Showing posts with label Salem Witch Trials. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Salem Witch Trials. Show all posts

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

So, You Want to Know About the SALEM WITCH TRIALS - Part TWO - How Salem Village Discovers 3 Witches

Reverend Samuel Parris (1653-1720)
Reverend Samuel Parris (1653-1720)
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)
The Parris Family- This is where the hysteria started in 9-year-old Betty.

Samuel Parris started his education at Harvard but dropped out to earn his fortune as a merchant in Barbados. He was not successful in the Caribbean and moved his family back to New England in order to find steady pay as a minister. He had a difficult time finding a job because he did not have a degree. He was a talented minister, even his enemies would agree, but he was also resentful and close-minded. Salem Village could find no minister, and Samuel Parris could find no parish, but still, the two couldn't come to terms and negotiated for nearly a year before Parris agreed to take the job.

Samuel believed the village should give him the parsonage forever, but the town would only agree to let his family live there for as long as he was a minister. Because of this, Parris got off to a rough start in Salem and there were many who did not like him. Samuel wanted to be a mover and shaker but lacked the gumption to see it through. Samuel Parris was the type of man who hated when people asked him questions about his own life but loved when they asked him his opinion about life, in general.

Mrs. Parris had it pretty easy compared to her neighbors. The brunt of the housework was done by the two slaves the Parris' brought back from Barbados. Mrs. Parris was frequently ill or away from the home, leaving the children in the care of the slave, Tituba.

There were two younger children that did not become afflicted.

Elizabeth Parris, or "Betty," at only nine years old, was the first to display any symptoms in January. Her body would go completely rigid, or she would zone out and make animal noises. She was a young, confused little girl who lived under the roof of a sanctimonious, rigid, father, who was constantly preaching fire and brimstone. Those who witnessed her behavior, especially her father, became alarmed and wondered how to fix her. Betty was a part of the accusations against the first three "witches," but she sent to live away from the home soon after and was not a part of the ensuing uproar.

Abigail Williams, the 11 1/2-year-old nieces living with the Parris'. (There is no record of what brought her away from her parents.) Like most sad children, Abigail yearned for attention, especially from men, but her quest would have brought her all the wrong notice. Children were expected to be seen and not heard, and Abigail was frequently compared unfavorably to the well-behaved Betty.

Abigail, who had always been a little jealous of her younger cousin, became utterly green with envy when Betty started to have spells. Not only was the girl getting all of the attention from the adults, but she got to say and do whatever she wanted without discipline. Before long, Abigail got in on the act and went on to be one of the most ardent and vocal accusers.

Tituba, a female slave from Barbados, had always been regarded with suspicion. It was not common for Massachusetts families to own slaves, but it was not illegal. The Puritans couldn't figure out whether Tituba was one of those voodoo people from the Caribbean or one of those pagan Indian savages, but either way, they didn't like her. Above all, Tituba loved Betty, and would frequently sit with the child and stroke her hair.

John Indian was also a slave in the Parris household. He and Tituba were a couple (some say they were married, but formalities such as marriage were not necessary for slaves). Fearing he would be accused next, John Indian suddenly became one of the afflicted during Tituba's confession. He would put on "fits" at Ingersoll's Ordinary (the local inn), writhing about on the floor and passing off old scars proof of abuse by the witches. He also testified at examinations.

The Beginning

It is almost impossible for a modern-day American to understand what life would have been like in January 1692. The average Puritan house had a huge fireplace, big enough to roast a whole pig indoors, but unless you were within a few yards of the fire, you were going to be cold. There were few social engagements, and people did not go visit. Men kept occupied with hunting trips and other outdoor activities, but a female could easily spend the entire week between church meetings trapped inside her dismal home. Puritans did not have the merriment of Christmas (they considered it a pagan holiday!?) to take the drudgery out of the long winter, and by January, long into the solitude, every day must have felt like hopeless sorrow, with no end in sight.

There is no clear-cut proof as to what prompted Betty's affliction. Years later, John Alden (an accused witch), wrote the girls were experimenting with a Venus glass to determine the occupation of their future husbands. The method of fortune-telling was harmless enough; an egg white is dropped into a cup of water to see if any images can be discerned in the goo. Alden's version may be accurate, and many authors have run with the idea that the young girls were dabbling in the occult with the same moral trepidation of a young boy peeking at a Hustler, but because it was written five years after the crisis was over, Alden's account of how the scare started cannot be taken as fact.

