The Salem Witch Trials, 1692
The seeds of the hysteria that afflicted Salem Village, Massachusetts were sown in January 1692 when a group of young girls began to display bizarre behavior. The tight-knit community was at a loss to explain the convulsive seizures, blasphemous screaming, and trance-like states that afflicted the youngsters. The physicians called in to examine the girls could findno natural cause of the disturbing behavior. If the source of the affliction where the trials took placewas not attributable to a physical malady, the community reasoned that it must be the work of Satan. Witches had invaded Salem.
In February the village began praying and fasting in order to rid itself of the devil's influence. The girls were pressured to reveal who in the communitycontrolled their behavior. Three women were identified and examined. One, Tituba (a slave), confessed to seeing the devil who appeared to her "sometimes like a hog and sometimes like a great dog." Even more troubling, Tituba confessed that a conspiracy of witches permeated Salem Village.
In March the afflicted girls accused Martha Corey. The three women previously denounced as colluding with the devilwere marginal to the community. Martha Corey was different; she was an upstanding member of the Puritan congregation - her revelation as a witch demonstrated that Satan's influence reached to the very core of the community. Events snowballed as the accusatory atmosphere intensified and reached a fever pitch. During the period from March into the fall many were charged, examined, tried and condemnedto death. The hangings started in June with the death of Bridget Bishop and continued through September. As winter approached, the hysteria played itself out as criticism of the procedures grew. In October, the colonial governor dissolved the local Court of inquiry. The convictions and condemnations for witchery stopped. Nineteen victims of the witch-hunt had been hanged, one crushed to deathunder the weight of stones and at least four died in prison awaiting trial.
The Trial of Martha Corey
Friday March 11, 1692 was a day of fasting and prayer in Salem. During the day the community's minister, the Rev. Samuel Parris, asked the girls to reveal another witch. They did, and the accusation shocked those who heard it for it implicated Martha Corey (Goodwife Corey) a new but upstandingmember of the congregation. Immediately a delegation was sent to the Corey farm to interview the accused in the hope of clearing up this discrepancy. Martha Corey's sarcastic response to the accusation disheartened the delegation who immediately called for her arrest. Her trial was the scene of much agitation. In the courtroom Martha's accusers writhed in agony as they were forced by an unseen powerto mimic the witch's every movement. When Martha shifted her feet the girls did also, when Martha bit her lip the girls were compelled to bit their own lips, crying out in pain. They saw the specter of a black man bending over the accused and heard the drum beat calling the witches to convene on the meetinghouse lawn. Deodat Lawson, a visiting minister, describes the scene:
"On, Monday, the21st. of March, the magistrates of Salem appointed to come to examination of Goodwife Corey. And about twelve of the clock they went into the meeting house, which was thronged with spectators. Mr. Noyes began with a very pertinent and pathetic prayer, and Goodwife Corey being called to answer to what was alleged against her, she desired to go to prayer, which was much wondered at, in the presence ofso many hundred people. The magistrates told her they would not admit it; they came not there to hear her pray, but to examine her in what was alleged against her. The worshipful Mr. Hathorne asked her why she afflicted those children. She said she did not afflict them. He asked her, 'Who did then?' She said, 'I do not know; how should I know?'
The number of the afflicted persons were about...
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