Please provide a detailed description of the Salem Witch Trials.

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martinjmurphy eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In January of 1692, two girls, Elizabeth Parris and Abigail Williams began to display bizarre behavior.  Elizabeth was the daughter of the local minister and Abigail was the minister’s niece. A third girl, Ann Putnam, began showing the same behavior. The local doctor could not find anything wrong with the girls and declared that they were bewitched. The girls eventually blamed three women for their bewitchment—Tituba, the Caribbean slave of the Parris family, and two women with poor reputations, Sarah Good and Sarah Osbourne.  In March the three women were put on trial and imprisoned.  Then the hysteria began and more people, including Martha Corey, a respected member of the church in Salem, had charges brought against them.  In May, a Special Court of Oyer and Terminer was established for Middlesex, Essex, and Suffolk counties.  The first case heard in this court was that of Bridget Bishop. She was found guilty and hanged on Gallows Hill.  Overall, almost 200 people were accused of practicing witchcraft.  Nineteen people were hanged and one man was pressed to death using heavy stones. Several more died in jail.  After his wife was questioned, Governor William Phipps stopped any further arrests and dissolved the Special Court. He released many of the accused witches from jail.  The Witch trials came to an end.

missy575 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

We have some great resources on eNotes, so please check out the link below.

A quick overview that I can give you would include these ideas:

First, the Salem Witch Trials occured in a town called Salem that still exists today in Massachusetts. Several people were accused of witchcraft. What was strange about the whole ordeal was that the people accused were good, upstanding, moral folks. We have primary sources documents to prove it. So the question that plagues history is, why? Why were these people accused? Another side question would be on the reality of the demonic or of witchcraft.

Much of the idea had to do with the firm beliefs of the Puritans. The name suggests purity. It became a popular practice to bring a neighbor to court for witchery when it would be nice to have their property. This is the case of the Putnams and the Proctors in the well-known piece about Salem, Arthur Miller's The Crucible. Sure, it was written in the 20th century, but he did a tremendous amount of research to illustrate the lifestyle of these people. Although the Puritans wanted to be pure, they certainly were human. No one can be perfect all the time.

Use our resources, you will be able to write your one-page piece all on your own after a quick glance through some pages.

Ashley Kannan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I think that the previous thoughts were stellar.  I might also suggest examining the resources available on "The Crucible."  As previously noted, this is a play about the trials and the town of Salem, and might help to give you some background about the basic elements regarding the Salem Witch Trials.  Certainly, some descriptive elements about the Trials was the desire to achieve spiritual purity taking the town down some of the most impure paths.  False accusations, constructed confessions, and an atmosphere of presumed guilt ended up resulting from people who feared God and feared evil.  It is very interesting to see that something so feared ended up being so embraced.  I think that in your studies, you might also want to spend some time discussing Tituba, the slave who was accused of being a witch, herself.  She was one of the first ones to be executed on fear of being a witch and reportedly said, "There are many witches in Salem."  This might be a very prophetic statement given how the Trials ended up playing out.  Additionally, examining the trials from someone who was already an "outsider" and then someone who was further maligned for being different might be a level to explore in your description.

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