How long has the town of Salem been in existence at the start of the play?
Arthur Miller wrote The Crucible as an allegory. At the time the play about the Salem witch hunts of the late seventeenth century was written, the United States was experiencing its own “modern” witch hunts. It was the period of the Red Scare, when fears of communism following the end of World War II and the rise of the Soviet Union as a major power caused many Americans to fear that autocratic ideology with the same fervor early settlers in North America had feared witches and sorcery. Miller had studied the Salem witch hunts in preparation for his play and appended “A Note on the Historical Accuracy of this Play” to its original publication. In addition, as is common practice, Miller provided copious details regarding the setting in which The Crucible takes place. As the story of the Salem witch hunts is true (although, as Miller points out, accurate historical details of the period and events are limited), the play’s setting accurately portrays Salem, Massachusetts, in 1692. Miller further adds in his description of the play’s setting that “Salem had been established hardly forty years before.” That would make the village of Salem, Massachusetts, founded in 1652, around 40 years old at the time the play takes place.
According to the introduction written by Arthur Miller, Salem had been in existence for almost forty years when the events portrayed in the play take place, which is set in 1692. In reality, the area was settled a little before that, between 1626 and 1628, when settlers from other colonies in the area, including Massachusetts Bay, came to what had been an old Indian village. Over the next six decades, Salem Village and Salem Town developed as two different, though closely intertwined, communities. Other communities developed nearby as well, and were, like the village and town, enmeshed in the witch hunt crisis. The political interactions between these communities, particularly as they related to land ownership, have been cited by some historians as underlying causes of the witch scare. These communities had also absorbed a number of refugees from wars with Abenaki natives on the frontier and experienced a great deal of political turmoil due to the overthrow of the Dominion of New England. The complex issues that confronted these little communities, long in the making, contributed to the tragic events dramatized in the play.
Salem was founded circa 1650, about 40 years before the play's setting (1692). In his "Overture" (background information) at the beginning of Act 1, Arthur Miller while describing Rev. Parris's house states that:
"Salem had been established hardly forty years before [the 1692 time setting]."