The Salem Witch Trials

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What role did nonconformity play in the Salem Witch Trials and who were the accused?

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Nonconformity played a major role in who was under suspicion during the Salem Witchcraft Trials. One of the better-known victims of the hysteria was Sarah Good. Sarah was married to a day-laborer but still went to people's houses begging for money and food. Sarah and her husband were also argumentative people and therefore prime targets to be removed from society. Though Sarah never confessed, she was hung as a witch. Another one of the women, Bridget Bishop, was often accused of dressing immodestly. While the accusation against her was witchcraft, the more accurate charges probably stemmed from jealously and nonconformity. Sarah Osborne was a successful widow upon the death of her husband, but she never remarried, thus becoming the head of her own household. She kept his property for herself without her children's permission, thus leading to a long legal battle that only ended when she was accused of witchcraft.

Puritan society saw prosperity and God's favor as being the same thing. Puritan women were to keep the house and children. Their husbands were to be the heads of household. During the Salem Witch Trials, poor women who lived on the outskirts of society were often punished because they had no one to come to their defense. Women who knew of herbal remedies or did not eagerly attend church meetings were also considered possible witches. Slaves could also be witches. Tituba, a slave, was considered a witch because she had too much influence on Abigail Williams and Betty Parris. When Tituba shared her superstitions, the children had fits due to their overactive imaginations.

Women in this society were to be submissive, and the women who were ultimately executed never broke down. Sarah Good was defiant to the end, telling her judge that he would "have his own blood to drink." Eerily, twenty-five years later, Reverend Noyes died of an internal hemorrhage, thus choking on his own blood.

The Puritan experiment was to be a "city on a hill" for the rest of Christianity to follow. The Puritans thought they were constantly under attack by the forces of Satan. This led to the persecution of anyone who violated their stringent moral and gender norms.

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