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Colonial America

Salem Witch Trials

The Salem witch trials were a series of prosecutions in which over 200 people were accused of practicing witchcraft. They took place in a number of cities in Massachusetts Bay Colony in the years 1692 and 1693, but primarily in the town of Salem.

Engraving of the Salem Witch Trials
Salem Witch Trials from William A. Crafts
Did the people really believe in witches?

During the late 17th century, the Puritans of New England believed that witchcraft was the work of the devil and was very real. This fear was not new to the United States. Throughout the late Middle Ages and into the 1600s, thousands of people were executed in Europe for being witches.

What started the trials?

The witch trials in Salem began when two little girls, Betty Parris (age 9) and Abigail Williams (age 11), began to have strange fits. They would twitch and scream and make strange animal noises. They claimed they felt as if they were being pinched and stuck with pins. When they interrupted church, the people in Salem knew the devil was at work.

The girls blamed their condition on witchcraft. They said that three women in the village had cast spells on them: Tituba, the girls' servant who told them stories of witchcraft and probably gave them the idea; Sarah Good, a local beggar and homeless person; and Sarah Osborne, an old lady who rarely came to church.

Mass Hysteria

Soon the entire town of Salem and the villages around them were in a panic. It didn't help that Tituba, the girls' servant, confessed to being a witch and making a deal with the devil. People began to blame everything bad that happened on witchcraft. Hundreds of people were accused of being witches and the local pastors of the Puritan churches began to have trials to determine who was and who wasn't a witch.

How did they determine who was a witch?

There were a number of tests used to determine if a person was a witch: How many were killed?

At least 20 people were put to death during the trials. Over 150 more were jailed and some people died due to poor conditions in jail.

How did the trials end?

As more and more people were being accused, the public began to realize that innocent people were being condemned to death. After months of trials, the governor finally decided to put an end to the trials with the last trials being held in May of 1693. The governor pardoned the rest of the accused witches and they were released from jail.

Interesting Facts about the Salem Witch Trials
Activities To learn more about Colonial America:

Colonies and Places
Lost Colony of Roanoke
Jamestown Settlement
Plymouth Colony and the Pilgrims
The Thirteen Colonies

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Daily Life in the City
Daily Life on the Farm
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Places in a Colonial Town
Women's Roles
William Bradford
Henry Hudson
James Oglethorpe
William Penn
John Smith
Roger Williams

French and Indian War
King Philip's War
Mayflower Voyage
Salem Witch Trials

Timeline of Colonial America
Glossary and Terms of Colonial America

Works Cited

History >> Colonial America

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