Salem Witch Trials

Salem Witch Trials

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The Massachusetts Bay Experiment, although it started as a commercial enterprise, was highly grounded on religion. As John Winthrop said, they wanted to create a “city upon a hill,” or a utopia where God’s favor could be achieved. To attain this Promised Land, the Puritans devoted themselves to their church life and God. Spending hours at service every day, the Puritans were a closely-knit community due to the power of the church. Whenever any problem in the community emerged, the Puritans looked to the church to give them an answer. Thus, it is understandable that the witch trials in the Massachusetts area would become such hysteria. Though many historians have attributed the cause of the Salem Witch Trials to economic instability between the thriving seaports and the languishing agriculture and the political struggle between the highly patriarchal society and the independent women who started to defy the status quo of women, these are not the most compelling cause of the Salem Witch Trials. Through the system of the trials, the people who were prosecuted, and the reaction of those who were accused, it is evident that the most compelling reason of the Salem Witch Trials was the deeply religious nature of the Puritan’s society.
One reason religion played such a strong part in the Salem Witch Trials is because the whole system of the witch trials was highly centered on religious points. In the examinations of Tituba, Sarah Good, Rebecca Nurse, Mary Easty, Bridget Bishop, and other people who were accused of witchcraft, most of the interrogation questions were centered on the Devil or other religious points. In the trial of Sarah Good, March 1st, 1692, the prosecutor asked her questions such as “Sarah Good what evil spirit have you familiarity with” and “have you made no contract with the devil,” which clearly shows the religious base these trials have been built on. Also in the examination of Mary Easty, April 22nd, 1692, John Hathorne asked “how far have you complyed w’th Satan whereby he takes this advantage ag’t you,” another example of the strong religious base of these witch trials. Another important point showing the Salem Witch Trials’ strong base in religion is the lack of physical evidence and the strong reliance on intangible evidence that had only spiritual value. Most evidence supporting that a person is a witch were merely convulsions, spasmodic fits, and “witch-marks,” a sign that the devil had interacted with that person.

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The painting of “Examination of a Witch” shows how accusers searched for the witch-marks—a common method of proving an accused witch guilty. To the deeply religious Puritans, who wished to purge themselves and their society of all sin, such intangible evidence as witch-marks sufficed to rationalize the hanging of a human being.
Another important part religion played in the Salem Witch Trials was that it had a hand in who got accused of being a witch. Among the hundreds that were accused, many of them were the people who did not believe the same faith as the Puritans, such as the West Indian servants. The first West Indian servant to be accused of being a witch was Tituba. Throughout the records of the warrants and the examinations of Tituba in 1691-1692 she is referred to as “Tituba an Indian Woman servant,” showing the Puritan society’s noting her as different, both in race and religion. Also, in the trial of Sarah Good, 1692, Harthorn asks “what god doe you serve,” showing the importance of the religion of the accused and how the judge took that fact into account. Though many historians argue that economic and political instability fueled much of the accusations, a lot of the accusations were also based on religious belief. Further more, without religion, pure jealousy of economic achievement and intolerance of independent women could not have caused the Salem Witch trials.
Finally, the witch trial hysteria could have been quelled faster if the accused had simply lied and confessed to having committed witchcraft, but their strong sense of religion stopped them. Faced with the choice of lying and dying, the 19 who died by hanging chose dying rather than committing a sin to God. Elizabeth Howe, who was hanged on July 19th, 1692, said “If it was the last moment I was to live, God knows I am innocent…” She shows how even to the last minute, she never lost faith in God. Also hanged on July 19th, 1692, Rebecca Nurse said “Oh Lord, help me! It is false. I am clear. For my life now lies in your hands…” Though facing death, Rebecca Nurse never gave in and continued to plead innocence, never losing her religious faith. Even in her March 24th, 1692 testimony, she said “I can say before my Eternal father I am innocent, & God will clear my innocency” and “I have got no body to look to but God,” showing her strong will and adamant spirit not to commit a sin against God. Without this strong sense of religious righteousness, the Salem Witch Trials could have been ended quickly.
Although the change of the Puritans’ society into a more diverse and less united community was an underlying issue of the Salem Witch Trials, the main reason for it becoming such a hysteria was their own deeply religious society. Because of their constant need to be pure and sacred in order to attain “The City upon the Hill,” the Puritans persecuted anyone accused of being a witch with even the smallest amount of evidence. Though there were many causes for the Salem Witch Trials, the most compelling reason was the Puritans’ need to be pure and deeply religious.
Work Cited
N/a. “Warrant vs. Tituba and Sarah Osborne” The Salem Witch Trial Papers. 29 Feb. 1691/92. 20 Oct. 2007.
N/a. “Salem Witch Trial Memorial Stones” Salem Massachusetts City Guide. 19 July 1692. 20 Oct. 2007.
N/a. “Examination of Tituba” Famous American Trials: Salem Witch Trials. 1 March 1692. 20 Oct. 2007.
N/a. “Examination of Sarah Good” Famous American Trials: Salem Witch Trials. 1 March 1692. 20 Oct. 2007.
N/a. “Examination of Rebecca Nurse” Famous American Trials: Salem Witch Trials. 24 March 1692. 20 Oct. 2007.
N/a. “Examination of Mary Easty” Famous American Trials: Salem Witch Trials. 22 April 1692. 20 Oct. 2007.
N/a. “Examination of Bridget Bishop” Famous American Trials: Salem Witch Trials. 19 April 1692. 20 Oct. 2007.
N/p. Examination of a Witch. 1692. 20 Oct. 2007.
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