The tragic truth behind the legend…
You will have blood to drink for your part in this evil day.”
Sarah Wild cried out these words to Reverend Nicholas Noyes just before she and 4 others were hanged to death (Reverend Noyes ultimately died from a hemorrhage in his mouth). What many of you may think was a trial of witches being tortured and hanged for dancing with the devil, was actually one of the most tragic accounts of false accusations of American History.
And so the story goes…
The year was 1692 in Salem, Salem Village, and a few neighbouring towns in Massachusetts. Puritan governed colonies with harsh and irrational rules painted a dark and miserable landscape were, women and children were forbidden to find anything even remotely pleasurable. Smiling, singing, dancing and laughing were cause for a scolding, if not more. Children were not allowed toys of any kind, especially dolls. It was a dreadful, dark and horrible time rich with outrageous supernatural beliefs of dark magic and evil. A perfect recipe for hysteria.
It was a cold and snowy winter layered in the blood of the recent Indian massacres. Smallpox was fierce, taxes were high and faith in colonial politicians was running thin. A servant woman of different ethnicity, Tituba, loved to entertain the Parris family children and did so with exotic tales of Malleus Maleficarum. These were tales about sexual encounters with demons, swaying the minds of men, and fortune-telling. At a time when laughing and toys were considered an abomination, it was easy to unravel the imaginations of young girls.
In January 1692, Reverend Parris’ 9-year-old daughter, little Betty Parris and her cousin Abigail Williams felt ill, soon to be called “afflicted”. It wasn’t long until 7 more girls ages 9-19 were “afflicted”, displaying fits of outbursts and contorting their bodies in an unnatural manner similar to that of demonic possession.
In mid-February, Dr. William Griggs decided the girls were “bewitched”. Pandora’s Box had been opened, and soon and the girls began revealing the names of those bewitching them beginning with Sarah Good, Sarah Osborne and Tituba. This would mark the beginning of the wrongly accused, tried and killed victims of the Salem Witch Trials.
And now Nineteen persons having been hang’d, and one prest to death, and Eight more condemned, in all Twenty and Eight, of which above a third part were Members of some of the Churches of N. England, and more than half of them of a good Conversation in general, and not one clear’d; about Fifty having confest themselves to be Witches, of which not one Executed; above an Hundred and Fifty in Prison, and Two Hundred more accused; the Special Commision of Oyer and Terminer comes to a period.” -Robert Calef
If you lived in Salem during this time, chances are you would at some point be accused of being a witch. Many adults and children began condemning people for sport and revenge. Two dogs were even condemned to death by hanging because the girls said they were giving them the “evil eye”.
It wasn’t until Sir William Phipps, Governor of Massachusetts put an end to the tragic trials and witch hunting frenzy in 1693 when his own wife was accused of being a witch by Salem girls.
When I put an end to the Court there ware at least fifty persons in prision in great misery by reason of the extream cold and their poverty, most of them having only spectre evidence against them and their mittimusses being defective, I caused some of them to be lettout upon bayle and put the Judges upon consideration of a way to reliefe others and to prevent them from perishing in prision, upon which some of them were convinced and acknowledged that their former proceedings were too violent and not grounded upon a right foundation … The stop put to the first method of proceedings hath dissipated the blak cloud that threatened this Province with destruccion.” -Sir William Phipps February 21, 1693
Many of the accused were not cleared until years later, the most recent pardon being signed by Governor Jane Swift in 2001.