so famous? They are different in many ways. “Before the outbreak at Salem Village, trials for witchcraft had been fairly common events in colonial America, but they had not invariably resulted in executions or even in conviction.” The other reason the trials are so famous, is the highlight of this paper about proving that the trials were just an act put on by the children who started this outbreak. “Only in 1692 did the accusations multiply so quickly and develop an entire community.”
On February the 29, 1691/1692, the warrant for the arrest of Sarah Good was handed to Constable George Locker, who would go to the home of William and Sarah Good and arrest her. It was written in her warrant, that she had displayed witchcraft on the children of the village: Elizabeth Paris, Abigail Williams, Anne Putnam, and Elizabeth Hubert were the children involved. An interesting point however, is that the children did not make the complaint to the courts. It was the fathers and relatives of Joseph Hutchinson, Thomas Putnam, Edward Putnam, and Thomas Preston that went to the courts and made the complaint for the children. In addition, in the warrant for her arrest, it said that she had hurt the children several times over the past two months. Why did it take so long for the children to say something to someone?
The children, who accused Sarah Good of witchcraft, had to provide a deposition for their testimony. The legal definition of the word deposition is Law. Testimony under oath, especially a statement by a witness that is written down or recorded for use in court at a later date. Ironically, the girl’s depositions seemed to be very similar. Now this is ironic because it is the first example of a conspiracy among the children. Here are girls who are acquaintances that provide a written testimony to the courts that is very similar in context. For example: Anne Putnam wrote that, “I saw the apparition of Sarah Good, which did torture me most grievously, but I did not know her name until the 27th of February, and then she told me her name was Sarah Good, and then she did prick me and pinch me most grievously, and also since, several times urging me vehemently to write in her book.” Elizabeth Hubbard also stated, “I saw the apparition of Sarah Good, who did most grievously afflict me by pinching and pricking me, and so continued hurting of me till the first day of March, being the day of her examination…Also several times since, she hath afflicted me and urged me to write in her book.” Here one can clearly see that the girls talked about or met with each other to write their testimonies.
On March 1, 1691/92, Sarah Good’s examination began. Presided over by Chief Justice William Stoughton, “the special Court of Oyer (to hear) and Terminer (to decide) sat in Salem to hear the cases of witchcraft Sarah’s Examination was performed by two worshipful assistants named John Hathorne and Jonathan Curran. She was asked a series of questions that seemed to be repetitive and not a good approach to finding out whether she was a witch or not. But then again, is there such a thing as a good approach to trying a so-called “witch.”
To start the examination, Hathorne began with such questions as:
Q. Sarah Good, what evil spirit have you familiarity with?
Q. Have you made no contact with the devil?
Good answered no.
Q. Why do you hurt these children?
R. I do not hurt them. I scorn it.
Q. Who do you employ, then, to do it?
R. I employ nobody
This is just the first part of the examination. Half way through the examination, Hathorne turned and asked the children, “to look upon her and see if this were the person that had hurt them, and so they all did look upon her and said this was the one of the persons that had tormented them.” They also proceeded to tell the court that they were being tormented now. Remembering the play, The Crucible, written by Arthur Miller, this is the period of the trial in with the children started screaming and complaining of the pain and seeing things.
After order was attained in the court, the examination proceeded. Hawthorn again asked her why she tormented those children. Again, Sarah Good said no. However, Hawthirn received a different answer for the question who did it then he had the last time the last time he asked it. This time, Sarah said that it must be one of the other people they brought in. After a couple of more questions, she blames the tormenting on another person, Mrs. Osborn. Interesting enough though, that is all that is said about Sarah saying it was Osborne. Hathorne and Curran, go right on with a series of other questions like they had them written down and had to follow the order that they were in and could not stray from that order.
At the close of the examination, Hathorne and Curran ask Sarah Good who she served as the final question. Sarah Good stated that she served God. Digging into the question even deeper, Hathorne and Curran asked what god she served. She stated that she serveed the God that made heaven and earth. In this particular transcription of the examination, it says that she was not willing to mention the word God. This doesn’t make sense because she said his name in the question before that one. It is also said the she answered her questions in a very wicked, spiteful manner, reflecting and retorting against the authority with base and abusive words. This too is hard to believe because if this a transcript of the examination like it says, anyone would get annoyed with answering the same questions repeatidly. In addition, the answers that were stated in this copy of the examination, weren’t answers that could have been in a harsh or wicked manner. That is strictly an opinion of the person writing recording the examination.
During this portion of the trial seemed to be when her husband, William Good, turned against her. It said that her husband stated that he was afraid that she either was a witch or would be one very quickly. The so-called “worshipful” Mr. Hathorne swiftly questioned him about the nature of his response. Hathorne proceeded to question him by asking if he had ever seen anything by her. Mr. He calmly and strangely said no, that he had not seen anything from her, but he had a bad feeling. So it can be inturpreted that Sarah Good was convicted because her husband had a bad feeling about her. What kind of court system were they running in 1691?