There are many complexities and even uncertainties surrounding the events that caused the Salem witch trials. Historians do agree on certain facts:
- Suspicion about witchcraft had existed for hundreds of years before the 1600s. In England, accused witches were put on trial and some were executed. These suspicions about witchcraft were also brought to the New World.
- Massachusetts was mostly Puritan. In Puritan culture, conformity was valued. People were expected to adhere to rules about acceptable moral behavior, modest dress, and church attendance. Women's roles were limited to being wives, mothers, and daughters. Women and girls were expected to behave with propriety.
- Refugees who were displaced because of King William's War settled in Salem Village in Massachusetts. This caused tensions to develop in the town. A harsh winter and smallpox epidemic occurred in the months leading up to the Salem witch trials.
- The young daughter and niece of the Reverend Samuel Parris began to behave strangely. They had fits and moments of hysterics. Another girl their age also started to behave strangely. They sometimes acted like animals and supposedly had hallucinations. This behavior was highly unusual, especially for young women of good breeding. The girls were interrogated, and they began to accuse several locals of being witches. They blamed these women for their strange behavior.
- The accused women were also interrogated. Two of the women denied any dabbling in witchcraft. One woman, who was a slave, confessed under the pressure. She told tales of the witchcraft she was supposedly involved in.
- More and more women and even men were accused. Some were not even from Salem Village. These accusations led to the famous trial, where twenty people were sentenced to death for alleged witchcraft.
While many facts are established, there is still much speculation. For example, there have been many theories about what caused the three original girls to behave so strangely. It has been suggested that the girls were merely seeking attention. One theory suggests that the girls had eaten a grain with a fungus called ergot. The drug LSD is derived from ergot. This would explain the supposed hallucinations and unusual behavior that the girls experienced.
Many people in Salem Village became convinced that the accused were indeed witches. Some researchers think that this may have had to do with the recent hardships and tensions in the town. They may have wanted someone or something to blame for their hardships.