The Startling Story of the Salem Witch Trials

The Salem Witch Trials
The “Salem Witch Trials” story has nowadays become synonymous with paranoia, injustice and the mass hysteria phenomenon, a psychological and social problem common in poor, malnourished, and stressed environments. The trials against the “Devil’s magic” that occurred in colonial Massachusetts between 1692 and 1693 continue to inflame the popular imagination more than three centuries later.

While myth points to burning witches at the stake in Europe, hanging after torture to force a confession was the popular mode of execution during the “Salem Witch Trias” in North America. Twenty people accused of practicing witchcraft were executed, of whom nineteen were hanged at Gallow’s Hill, and one was pressed to death.

The pressing of Giles Corey
Highly successful farmer Giles Corey was pressed to death during the “Salem Witch Trials” in the 1690s after he was accused of witchcraft by three women.
Martha Corey
Giles Corey had previously testified against his wife Martha Corey when she stood trial for being a witch. Martha Corey was pointed as a witch after speaking up against the examinations.

The brutal trials started because of Abigail Williams, and Betty Parris. The two young girls accused Sarah Good, Tituba, and Sarah Osbourne of bewitching them, after they began having terrible fits and seeing invisible spirits.

"Tituba and the Children," illustration by Alfred Fredericks.
“Tituba and the Children,” illustration by Alfred Fredericks.

One theory about what caused the witch trials in Salem is that many villagers suffered from Ergot poisoning. The symptoms included vomiting, muscle spasms, fits, delusions, and hallucinations.

George Jacobs accused by his granddaughter - a reconstruction of his trial.
George Jacobs was executed after witnesses claimed that he appeared to them as a ghost and beat them with a cane. Another man claimed that Jacobs led him to the water and tried to drown him there.

The most common source of “evidence” against the accused was the so-called “Devil’s Mark” or “Witch’s Mark,” a permanent marking of the Devil on people’s skin to seal their obedience to him. Birthmarks, scars and natural blemishes qualified as Devil’s marks.

During the witch trials, many disturbing practices were invented to determine if a person was possessed by evil spirits. For example, the villagers would use the cursed person’s urine to make a cake out of rye flour. The cake was then fed to a dog. If the dog showed the same weird symptoms, witchcraft was “proven,” and the accused was brutally executed.