The Salem Witch Trials era during the late 1600s was a time where suspicion and the belief in the supernatural cultivated. To get an understanding of the Salem Witch Trials, one must first understand its origins. The Salem Witch Trials commenced around the early months of 1692 when a group of young residents in Salem Village, Massachusetts, professed to be possessed by the devil and accused a number of local women of witchcraft. To add on, in the course of this time the Massachusetts Bay colony was undergoing turmoil with little to no political guidance.
There had been a new village pastor, Samuel Parris, and people had different views on his standing. Due to this, there had been a social divide between the leading families of the Massachusetts Bay. In the group of girls demonstrating strange behaviors and fits, two of them were relatives of Samuel Paris. After this, they were urged to identify the person who had bewitched them.
There were a number of cases that were heard, but all in all, nineteen people were hung and five others died in custody. There was a trend of who was prosecuted and executed the most during this time period. After studying the Salem cases, it is undeniable that women were executed and targeted more than men. The men that faced accusations of witchcraft were somehow associated with accused women. Historian, John Demos, acclaimed that the puritan men who were tried for witchcraft were usually the husbands or brothers of reported female witches. In the calamitous year of 1692, fourteen out of the nineteen people that were found guilty and executed were women. The main question is why women were the main target of the accusations in Salem Village, Massachusetts. Women were targeted because of how vulnerable they were; women held a mostly powerless position within the deeply religious Puritan community, and the cases were usually a woman reporting another woman.
A woman’s vulnerability in the puritan community was a huge factor in why they were accused more often than men. In the Puritan community, people viewed that women should make babies, take care of their children, clean the household, and practice Christian servitude to their husbands. Due to their very vast religious beliefs, Puritans base their lives on events in the bible. Puritans connected women to Eve, a woman in the bible that disobeyed God, because they felt like they were more susceptible to the constructs of the devil. So when women were accused of being a witch, it wasn’t hard for people to believe it was real. To add on, women were expected to “stay in their place”, an act of any confidence or determination would’ve been a red flag for the prosecutors. A red flag, meaning that they were conducting witchcraft practices.
“I am innocent of a witch.’ After this comment, Bridget apparently rolled her eyes towards heaven. Immediately, all the girls rolled theirs, and it seemed to the court that a devil was on the loose. After this examination, Bishop was asked if she was not troubled to see the afflicted girls so tormented. She answered no. When asked if she thought they were bewitched, she answered that she did not know what to think about them.
During her testimony, Bridget Bishop, an accused woman, showed confidence and assertiveness towards every question posed by the judge. To restate, women were expected to “stay in their place, so when Briget answered her questions the way she did, people were certain she was a witch. In addition, the questions that the jury asked the convicted women were also bombarding, redundant, ignorant, and somewhat forceful. When the convicted women answered the questions asked, the jury would add another futile question just to throw off the woman’s train of thought, or even disregard the women’s answer.
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Why you seem to act Witchcraft before us, by the motion of your body, which #[has in] seems to have influence violence upon the afflicted.-I know nothing of it. I am innocent to a Witch. I know not what a Witch is.-How do you know then that you are not a witch? #[and yet know not what a Witch is?]-I do not #[understand] know what you say.-How can you know, you are no Witch, & yet not know what a Witch is:-I am clear: if I were any such person you should know it.-You may threaten, but you can do no more than you are per- mitted.-I am innocent of a Witch.
This conversation between Bridget Bishop and the juror explains how the juror uses “loopholes” or dense questions to disregard Brdget’s answer. There was not a way for women to justly prove their innocence. It was somewhat easy to trap these women with questions and false accusations simply because they had no power and could not do anything about it. ‘Is perfectly clear-cut on witchcraft, as perhaps he had to be to purge himself in his own mind of the sins of his ancestors. In his stories the Salem outburst was a `terrible delusion,’ a `universal madness,’ in which `innocent persons’ `died wrongfully’ ‘ . This viewpoint of Nathaniel Hawthorne, American novelist born in 1804 in Salem, Massachusetts, explains how women were taken advantage of being hysterically accused of witchcraft.
It was usually women that reported witchcraft in Salem. When women reported witchcraft they would most likely say that it was the doing of another woman. “Tituba, another woman accused of being a witch, and who accused others of being witches.” Women made it worse for themselves by accusing each other, creating a stereotype that ruined their credibility in Salem. These women usually had ulterior motives when reporting on other women. For Bridget Bishop, her avant garde style and practices made her an easy target for accusations, because she wasn’t the “model woman” in the Puritan community . As was mentioned before, a group of young residents reported that they were possessed by the likes of witchcraft, these residents were girls. The person they accused was indeed Bridget Bishop.
Bishop was famous for an outfit that consisted of a black cap and a red bodice (corset, upper part of a dress) looped with laces of various colors, which she had dyed to order by the local fabric dyer Samuel Shattuck. She was also known for her strong temper, an unacceptable quality in women of that day…On April 18, 1692, Bishop was summoned to be examined in a preliminary hearing at Salem Village. ‘Bewitched’ teenage girls in the village had named her as a witch and held her responsible for their violent fits and spectral hauntings.
Most historians, like Nathaniel Hawthorne, assumed the girls did this so the debate on their relative Samuel Parris being the new village pastor of Salem Village would cease. All in all, women accused other women of being a witch for their own benefits and motives.
Women were the main targets of the Salem Witch Trials, because they essentially started the whole problem in the first place. Other leading factors to why they were singled out, leads straight to their decision of accusing each other. Their weak role in society enabled for a more intense and prolonged era of witch case hearings as well. Men were the jurors and judges; if any of them felt as if the women “stepped out of their place,” they’d immediately send them to prison or even have them executed. Some judges would even dismiss their evidence in their court hearing. The Salem Witch Trials can be viewed as a systematic oppression that was imposed by the oppressed. It is really ironic, because one wouldn’t expect the cause of a group’s oppression to be the doing of the group itself. In the end, the Salem Witch Trials wouldn’t have existed if the women of Salem didn’t accuse each other for their own intentions.