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  • You've been accused of a crime you did not commit.

  • It's impossible to prove your innocence.

  • If you insist that you're innocent anyway, you'll likely be found guilty and executed.

  • But if you confess, apologize, and implicate others for good measure, you'll go free.

  • Do you give a false confessionor risk a public hanging?

  • This was the choice facing those accused of witchcraft, in the village of Salem, Massachusetts between February 1692 and May 1693.

  • They were the victims of paranoia about the supernatural, misdirected religious fervor, and a justice system that valued repentance over truth.

  • Salem was settled in 1626 by Puritans, a group of English protestants.

  • Life was strict and isolated for the people of Salem.

  • Battles with their Native American neighbors and groups of French settlers were commonplace.

  • People feared starvation and disease, and relations between villagers were strained.

  • To make matters worse, 1692 brought 1 of the coldest winters on record.

  • That winter, 2 cousins, 9-year-old Betty Parris and 11-year-old Abigail Williams, started behaving very strangely.

  • A physician found nothing physically wrong, but diagnosed the girls as underan evil hand.”

  • Puritans believed that the Devil wreaked havoc in the world through human agents, or witches, who blighted nature, conjured fiendish apparitions, and tormented children.

  • As news swept through the village, the symptoms appeared to spread.

  • Accounts describe 12 so-calledafflictedgirls contorting their bodies, having fits, and complaining of prickling skin.

  • Four of the girls soon accused 3 local women of tormenting them.

  • All 3 of the accused were considered outsiders in some way.

  • On February 29th, the authorities arrested Sarah Good, a poor pregnant mother of a young daughter; Sarah Osbourne, who had long been absent from church and was suing the family of 1 of her accusers; and Tituba, an enslaved woman in Betty Parris's home, known by her first name only.

  • Tituba denied harming the girls at first.

  • But then she confessed to practicing witchcraft on the Devil's orders, and charged Good and Osbourne with having forced her.

  • Osbourne and Good both maintained their innocence.

  • Osbourne died in prison, while Good's husband turned against her in court, testifying that she "was a witch or would be one very quickly."

  • Good's 4-year-old daughter was imprisoned and eventually gave testimony against her mother.

  • Meanwhile, Good gave birth in jail.

  • Her baby died, and she was convicted and hanged shortly thereafter.

  • Tituba was held in custody until May, and then released.

  • These 3 victims were just the beginning.

  • As accusations multiplied, others, like Tituba, made false confession to save themselves.

  • The authorities even reportedly told one accused witch that she would be hanged if she did not confess, and freed if she did.

  • They were not particularly interested in thoroughly investigating the charges.

  • In keeping with their church's teachings, they preferred that the accused confessed, asked for forgiveness, and promised not to engage in more witchcraft.

  • The court accepted all kinds of dubious evidence, including so-calledspectral evidence,” in which the girls began raving when supposedly touched by invisible ghosts.

  • Complicating matters further, many of the jurors in the trials were relatives of the accusers, compromising their objectivity.

  • Those who dared to speak out, such as Judge Nathanial Saltonstall, came under suspicion.

  • By the spring of 1693, over a 100 people had been imprisoned, and 14 women and 6 men had been executed.

  • By this time, accusations were starting to spread beyond Salem to neighboring communities, and even the most powerful figures were targets.

  • When his own wife was accused, the governor of Massachusetts colony suspended the trials.

  • Sentences were amended, prisoners released, and arrests stopped.

  • Some have speculated that the girls were suffering from hallucinations caused by fungus; or a condition that caused swelling of the brain.

  • But ultimately, the reason for their behavior is unknown.

  • What we do know is that adults accepted wild accusations by children as hard evidence.

  • Today, the Salem Witch Trials remain a cautionary tale of the dangers of groupthink and scapegoating, and the power of fear to manipulate human perception.

You've been accused of a crime you did not commit.

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B2 US TED-Ed salem accused osbourne witchcraft confessed

What really happened during the Salem Witch Trials - Brian A. Pavlac

  • 193 11 posted on 2020/05/18
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