What is known is Abigail began to display symptoms, too. Mary Sibley, a neighbor, thought the girls were demonically possessed and recommended Tituba bake a "witch cake" according to an old English wives' tale. Tituba mixed Abigail and Betty's urine into the recipe, baked it over the fire, and fed it to the dog. According to legend, the evil spirits were supposed to leave the girls' by way of their pee, and become trapped inside the body of the dog. Samuel Parris was beside himself with anger when he found out about the witch cake. He publicly scolded Mary Sibley from the pulpit, accusing her of "going to the devil for help against the devil." The congregation began to fear they were being invaded by invisible spirits they had no way of fighting.

Parris' next move was to call Dr. Griggs, who consulted his medical books and diagnosed the "evil hand," a perfectly acceptable medical opinion. It was official, the devil was in their midst, and Samuel Parris set about trying to figure out who his accomplices were. He beat the daylights out of Tituba and grilled the girls incessantly about what or who was torturing them. He even called in out of town ministers to pray and fast with the family.

The Putnam's

Thomas Putnam was an outspoken member of the community who always thought he was right. He hated anyone who seemed to have it better and sought revenge by sly maneuvering instead of direct confrontation.

Thomas Putnam was always demanding justice against his supposed wrongs, and his name graces the warrants of more witches than anyone else. Throughout the frenzy, Thomas constantly wrote letters making accusations against anyone he pleased, his allegations growing ever more outlandish each time. He had a dispute with just about everyone: the Nurse family over land, the English family over a failed election; the list of Putnam's enemies who eventually became accused witches goes on and on.

Ann Sr. was a disturbed woman, who carried around a load of anger, and blame. She had come to Salem Village with her dear unlucky sister, who lost every one of her babies before she, too, succumbed to death. Ann Sr. never got over this, especially when her own babies began to die. She would go in and out of affliction, and commonly confused a bad dream with a vision and testified to it as fact.

Ann Jr., at 12, was an uncommon child because her mother had taught her how to read. Around town, she was considered a little prodigy. She had the air of a child who is routinely spoken to about adult matters and treated as if she were an adult. Ann was the leader of the afflicted girls, and also the best witchfinder, testifying against 17 of the 19 "witches" hanged.

Mercy Lewis, Putnam's 17-year-old servant girl, watched as her parents were murdered by Indians. Mercy had been rescued by George Burroughs and placed in the home of the Putnam's.

More girls join the fray.

Ann Putnam, being only 12 years old and unable to resist the temptation of attention, quickly became the leader. It must have felt like Heaven to these young children. All of a sudden, the same grown-ups who were always "shushing" and ignoring were hanging on every word as if the girls knew the meaning of life. It was Ann who took over and began naming names, the other girls nodding in agreement.

On a leap year, February 29, the blame came back to Tituba, but that wasn't all, there were two other witches who haunted the children. Ann named the names, but soon the other girls saw, too.

The accused were rounded up to be examined; a sort of informal pretrial hearing set for March 1. The examination was set to be held in Ingersoll's Ordinary (the local inn), but so many people showed up to watch, the whole affair had to be moved over to the meetinghouse to accommodate the crowd.

Sarah Good was the most obvious choice and the first to be examined.

Her father killed himself in 1672.

She was on her second marriage, but her previous husband had died in huge debt, so Sarah had no money.

She was 39 years old, but most people would have guessed her 70.

She was married with a bunch of children, the youngest one was little Dorcas, was only five years old.

Her husband was a laborer, and though labor was valuable in those days, nobody wanted to hire him because he was attached to Sarah. A neighbor who they stayed with had to kick the Goods out because of Sarah's behavior. She was a mess, she was lazy, and she spoke without thinking. She was crude, and not worth having around, regardless of how much a family needed the extra hands on the farm.

Lately, Sarah had taken to door to door begging. She would show up unexpectedly, and the homeowners would have to watch her go away because she might try to sneak into their sheds. As she walked away she would mutter to herself. Sarah probably had a dash of schizophrenia. The mutterings were taken for curses, and her arrest caused many folks to remember curious incidents that could have been caused by Sarah.

Her favorite pastime was pipe-smoking, and one family had kicked her out because of it. Later, when she was in jail, she would beg tobacco off of the visitors, and even supposedly cursed young Mercy Short, who threw wood shavings at Sarah and told her to smoke them.

She was pregnant when she was arrested, and she had the baby in the Boston jail while awaiting trial. Jailers said she let the baby die. Of course, this is the opinion of a man who thought of Sarah as a foul witch. Sarah's other children were alive, and it is not fair to try to assume what Sarah could have been feeling while holding her dying newborn babe.

