The witch trials of Salem, MA began in February of 1692. It all began with two young girls. Abigail Williams and Betty Parris suffered from fits of screaming and convulsions, and the pious townsfolk immediately suspected the devil was involved. Under pressure from authorities, the girls blamed three local women for putting them under a spell. If these “wicked women” could go undetected in the community for so long… didn’t that mean anyone could possibly be a witch? And that’s when the accusations began in earnest.
How many people were accused?
Twenty people (fifteen women and five men) were executed for witchcraft during the Salem witch trials… but many more people were accused. At least 150 more supposed witches were held in custody, waiting for their own trial. But there wasn’t much hope for them… nobody who reached the court was ever found innocent.
Were the witch trial victims burned at the stake?
The image of a witch tied to a stake to be burned actually comes to us from medieval Europe’s witch hunts. None of the victims accused at Salem died by fire. 19 of them were sent to Gallows Hill to be executed by hanging. One died by being pressed under heavy stones while trying to extract a confession. At least five others perished in the county jail while waiting for their trial.
What happened in the aftermath?
The blame game continued, targeting more and more prominent members of the community. Finally, in May of 1693, the Massachusetts governor’s own wife was accused of being a witch. That was enough for the governor to step in and command that the trials come to an end. The court was quickly disbanded. The 150 individuals awaiting trial were freed. The citizens seemed to completely forget about the witch obsession that consumed them for over a year.
Though the religious paranoia of 1692 was a source of shame for a while, the town has since embraced its dark, witchy heritage, perhaps to pay tribute to the innocent people who were unfairly convicted.
Can you visit the Salem Witch Trials?
You can pay respect to the 20 victims of the Salem Witch Trials at the 1692 Memorial. Each of the executed men and women is commemorated by a stone bench. You can hear each of their stories on Action Tour Guide’s self-guided walking tour of Salem.
To learn more, download the Salem Witch Trials tour app today from the App Store or Google Play Store.