What effects did the witch trials have on Puritan communities?
The most famous of the North American witch trials, the ones that took place in Salem Village, Massachusetts, had a profound impact upon Puritanism and its practitioners. Puritans believed that the Devil could appear in their midst and that weak-willed people (such as women and children) and sinners (such as those who had committed adultery) would be the Devil's victims and servants. Because Salem was such a concentrated hot-bed of witch trial activity, news of the accusations and trials eventually spread across the country. If Salem could be the source of such evil, and attract the Devil, it was believed the Devil could appear in other towns and seduce and enslave other sinners.
Gossip played a key role in determining which residents would be accused of associating with the Devil; petty theft, adultery, arrogance and mean-spiritedness were all cause for citizens to suspect they neighbors of trafficking with Satan. The notion of "spectral evidence" (in which one could claim that invisible forces were at work and influencing the behavior of others) made it virtually impossible to deny anyone's accusations. The hysteria that spread throughout the Colonies was rooted in the Puritanical belief that the Devil could and would appear in communities where evil was afoot; in this way, one accusation led rapidly to another, and continued until entire communities were embroiled in panic.