Her little daughter, Dorcas, became the youngest accused at 4 and ½ years old. She was thrown in jail like the rest of the "witches," and because she was too young to handle the horrors of being imprisoned in such an awful place, she went insane and was never the same again.

During Sarah's trial one of the afflicted girls screamed out she was being stabbed by Sarah, and the crowd gasped as the girl was even able to produce a broken blade. A young man in the crowd recognized the broken piece and brought out his knife he had broken the day before. The piece fit like a puzzle, and one of the magistrates scolded the girl for lying, though the rest of her testimony was never questioned

Sarah Osburn may have been a less obvious choice for which than Tituba and Sarah good, but she was a woman with a reputation.

She was an older woman in ill health.

After her husband died, Sarah allowed another man to move into her home without the benefit of marriage. This other man, being an Irish immigrant, was under suspicion for nothing more than being different. They eventually did marry, but that didn't change anything in the Puritan mind.

Before the accusation, Sarah had stayed away from church for more than a year.

She died in jail while awaiting trial.

Monday, April 23, 2018

So, You Want to Know About the SALEM WITCH TRIALS - Part ONE - Life As a New England Puritan

"The witch no. 1" lithograph
"The witch no. 1" lithograph (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
A hint on how to use this: If you are really interested in the subject, read the whole thing and you'll be able to hold your own in a conversation with an expert. If you have a report to do, or otherwise couldn't care less, just scan down and read the first few sentences of every paragraph. I do not always add dates, as timelines are so easy to find on the internet, but I do follow a loose chronology. The main goal is to present the information as it can be best understood. This is designed for you to get a feel for the life, learn little tidbits of information, and become an all-around more knowledgeable person.

What was life like for the New England Puritan?

The people were floundering about, trying to find purpose. Until about 1660, Americans had a common goal; working together to forge a new frontier, but now the colony was well established and attention turned to gain, both materially and spiritually.

Colonists did not care for the English political leaders. Instead, people idolized the founding fathers, like those who came over on the Mayflower. In 1692, the founding fathers were dead and gone.

The majority of the population had always been born in England, but the tide changed, and in the late 1600's, America was filled with people born on her soil.

There was no separation of church and state, and people who did not attend meetings were suspect and could be punished. Many towns had a rule that a man could not vote if he was not a member of a church.

Because lying was considered a sin, it was punishable by law.

Hangings were not common, but when one occurred it was a form of entertainment that young children were encouraged to attend. The most popular part of the hanging was the last words when the person about to be executed would say goodbye to his or her family. Puritans reasoned allowing children to witness hangings would teach them the consequence of immoral behavior.

Life was an exhausting array of chores with little amusement. The average family made their own bread, butter, cider, ale, clothes, candles, and just about everything else they used. Every member of the family could expect to work from morning to night.

Houses were dark, damp, and depressing. A candle was always burning, even in the middle of the day because the tiny windows let in so little light.

The nearest neighbor usually lived a few football fields away.

Most people could not write, and signed their names on legal papers with their "mark." Signing an "X" was unfashionable to young girls (and even grown women), who liked to make curly cue hearts and other inventive designs.

Because people couldn't read, they didn't care (or know) how their name was spelled, and, since the court reporter couldn't very well ask an illiterate person how to spell his or her name, the spelling depended on who was taking the notes. Many of the official documents spell individual names differently. Mary Easty was also Esty, Osborn, Osburn, Cory, Corey, and so on. Even learned and educated men used a loose grammar, and did not worry about proper spelling.

Normal families had 5-10 kids of their own, and it was common to have an extra child living in the home. By the age of 7, children were given their full share of responsibility and expected to perform to adult standards.

New England had one of the lowest rates of infant mortality in America. "Nine out of ten infants born there survived at least until age five, and perhaps three-quarters lived to see adulthood." In more rural areas as many as 25% of children died before the age of 1, and only about half made it to adulthood.

Most marriages ended with the early death of a spouse. A couple was lucky to get seven years out of each other. Second and third marriages were common.

The man was head of the household. A woman might offer her opinion to her husband behind closed doors, and even prove a valuable ally, but she was expected to concede to her husband in all matters. She could not own property without her husband's permission, or vote. It was assumed that woman was the weaker sex in every way, and if she did not follow her husband's rules, he was encouraged to use physical abuse as a form of "correction."

There was a real fear of Indians (Salem was never attacked), and everyone knew at least one orphan from Maine who watched on as their parents were killed by Indians. Ironically, many people who were captured and held captive chose to stay with the tribe rather than go back to their families.


