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During the winter of 1692, in the small village of Salem, Massachusetts, something terrible happened. Salem Massachusetts became the center of a horrible tragedy, which changed the life of many people. It was a time of fear, because of bad crops, Indian raids, and diseases. The people of Salem Village had to blame something, or someone. The people of Salem Village accused people, and called them witches. They were accused of all those terrible things and more.
Salem Village was a small, farming community with a population of 550. It was smaller than Salem Town, and about eight miles away. Salem Town was a large port, and was a prosperous fishing community The two towns had the same minister, and used the same church as the people in Salem Village.
At that time there was two groups in the village. Those who wanted to be separate from Salem Town, and those who did not. Samuel Parris was the minister of the group that did want to be separate. He helped divide the groups even more by his sermons. He called the group that did not want to separate, evil and bad, and the group that did, good and righteous.
The Reverend Parris and his wife had two children living with them. They were Betty, their daughter, and Abigail, their niece. Abigail and Betty were the reason that the trials started. Before becoming a minister, Samuel Parris had failed at being a merchant. All he had to show for all the long hard years of being a merchant, were the family slaves, Tituba, and her husband, John Indian. Abigail and Betty Parris were having their fortunes told by Tituba, behind their parents backs. Betty started having fits, possibly because she could not bear to keep secrets from her parents. Abigail also started having fits, and instead of getting into trouble, they became popular and respected. Soon, other girls joined in. Most of the afflicted girls lived in the houses of the Parris's and the Putnams, which were the Reverend's family and friends. During the fits, the girls screamed, rolled their eyes back into their heads, shook, and twisted their bodies into impossible positions, and accused people of biting and pinching them. They accused people that were against Samuel Parris, or had an argument with the Parris's, or the families of the other afflicted girls. By the end, they had accused most of the people that were in conflict with the new church, or their families.
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Dr. Griggs, Salem Village's doctor, was the first to say that the afflicted girls were bewitched. That was when the girls started to scream out names, which were considered accusations. Later on, Mary Warren, an afflicted girl, tried to tell everyone the truth, but the other afflicted girls accused her, and she was sent to prison. A few days later, the other girls let her out.
One way of convicting someone was called spectral evidence. An example of this is if someone had an argument with their neighbor, and a few days later a cow died. They could use that evidence to accuse their neighbor. Another example is, if a person did not like someone, they could say that they saw a little yellow bird over the accused, and accused person would be arrested. There was no way to fight against spectral evidence. If someone was accused, they were as good as convicted. After the trials, though, an individual needed solid evidence to convict somebody or the accused had to confess. This was what made the Salem witch trials so different from any other trials. Never before had spectral evidence been used to identify witches.
The people who were accused the most, were independent women, women without a husband, herbalists, and healers. Historians think that they were accused because the men wanted to keep them in their control, because some women were becoming too independent. They are not sure, but the evidence that they have points to that conclusion.
The first accused were the lower members of the society, Sarah Osborne, Sarah Good, and Tituba. Tituba confessed, and was sent to jail. Sarah Good, and Sarah Osborne were hung. Sarah Good was homeless, and people thought that she was godless. Sarah Osborne was a widow, and she had not been going to church at all lately. Tituba was a slave, and was accused, because she was unimportant, and some people though that she was a heathen, because she had a different religion. Later, the richer, and more respected members were accused, like Rebecca Nurse, and a former minister.
The trials started to spread to other towns. Andover was one of them. In Andover, Joseph Ballard's wife had been sick for a long time. He suspected witchcraft. He brought the afflicted girls to Andover. By the time the trials ended in Andover, more than fifty people had been accused.
Some accused witches in Andover were Martha Carrier, age 38, Anne Foster, age 72, Mary Lacey, age 40, and Mary Lacey Jr., age 18. Martha Carrier was accused by Benjamin Abbot, because they had a land dispute. Four of her children were accused.
Samuel Wardwell was a fortune teller, and he was accused by Mary Walcott for using witchcraft to tell fortunes. He was a part time carpenter, but he earned most of his money by telling fortunes. He was accused because his fortunes were usually correct. He confessed, and was executed September 22, 1692. To pay his jail fee, Samuel Wardwell had to pay the town five cows, one heifer, one yearling, nine hogs, eight loads of hay, a set of carpenter's tools, and six acres of corn upon the ground.
By the end of the trials thirty-five women and thirteen men had been accused by their neighbors. The accused were imprisoned for a year or more. The horrible trials started in 1692, and ended in 1693.
Some reasons people were accused were politics, land disputes, or revenge for a slight injury.When a former respected minister was accused, many people started to get doubts about the trials.
The governor's wife was accused, so the governor put an end to the trials. It ended September 22, 1693. That was also the day that the last eight people were killed. By the end of the trials, two hundred people, and two dogs had been accused. Nineteen people and the two dogs were killed. The rest were in jail. It had been a horrible time for everyone, near, or far away from Salem Village.
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