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The hangings at Salem, Massachusetts in the early 1690's were created by a perfect storm that had been forming for years in the New England colonies, going back a couple of decades to what came to be called King Philip's War. The tribal leader of this conflict was actually named Metacom, and he presided over hundreds of Native American attacks on New England settlements in an attempt to drive the colonists out. The reasons for Native American anger toward the colonies are well-known and included the spread of infectious disease that was destroying their people, as well as competition for resources. By 1675, over half of the settlements in New England had been attacked by one or more Native American tribes.
The aftermath of the attacks, and fear of more attacks created widespread fear and paranoia associated with the Native Americans, and this was the atmosphere in the colonies that gave birth to the witch hunt in Salem. Traumatized and fearful of more violence at the hands of Native Americans, Puritan New Englanders' religious beliefs, which were characterized by a strong fear of the devil, and a corresponding belief in and fear of witchcraft, began to intertwine with the Native American situation. This interconnection probably had its roots in King Philip's War, when some Puritan leaders, desperate to recruit young men to fight the natives, began espousing the idea that the devil and/or witches were connected with the violent attacks on their settlements by Native Americans. When combining the trauma of conflict with the Indians with the pervasive fear of an omnipresent devil and/or witches manifesting their evil--and then suggesting that the devil, the witches and the Indians were all part of a single great entity--the atmosphere of fear was ripe to create paranoia and hysteria, lying dormant until someone or something brought it to the surface. In Salem, that catalyst came in the hysterical fits that afflicted several community residents, and that some believe now may have been seizures caused by an allergen in the food supply.
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