Salem Witch Trials

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In May-October 1692, in the town of Salem, in Massachusetts Bay Colony, several girls who were listening to the voodoo tales of a West Indian slave, Tituba, said they were possessed by devils. They then proceeded to accuse three innocent women of witchcraft.

Under the Puritan rule of the colony at the time, the existence of witches was accepted as clear fact on scriptural grounds. In accordance with Exodus 22:18, "Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live," witchcraft was criminalized and considered a capital offense.

These women were brought to trial and, under pressure, stated the names of others who were working together to possess the girls. The Puritans governing Salem then saw this as an opportunity to use the legal procedure of court trials to identify and uncover the ways of the occult. Public trials were held and testimony was elicited in an attempt to bring forth the workings of the devil.

These three women, along with sixteen others who were were accused of witchcraft were hanged. Nearly 150 were imprisoned. Those who had reservations about the proceedings often found themselves to be accused. It is interesting to note that to avoid hanging, all the accused had to do was admit their guilt, but many refused. The refusal to admit guilt to save their lives may be attributed to the sturdy Puritan-based morality of the community at the time. One man would not even dignify the proceedings by entering a plea and was pressed to death. [1]

After many executions, a change in the rule of evidence for these trials excluded "spectral evidence," which was testimony by afflicted persons that they had been visited by a suspect's specter. With that change the subsequent trials resulted overwhelmingly in acquittals rather than convictions, and the later pardons were issued for several of those who had been convicted.[2]

Ironically, due to the notoriety of the trial that has survived to this day, tourist influence has now made Salem known for a high density of occult-themed shops.


  1. Five men were convicted and hanged, and one man, Giles Corey, was pressed to death for refusing to cooperate with the court. [1]