Essay on How Did the Salem Witch Trials Affect America

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The witch, as the Puritans saw her/him, was ultimately a man-made creation synonymous with the supernatural, sorcerers, and ghosts. Salem was a quarrelsome village and less prosperous than Salem Town. The inhabitants were divided over almost everything -- the church, politics, where to divide the land, deaths, and an immense and irrational fear of the dense forest. This ultimately led to hysteria which manifested in the tragedy that would become the Salem Witch Trials. When discussing the question “What is a witch?” witches have been perceived and written about in various ways and different descriptions have been used, but there are general types of witches that can be pointed out in almost any story. Society has always viewed witches as evil characters, devil worshippers, seductresses, or scorned women. When in fact the term witch holds so much more meaning than that and has affected a wide range of people who all have different circumstances in history. Most historians tend to be in one of these two camps. The first camp is that historians would write about society, religion, and gender as they are topics that blend in well with each other. The second camp is emotion and law, though these may seem opposite to each other with the reading I’ve done it seems historians can’t write one without the other. They write about the pain the trials caused and the mass hysteria that came with the legal proceedings of the trials. Society, religion, gender, emotion, and law, are the aspects that make up the study of history cornering witches in America, all of these topics will show the kaleidoscope of aspects that come along with this study.

Society in Massachusetts during 1692 was incredibly rigid and religion-based, everyone followed the role that they were set in and people viewed anyone different very harshly. So at the prospect of anyone different that went against the flow of society, those people were pointed out and judged. Witchcraft was something the people of Salem feared because they used it to try and explain the terrible things that would happen around them that couldn't be explained by any normal means. Examples would be sickness, famine, an epidemic, or someone speaking or acting in a way that was deemed inappropriate. Salem Town and Village living was set in a very concrete pattern. Life was centered around the church and anything that went against the church was incorrect. The people who lived in Salem at this time were called Puritans and to them, the church was neither a building nor social institution, but rather a place where a group of “chosen” people would gather, which was the minister and men of his choosing. This group of people would spread God’s word to the community and those teachings would be what controlled the community. The “witches” that were convicted and executed were simple townspeople trying to survive in a religiously strict Puritanical society. Anyone could have been accused of being a witch it could have been a person who was seen doing some sort of cooking or making something that could have been seen as magic, a doctor who was only trying to do his job, or a midwife who lost many children in a row that causes people to look at them with suspicion, someone who fought a lot with their neighbors and maybe caused them harm, or a person that is related to someone that was already previously accused of witchcraft. An example of which beliefs would be someone who kept a journal, animals would hang around them, or a person who physically appeared different from other people. People in Salem would use anything as “evidence” and if the church found that evidence plausible enough they would arrest the woman, man, or even child in question. Executions were a big part of the witch trials as the community would gather together to view a hanging or a drawing of an accused. Fourteen of these executed individuals at the beginning of the trials were women. One of the first three accused was a slave from South America, Tituba. Another of the accused, Dorothy (Dorcas Good), was just four years old. Her mother, Sarah Good, was the second accused and convicted. The last of the three women was Sarah Osbourne who owned her property and came into money when her husband died. The trials were unjust (often “witnesses” would use spectral evidence in their accusations and the judges would maintain that a “witch” is guilty unless they admit that they have signed the devil’s book). The punishments for witchcraft were cruel and unusual -- ranging from prison cells only large enough for one individual to stand in pressings. Society as a whole was very toxic at this time Neighbors would turn against neighbors for the smallest misconduct or for something they simply disliked about the other person, and the only time they would come together was to prosecute a person they deemed dangerous to them.

As discussed before the church was the center of the town, and this fact made religion the thing that loomed over Salem and most of the colonies in this period. Religion was something that people took seriously and it affected the way they viewed the world around them and the people around them. The Puritans were a group of English settlers who founded New England. (Talk about John Calvin and the Puritans and their beliefs) As stated in the paragraph about society the church officials were ministers and people who were elected or deemed fit to practice in the church. The Puritan society was set in a way where church officials were at the top, and then normal men and women were placed last in Salem’s hierarchy. This circumstance was one of the reasons it was so simple to accuse a woman as they were already second to all the men that surrounded them, though men were also accused of witchcraft occasionally. The teachings of the Bible were taught from a young age and children could recite scripture. In this time religion ruled over everyone and caused people to view others and the world through the church's teachings.

