March 1st was the anniversary of one of the most infamous displays of mass hysteria in our country. These trials began after a group of young girls in Salem Village, Massachusetts claimed to be possessed by the devil after falling prey to several local women who were accused of being witches. During this wave of hysteria through colonial America, a special court was convened in Salem to hear the cases. Nineteen innocent people were hanged as a result of the witch trials and around 150 more men, women and children were accused over the months to follow.
It has been said the belief in the supernatural and the devil's practice of giving power to humans to harm others in return for their soul and loyalty began in Europe but was widespread in colonial New England. Salem Village being a Puritan community was suffering some harsh realities such as a recent smallpox epidemic and fear of attack by neighboring Native American tribes along with a rivalry between the more affluent residents of Salem Town. These very components are what led to suspicions, resentment and fear of anyone outside the Puritan community.
After two young girls began displaying symptoms which included delusions, vomiting and muscle spasms a local doctor diagnosed them as being victims of bewitchment. However, modern-day analysis of the fungus ergot which is found in rye and wheat could have been the root cause of their symptoms. In Colonial America, there were no means by which to analyze whether the fungus has been the cause; therefore, the first three women were brought before the magistrate while their accusers continued to scream, writhe as if they were afflicted by evil itself. Two of them women denied their guilt while a third--Tituba a slave woman--thought she could save herself by confessing and claiming there were other witches working with her in the service of the devil against the Puritan community. Those who were accused confessed and named yet other suspected witches of cavorting with the devil. The trials soon consumed the whole community and on June 2, 1692 the first conviction was handed down by the magistrates.
Nineteen innocent people were hanged between June and September on Gallows Hill in Salem Town. Seven innocent people died while in jail. And an elderly man was pressed to death by stones after refusing to enter a plea at his arraignment.
In January 1697, the Massachusetts General Court declared a day of fasting over the tragedy that occurred during the Salem Witch Trials which were later deemed as unlawful. The leading justice apologized for his role in the trials and the Massachusetts colony passed legislation restoring the good names to the condemned and their heirs received financial restitution in 1711.
This tragedy all boils down to an example of mob mentality, mass hysteria and scapegoating which resulted in the execution of 19 innocent people. Their names are listed below:
George Jacobs, Sr.
Samuel Wardwell, Sr.
In memoriam...March 1692-March 2019