Brief History of the Salem Witch Trials
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Brief History of the Salem Witch Trials

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Brief History of the Salem Witch Trials




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Brief History of the Salem Witch Trials

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The Salem Witch Trials took place in Colonial Massachusetts between 1692 and 1693

More than 200 people were accused of practicing witchcraft – 20 were executed

Trials have become the prime example of paranoia and injustice

Origins of Trials

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Europe had encountered its own belief in witchcraft and had their own executions between 1300-1600.Hundreds of thousands of people who had been accused of witchcraft had been executed

European Influence

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In 1689, “King William’s War” ravaged Northern Canada and upstate New York sending refugees to Salem Village.English colonies v. French colonies

It was difficult for this small village to absorb these refugees, especially since they were having troubles of their own.

Internal controversy over the minister Reverend Paris becoming minister of SalemBelieved to be a greedy and self-serving man throughout Salem.

Why Salem?

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In 1692, Paris’ daughter, Elizabeth, 9, and niece Abigail, 11, began having “fits”Screaming, mumbling, contorting into strange positions.Village physician believed supernatural powers were having an effect

Village believed the devil to be at work with all of the arguing and in-fighting. It wasn’t hard to imagine that there would be the devil acting through the girls.

How Did

I

t

S

tart?

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When confronted by the magistrates, the girls blamed three women for their “possessions.”Tituba – Paris’ slave from Barbados

Sarah Good – a homeless beggar in Salem

Sarah Osborne – an elderly and impoverished womanThese three women were brought before the magistrateGood and Osborne claimed innocence while Tituba confessed.

All three women were put in jail

How Did

I

t

S

tart?

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Since the precedence was now set, many accusations soon followedDozens of people became suspects in consorting with the Devil.Martha Corey, a well-respected woman of Salem was accused.

In May of 1692, the Governor appointed a special court to hear cases and decide if there was indeed witchcraft happening in Salem

Rampaging through Salem

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The first defendant was Bridget Bishop

She was known for her promiscuity and for “gossiping” about others.

Although she claimed her innocence, she was found guilty and was hanged on June 10.This began the hangings of “witches”

When all was done, 19 people were hanged, one man was “pressed” to death, several died in jail. Overall more than 200 people had been accused.

First Execution

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In the times that followed, officials admitted to the mistakes that had been made by magistrates in SalemJanuary 1697, court orders a “day of fasting” to commemorate Salem tragedy

1702 – officially declared the Witch Trials unlawful

1711 – colony officially restore the rights and good names of those accused 1957 – the state of Massachusetts formally apologizes for the events of 1692

Aftermath

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Salem Witch Museum

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In 1950s, Communism was the enemy of the United StatesSenator Joseph McCarthy began holding trials to determine whether individuals residing in the U.S. were communists or communist sympathizers.

Modern “Witch Trial”

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McCarthy originally claimed that there were 205 communists that had infiltrated the U.S. governmentIt was considered “suicide” to speak out against McCarthy.

Many of those accused outside of the government were Hollywood actors, writers, artists, etc.

One of those accused was the author Arthur MillerMiller, upon attending the hearings, wrote “The Crucible” based on his experiences with Congress and McCarthy.

Modern Day Witch Trials

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Modern Day Witch Trials

McMartin Pre School

In August of 1983, Judy Johnson claims that her son, Billy, was molested by a 25 year old teacher, Ray Buckey, at the McMartin Pre School in Manhattan Beach, CA.Police Chief Harry Kuhlmeyer sends a letter to 200 McMartin Preschool parents informing them that Ray Buckey is suspected of child abuse and asking them for information.

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During the investigation, Johnson reports, for example, that Buckey wore a cape, wore a Santa Claus costume, dressed up like a minister, took Billy to a carwash and locked him in a trunk.  Teachers at the McMartin Preschool are said to have chopped up

rabbits.

The District Attorney's Office asks Kee MacFarlane, a consultant for the Children's Institute International, to interview supposed child sex abuse victimsModern Day Witch Trials

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Children's Institute interviewers begin diagnosing former students of the McMartin Preschool as having been sexually abused.  By

March of 1984, the count of those diagnosed as sexually abused reaches 360

studentsVirginia McMartin and Peggy Buckey permanently close the McMartin Preschool after 28 years in businessDuring the trials, witness testimony is inconsistent, there is malfeasance

In January of 1990 the jury was hung and recommended Buckey be released

In July of 1990, the retrial of Buckey also led to a hung jury.

Modern Day Witch Trials

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Buckey spent 7 years in prison. The family business was gone after 28 years. This trial led to the massive hysteria of child abuse in pre schools.

Modern Day Witch Trials

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Modern Day Witch Trials

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We are a society that, every fifty years or so, is afflicted by some paroxysm of virtue--an orgy of self-cleansing through which evil of one kind or another is cast out.   From the witch-hunts of Salem to the communist hunts of the McCarthy era to the current shrill fixation on child abuse, there runs a common thread of moral hysteria.  After the McCarthy era, people would ask: But how could it have happened?  How could the presumption of innocence have been abandoned wholesale? How did large and powerful institutions acquiesce as congressional investigators ran roughshod over civil liberties--all in the name of a war on communists?  How was it possible to believe that subversives lurked behind every library door, in every radio station, that every two-bit actor who had belonged to the wrong political organization posed a threat to the nation's security?  Years from now people doubtless will ask the same questions about our present era--a time when the most improbable charges of abuse find believers; when it is enough only to be accused by anonymous sources to be hauled off by investigators; a time when the hunt for child abusers has become a national pathology.

--Dorothy

Rabinowitz

, From the Mouths of Babes to a Jail Cell, 

HARPER'S MAGAZINE (May 1990).

Modern Day Witch Trials