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During the witch trials, a person’s gender could mean life or death. Since accusations could come from anyone and anywhere. The women who would break society's rules or act in any strange way had a target placed on their backs. In the time of 1692, a lot of judges and men were still sexist and thought women should be placed under them in the social hierarchy of Salem. In terms of gender women were the most accused and prosecuted, but both men and children also were accused of witchcraft. The practice of magic has been documented long before the Salem witch trials it has been written about since the trials that occured in England and other places in the European world. There are so many stories and legends about witches in the world, that there are similarities between them. They relate to each other so much, especially in terms of how they describe women, a woman will be almost always written about in a negative light. She could be called evil, vain, a sureness, wrongly powerful, or someone shunned from society. When a woman was one of these many things in Europe or during the time of the Salem Witch Trials she would have been accused of being a witch. General points about women who were accused were women who were married, widowed, and could range from the young ages of twenty to forty, and predominantly the ages of forty-one to seventy. It was more likely for elder women to be accused than younger male or female witches since they were not the main suspects. Prosecutors would look for women who were old and acted differently from the others around them, midwives whose babies regularly died, young women who did not marry at normal times, women who had an unprecedented amount of power from owning their dead husband's property, and any women who would challenge the Puritan doctrine and challenged established religious and political hierarchy would be targeted as a witch. Though men and children were the minority when being accused or killed there was still a great amount of them being affected by the trials. Most of the time men who were accused would be accused if their wife was involved. If a man stood in the way of a trial for his wife he could also be accused of witchcraft for trying to help someone who was “damned”. An example of a man would be George Jacobs, when accused he tried to flee but was captured and his wife was also taken into custody as the town thought she had a “crazy” type of behavior. The ages of men who were accused could range from twenty to seventy as well but compared to the ratio of people killed men would be forty-two to the female count of one hundred and twenty. The ratio of men killed never became higher than the amount of women killed. Children were rarely killed but sometimes if a mother was accused their children would be looked at and could be brought in, it was more likely if they were female.

The Salem Witch Trials could undoubtedly be considered an emotional time. The consequences of the Salem witch trials affected Massachusetts and most of America for years after the witch hunt ended. This event holds historical value as historians and everyday people know the horrors of what occurred in Salem. It is still being researched, because like all history this event affected people's lives and caused pain and death from beginning to end. The paranoia caused by the trials affected people's everyday lives, people watched what they would do or say in fear of any of their neighbors accusing them of witchcraft. A person would give up their friends to save themselves if it meant taking the public's eye off of them and onto someone else. No one wanted to go through the painful tests the church used to see if a person was a witch. One of the most horrible tests included tying a rock to a person's foot and seeing if they would float, if the accused floated they were a witch while an innocent person would simply sink to the bottom. This test caused many deaths as people would indeed sink to the bottom, but no one would pull them out of the lake until it was too late.

Some people didn't get tested instead they would be tried in court, if they were found guilty the accused witch would be sentenced to hanging. The witch trials would bring the community together as the entire town would show up to the sentencing. As cruel as the trials were in reality it was a form of entertainment to the people of Salem. The legal aspects of a witch trial introduced trial juries, the appearance of a legal council which be the defense and official government prosecutors. Though there was a defendant there were no lawyers for the accused and a normal trial was filled with paranoia and superstition. Any case in Salem was not controlled by the government's law book but instead, by the beliefs shared by the jurors, witness, the accused, and even the judge. If a judgment was not reached in court alone the accused would go through a set of ordeals or tests that would be performed to see if someone was a witch. For example the drawing test, or more commonly a doctor would check a person’s body for a witch mark. A witch mark could be any strange thing the doctor found on the accused body, either a mole or a strange birthmark. More often than not even the slightest defect was used to accuse someone of being a witch. In all the one thing a witch trial lacked was the aspect of fairness, “innocent until proven guilty” didn't tend to apply in these cases, and the result usually was the death by hanging of an innocent person.

In the end, the witch trials though did not last longer than a year the effect they had on women, Salem, and the rest of America will always be remembered. The term witch was popularly used as a bad thing or a person with evil intentions by historians and writers for many years. The term was used to prosecute women and other people who simply stood out from others or acted in a way that deviated from the norms of society. These trials allow historians to look back and piece apart the effects they had on women, as these women and others were hunted for being open-minded, free from the rules placed on them, or outspoken. This time in history allows people to analyze not only the negative effects of human paranoia but also women and others in society who were not considered part of society.

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Essay on How Did the Salem Witch Trials Affect America. (2024, February 28). Edubirdie. Retrieved May 18, 2024, from
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