America was a colony of England, and had to run things according to a set of rules, called a "Charter," handed down from the English king. Just to get word to England would take 10 weeks by ship. In March, when the witch scare first broke out, the previous charter had been long eliminated. This meant there was no leader, no rules, and the nearest thing to a leader was in England negotiating for a new charter. Because of the situation, the accused witches were examined and held in jail, but not tried. In May, Increase Mather, the president of Harvard (the only New Englander with an official title), sailed back from England with a new charter and a new governor. This is when the actual trials began.

Puritan Beliefs

The Bible was law; period, no questions asked, end of a conversation. It was taken literally, and sins like adultery and sodomy could be punished by death.

"The House Where Witchcraft Started, Now ...
"The House Where Witchcraft Started, Now Danvers, Mass." (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
The Puritan faith had been taking some blows, and there were no new people joining the ranks. Ministers were constantly preaching about the falling ranks and the rise of the devil as if they were one.

Ministers commonly spoke of the virtue of being a good wife, which was all a woman could really hope to be. A woman would be frowned upon if she owned her own land, didn't have a lot of children, or was in any way, outspoken or different.

People dabbled in the occult and practiced white magic. Simple wives tales like fortune telling were passed down from generation to generation, though it was considered evil. Ministers were always preaching about the dangers of inviting the devil in through the occult, no matter how harmless it may seem.

There was a general distrust at the time, and if a cow suddenly died, its owner would likely think one of his neighbors had cursed him. A man would not dare to question God's judgment; he just questioned it being aimed at him. If he searched his soul and found he had done nothing to deserve the death of his cow, he would blame the misfortune on the devil acting through a witch.

To deny God was unquestionable, so by the same token, to deny the existence of the devil would be just as blasphemous. The Bible was taken to be complete truth, and men who could read would consult the Bible for personal, as well as legal matters.

Puritan lifestyle was stringent and righteous, and they were not the loving and forgiving type one would expect to meet in such a religious community. According to Marion Starkey, if a man had a toothache the Puritans figured he had in some way sinned with his tooth. This feeling was so strong that some of the accused witches confessed in bewilderment and wracked their brains to find something they had done in the past to allow the devil to use them in such a manner.

The Puritans used fasting as a means to give God a little extra oomph and unite the community in a cause. Meals were very important, and usually the only time during an average day when a person could sit and relax for a moment.

There was little separation between dreams and real life. To the Puritan, there was a reason for everything, and "...dreams contained prophesies, revelations, truths more real than daily life, and there was no clear explanation of what else they were."

Salem Village

All his life, Thomas Putnam had been resentful of rich families, like the Porters. Both families grew up in Salem Town, but the merchant Porters were more worldly and successful than the farming Putnam's. No matter how hard he tried, Thomas Putnam, an influential man in his own right, just couldn't beat those uppity Porters. The Porters had more land and more money, but what really bothered Thomas was that the Porters were considered smarter than the Putnam's because they were better spoken. Thomas set out to break away from Salem Town and from Salem Village, but the township wasn't eager to let the property go.

Salem Village was allowed to build a meetinghouse, but it was to act as a franchise of the Salem Town meetinghouse. Thomas Putnam tried to pull rank by handpicking the ministers, but this only served to divide the community in half; those who supported Putnam and his choice of  theminister and those who hated Putnam and wouldn't support any choice he made. All the unsuspecting ministers would eventually leave Salem Village because of the conflict. Sometimes, Salem Town/Village would refuse to pay, (George Burroughs had to take a suit to the General Court in order to get paid) and sometimes the ministers would bow out, frustrated by all the arguing and infighting.

Salem Village was finally allowed to act on it's own, and Samuel Parris was the first minister to hold the job for the budding community.

The witch, according to the Salem Puritan.

Witches were notorious for killing otherwise healthy infants.

Witches had pets, known as "familiars," to do their evil bidding. The familiars would drink the blood of their witch masters from an extra "teat" located somewhere on his or her body, usually near the genitals. Salem familiars had the particular habit of sucking between the index and middle finger.

Witches could throw curses like Frisbees, aiming at anyone who irritated them.

Witches made a pact with the devil, sometimes for a specified amount of time. The devil was always tempting people into signing his book.

A witch could not say the "Our Father" prayer without making mistakes.

A witch could be in one place while her specter was causing pain and mischief in another.

The devil had no power over those who didn't give him permission. He could not assume the shape of a righteous person, though the Puritans had no valid reason to believe this and many argued over the use of "spectral evidence."

If a person was convicted, or even accused of being a witch, his or her family was automatically suspect.