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The Witch Trials (W14:D4)



Though this story is not about pirates, it is about those who were accused of heinous crimes; some may have deserved it, some, not so much. The Witch Trials grew quickly in a literal “witch hunt” throughout all New England colonies. Europe had been searching for witches for generations, spanning well before Columbus sailed to the New World. The search for witches had subsided, in Europe, around the mid 17th century. This is just about the time rumors of witches started to spread in the New World. The first witchcraft execution in the Americas was Alse Young, in 1647, which started the Connecticut Trials. The Salem Trials started in 1691. Puritans had moved from England to get away from the control of the Crown, but it followed. New England was settled by many different faiths, who left Europe for the same reason. In Massachusetts, they converged, and there was much conflict between them; everything from property lines to church rights was disputed. Alse Young, the first in the Connecticut Witch Trials – Alse Young was born in 1615, and raised in Windsor, Connecticut. She may have married John Young and had a daughter, Alice. There are no records of a trial for Alse, against the accusation of witchcraft. That same year, 1647, an epidemic of influenza was spreading throughout New England and the death rate was extremely high. Because of everything that was happening, Alse may have been used as the scapegoat, someone to blame for everyone becoming ill, and so was tried off the court records; but her hanging was recorded multiple times. The next year, her husband moved, and possibly changed his name. Thirty years later, her daughter was also accused, but fought it successfully. Mary Johnson and the first confession – Mary was a house servant and was accused of theft, in 1648. After being interrogated, and even tortured, she stated that she had “familiarity with the devil,” that she had relations with men and the devil, and even murdered a child. No evidence was collected to prove these claims, and her execution was delayed until she gave birth. She was executed on June 6, 1650. Elizabeth Hubbard, Accuser in the Salem Witch Trials – Elizabeth was a 17-year-old orphan, who became the maidservant to her uncle, Dr. William Griggs. She and a group of friends, headed by Abigail Williams and Betty Parris, began accusing others of witchcraft, after being found playing with the like. When questioned, the two would start having fits, contortions of their bodies, and screaming. Elizabeth’s fits started the next year. Dr. Griggs examined the girls to find nothing wrong with them, and claimed that it had to be supernatural. Elizabeth was 18, by then, and could testify in court, unlike most of the other girls. She began accusing more and more colonists of witchcraft and sending the girls into fits. Her last testimony (of the 32 times it was given, with more than 40 accusations) was in 1693. These accusations resulted in 17 arrests, 13 hangings, and two dying while in jail. After the trials, she disappears from records, which may be due to her changing her name. Dorothy Good: the four-year-old witch – Dorothy and her mother were accused of practicing witchcraft, in 1692. Dorothy was interrogated by the local magistrate and even “confessed” to seeing her mom talking with the devil. Two of Hubbard’s cohorts claimed the child had bit them, as if like an animal. Dorothy was sent to jail. She made many interesting comments but was still released months later, on bond. She never stood trial. Mary Bliss Parsons – Mary Bliss Parsons was born in England, in 1628, and immigrated to Connecticut, around 1646. She met Joseph Parsons, and they married the same year. In 1655, they moved to Massachusetts and purchased land from the local tribe, to help start the town of Northampton. They were very successful, owning land throughout Massachusetts. In the 1650s a feud developed between the Parsons and a neighboring family, the Bridgmans. While the Parsons were successful and healthy, the neighbors were quite the opposite. Rumors began to spread that the Parsons were causing cattle to die, and that Mary had cursed their son. She was called a witch, and the rumors spread. In 1656, Joseph Parsons brought the matter to court and sued the Bridgmans for slander. The court sided with the Parsons and ordered the Bridgmans to apologize. In 1674, they again charged Mary Parsons with witchcraft, after their daughter suddenly died. The local magistrate searched Mary’s body for witch-marks and then decided to ship her to Boston and that court sided with Mary. Though the courts were convinced, the rumors of Mary being a witch spread everywhere they moved. Her husband died in 1683. She lived, suffering from the same rumors, for