The Salem Witch Trials

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How does prejudice emerge? Why were specific groups targeted during the witch hunts?

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The Salem Witch Trials in 1692–1693 stemmed from prejudice against marginalized groups. A slave from the West Indies, Tituba, was accused first. Another accused was Sarah Good, a beggar who smoked a pipe. The third woman was Sarah Osborn. Osborn was a property owner, but she was in poor health and she was rumored to be involved in an extramarital affair. These unfortunate women were not part of the mainstream of Salem society.

Accusations of witchcraft had been used to target certain groups for hundreds of years. In the early fourteenth century in France, the Knights Templar were accused of many crimes, including witchcraft. In medieval Europe and early America, fervent religious beliefs and superstitions were paramount, and powerful accusers took advantage of this phenomenon to persecute select groups.

After the initial persecution of the three accused witches, the situation in Salem snowballed, and hundreds more were accused. When the wife of the Massachusetts governor William Phips was accused, he ended the witch trials.

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