Salem Witch Trials FAQ Page
Were the victims of the Salem witch trials burned at the stake?
Where did the outbreak originate?
When did the trials first begin?
When did the trials end?
What caused the Salem witch trials?
What ended the trials?
What is spectral evidence?
Did John Proctor and Abigail Williams really have an affair as described in Arthur Miller's The Crucible?
Did witches really exist in Salem?
How many people died as a result of the trials?
How many people were accused?
How many people were afflicted?
What web site can help me research my family history to see if I'm related to a person involved with the Salem witch trials?
With the exception of Giles Corey--who was crushed to death for refusing to enter a plea of guilty or not guilty, the executed were hanged, not burned. In Colonial America, witchcraft was a felony punishable by death by hanging. However, in Europe witchcraft was considered heresy and punishable by burning at the stake.
The witchcraft outbreak originated in Salem Village with Betty Parris being the first afflicted girl. See the Salem Witchcraft essay for a detailed explanation of the causes and events of the Salem witch trials.
The first examinations took place March 1, 1692. The first trial for witchcraft under the Court of Oyer and Terminer was May 27, 1692. See the timeline for more important dates relating to the Salem witch trials.
Governor Phips dissolved the Court of Oyer and Terminer on October 29, 1692. A Superior Court of Judicature replaced it on November 25, 1692. The last witch trials were held in January 1693, and in May of the same year Gov. Phips pardoned the remaining accused. See the timeline for more important dates relating to the Salem witch trials.
There really was no one cause for the Salem witch trials. A combination of events and factors helped in the creation of a climate for the birth and growth of the trials. A recent small pox outbreak, the revocation of the Massachusetts Bay Colony charter by Charles II and the constant fear of Indian attacks helped in creating anxiety among the early Puritans that God was punishing them. This fear of punishment established a fertile atmosphere in which a case of possible witchcraft could easily be interpreted by the Puritans as the cause of God's wrath. Add to these events the economic, political, imaginations and fears of the people, family feuds and religious factors of the time, it is easier to understand how the Salem witch trials grew and prospered for almost a whole year. See the Salem Witchcraft essay for a detailed explanation of the causes, events and aftermath of the Salem witch trials.
Public support and belief in the trials began to wane for several reasons. Respected ministers started to believe that some innocent people were being accused and executed for witchcraft primarily on unreliable spectral evidence. As the Reverend Increase Mather stated, "It were better than ten suspected witches should escape than one innocent person should be condemned." Also, as the accusations mounted, persons from all walks of life--rich and poor, beggar and merchant--were being accused. Additionally, the accused that originally confessed to witchcraft requested to recant their former confessions. With public confidence in the trials slipping, the cries of the afflicted were steadily ignored, and the accusations eventually stopped. See the Salem Witchcraft essay for a detailed explanation of the events, causes and aftermath of the Salem witch trials.
Spectral evidence is testimony given that an accused person's spirit or spectral shape appeared to the witness in a dream at the time the accused person's physical body was at another location.
There is no evidence that supports a love affair between John Proctor and Abigail Williams. John was 60-years-old at the time of the trials while Abigail was only 12. Also, they lived over eight miles apart, a sizeable distance in 17th Century America.
Bridget Bishop was found to have "poppets" with pins stuck in them in the cellar walls of her house. Martha Carrier was known to tell people's fortunes. Both were considered forms of Black Magic during this time. Therefore, it could be said that witches did exist in Salem. However, there is no evidence that any of the accused were practitioners of Wicca or any other neo-pagan religions.
Nineteen people were hanged, one person was pressed to death, and as many as thirteen people may have died in prison. See the victims page for a list of the dead.
One-hundred and forty people were accused of witchcraft. See the accused page for a list of the accused.
Forty-three people were afflicted. See the afflicted page for a list of the afflicted.
You can try the Family Research Center's web site at www.familysearch.org.
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