the next 30 years, until she died. John Proctor – John was born in England and immigrated to Massachusetts with his wealthy parents, at three years old. He became a successful businessman and had four children. His wife died in childbirth to the only child to survive childhood. Three years later, he married Elizabeth Thorndike, and moved to Salem, in 1666. They had seven children; five survived. She died in 1672. In 1674, he married Elizabeth Bassett and had another seven kids; five of these also made it to adulthood. By now, Elizabeth and the older kids ran their tavern. In 1692, rumors spread about Elizabeth being a witch. When Proctor stood up for her, he was accused, too. His accuser was Abigail Williams, one of Hubbard’s cohorts. Hubbard brought these accusations to court with a petition in his favor, signed by 32 neighbors. The Proctors were tried on August 5, 1692, found guilty, and sentenced to death by hanging. While they were in jail, their property was stripped by the local sheriff and sold. The children were left with nothing. Rumor is, that he was given a chance to confess, to save himself from hanging, but he would not lie by signing his name. John was hanged on August 19, 1692. Elizabeth’s hanging was delayed, because she was pregnant. She was eventually released. In the end, 141 complaints were filed against John, Elizabeth, and other family members - even his children. When Elizabeth was finally released, all their property was gone, and the courts would not even recognize her as living for the next seven years. Together, all those accused, and their family members, filed petitions to reverse the courts. In 1711, the government finally reversed the convictions, and they were awarded money for the property the local government had stolen. George Burroughs – George was born in England and then moved to be raised by his mother, in Massachusetts. He graduated from Harvard and became a pastor, to preach in Salem, in 1680. A conflict started between him and his congregation when they weren’t paying his wages. In 1681, when his wife died, he borrowed money from John Putnam, a community member, to pay for her funeral. When he couldn’t pay Putnam, he resigned and left Salem. He moved to Maine, until his town was destroyed by the Wabanaki in 1690. While in Wells, Maine, he was accused of witchcraft, by those he owed money. He was accused of many other things, also, including mistreating his accusers, ten years previously. He was hanged - the only minister to be executed during the trials. While waiting, with the rope around his neck, he recited the Lord’s prayer, which was said to be “impossible for a witch.” The Aftermath - In the end, the majority (78%) of those executed were women. The trials and processes to try a witch were set up by the Court of Oyer and Terminer. It convened, for the first time, in Salem, on June 2, 1692, with Bridget Bishop being the first to be tried and executed. Things were getting out of hand, and innocent people were being executed. This information made its way to Governor Phips, who was fighting in Maine. He declared that the trials must stop. After seven months of trials, and many executions, the Superior Court met, to find nearly everyone accused not guilty. The trials finally ended in April 1693. Everyone still alive was released. Those who survived petitioned - for years - to overturn the convictions of all accused, including the 19 executed, the five who died in jail, and the one crushed. Activity: Let’s Play Accusation – Is it fun to be accused of something you didn’t do? Here is a little activity to help you know how it feels. This is to be played in the classroom, with your class, or at home with your family. Everyone sits in a circle or around a table. Cut small, equal sized pieces of paper, enough for each person to get one. Write “ACCUSED” on one piece. Place all the papers in the middle of the table, or in a container, (folded in half, so no one can know which paper is picked). Everyone grab a piece and without anyone seeing, look at your paper. The person who was the first to pick up “ACCUSED'' is automatically not accused; instead, they will be the “ACCUSER.” Place the paper back into the container and have everyone pull out another piece. Do this five times, so at least five people are accused. Mark it in the book, in the space below, if you are accused (use one rectangle to record each time you receive the “ACCUSED” paper, each game). After five times, put the paper back in the container and hold up your fingers, showing how many times you were accused. Those who were accused, then get to guess who the accuser is (which was the first person that round to draw the “ACCUSED”). If you pick the right person, you win. Play this game as many times as you like.

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