The Salem witch trials took place in the Puritan colony of Salem, Massachusetts, from 1692 to 1693. Over two hundred people were accused of practicing witchcraft, and twenty of them were killed. Suspicions about witchcraft had been around for hundreds of years in Europe, where innocent people—in most cases, women—thought to be doing the work of the devil were persecuted.
In January 1692 in Salem, the daughter and niece of Reverend Samuel Paris began to behave strangely. The girls accused three women in Salem of practicing witchcraft and said that these women were to blame for their own behavior. The accused women were interrogated, and one confessed to witchcraft under pressure. One noteworthy feature of the trials that the first three women accused were of relatively low socioeconomic status, making them more vulnerable to these harsh proceedings.
Another feature of the trials was that the accusations spread widely, rapidly, and without tangible evidence. More and more citizens of Salem were accused of witchcraft and placed on trial. The trials allowed for the use of "spectral evidence"—that is, subjective and imaginative accounts. This faulty system of justice was criticized at the time by clergymen Cotton and Increase Mather, but before the trials were finally cancelled by the governor, twenty people had been executed. Just as in the witch trials of Europe, more women were killed than men. The Salem witch trials have become a case study in how a community can be swept up in collective delusion and false indignation.