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Predetermined Punishment in Salem Village

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Salem, a city along the northeast coast of Massachusetts, is infamously known for its dark history of the prosecution of witches during the 17th century. Long before the witch hunt, the Puritian village firmly believed in the supernatural. As their strength in the worship of God was strong, they also believed that the Devil was real. In 1692, Puritan belief in the supernatural exponentially grew to the barrage of witch accusations based upon unearthly evidence. In February of 1692, a couple young girls became very sick and lost control of their actions. They were reported for harsh fits and speaking tongue that was unrecognizable. Three women were quickly accused for the bewitchment of the girls: Tibuta, the slave of one of the families, Sarah Good, a homeless beggar, and Sarah Osborne, an impoverished elderly woman. As the three women were tried, Tibuta confessed to allegedly working with the devil and was immediately arrested and placed in jail. The accusations of the women aroused panic within Salem, infiltrating the minds and hearts of many. Scapegoating on the idea of witchcraft began to be commonly used within Salem, where neighbors were blaming each other for suspicious activities that can be related to witches. Each case was based on hearsay ideals, bringing accusations to be from sources that were given remotely. The town had approximately 200 women accused of witchcraft, in which 19 were killed as punishment, 4 died during their containment in jail, and 1 was tortured to death. Salem was taken under the control of the devil, in which the village was blinded from making humane choices. Men and women were tried and they faced consequences that was deemed inevitable. In the account of Bridget Bishop within preserved transcriptions of her examination, it is shown that Bishop was predetermined by the village to be charged with the counts of witchcraft that was held against her. “To which indictments the said Bridget Bishop pleaded not guilty and for trial thereof put herself upon God and her country, whereupon she was found guilty of felonies and witchcrafts whereof she stood indicted, and sentence of death accordingly passed against her as the law directs”. Through the evidence of the primary source transcribed within the Essex County Court Archives, predetermined punishments were alloted to many people within Salem, making it difficult to avoid being placed in jail or worse, execution.

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The Essex County Court Archives have been preserved throughout US history, providing a better understanding of the court rulings during the mass witch hunt. The archives for the village provides different points of views of the scribes of the event. Each transcription contains the dialogue between the examiners conversing with the accused, providing spectral evidence to the court. The judges for these trials had a firm belief of witchcraft, thus they sought out to see punishment for all of the witchcrafting residents within the village. For Bridget Bishop, the records showed that no matter how she pleaded, there was no change in the heart of the examiner. “I never saw these persons before; nor I never was in this place before…. I have no familiarity with the Devil”. Although there were many accusations going against Bishop’s favor, it was apparent that her examiners wanted to see punishment through. There was continuing avoidance of accepting Bishop’s claims as true within her trial. Every time there was an opportunity, her examiners would ask her a question rather than consider her statement. “Why if you have not wrote in the book, yet tell me how far you have gone? Have you not to do with familiar Spirits?…. How is it then, that your appearance doth hurt these?”. Salem appeared to have sought out punishments to those who does not follow the social norms. If people deemed others as nonconforming, it must be in relation of the devil living within then, thus they should not be there. “The witch trials, therefore, may have been attempts to control social behavior and insure conform”. It was made clear through the conversations between examiner and examinee that there was a decision already made out to punish by imprisonment or death, setting precedent for following trials during the period of witch hunts.

In order to better understand the significance of the punishments placed upon “witches” in Salem, it is crucial to understand their religious background of the overall village. Salem was founded as a Calvinist dominant city. Calvinism is the belief in the idea of predestination; where God has decided whether one goes to Heaven or Hell the moment someone is born. The village of Salem was filled with firm believers of this concept, thus they lived a stricter lifestyle in order to prove that they are candidates of Christ and to stay worthy of going to Heaven in their afterlife. Puritans shared similar beliefs with the calvinists, thus also believing in the judgement of God. The Puritan group believed in cleansing their culture of what they regarded as corrupt and sinful. They promoted public morality by creating rules, such as the restrictions on drunkenness, gambling, and swearing. Puritans had a strong parionia against anything they deemed as sinful because it could potentially ruin their possibility of a good afterlife. The Puritan beliefs goes hand in hand with the witch trials in Salem because of the strong fear of extraordinary events. The examiners referenced the Old Testament of the Bible in order to support the predetermined fates for those who were accused and “confirmed as witches”. For example, in Leviticus 20:27, the Lord spoke down to Moses about the children of Israel. He talks about rules that they must follow if they want to remain His children. He mentions how witchcraft and anything else that relates to connecting with spirits who have already died is punishable by death and will have those who are spell casters end in hell. “A man or a woman who is a medium or spiritist among you must be put to death”. Through using scripture in the context of the witch trials, this was a method of scaring the community of having the devil living within those who must be prosecuted. Salem had a strong religious background that made a strong influence on their legal procedure.

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Predetermined Punishment in Salem Village. (2022, September 01). Edubirdie. Retrieved February 3, 2023, from
“Predetermined Punishment in Salem Village.” Edubirdie, 01 Sept. 2022,
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Predetermined Punishment in Salem Village [Internet]. Edubirdie. 2022 Sept 01 [cited 2023 Feb 3]. Available from:
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