When asked what one of the most notorious spooky locations to visit during the Halloween season is, most New Englanders would immediately say Salem, Massachusetts.
The streets are strewn with pumpkins, tour guides dressed to the nines in witch costumes, “Spooky Scary Skeleton” blasting, apple cider donuts being sold on every street corner, orange and purple lights along every fence and old wall… I could go on.
However, what many don’t think about while sinking their teeth into a candied apple is the tragedies that happened centuries ago where they stand now.
The Salem Witch Trials claimed the lives of 22 innocent people, or 22 witches, depending on what you chose to believe.
So sit back with a cup of hot cider and prepare for a little history lesson as we approach Halloween.
For most people, their first introduction to the Salem Witch Trials came in middle school or high school when their enthusiastic English teacher made them read “The Crucible”, a playwright by Arthur Miller.
“The Crucible” is set in 1692 Salem and tells the beginning of the town’s hysteria, which came at the hands of two girls, Betty Parris, the daughter of Reverend Parris, and Abigail Williams, the niece and ward of Reverend Parris. It all began when the girls were found on night dancing in the woods with the Reverend’s slave, Tituba. While at first the girls claimed they were only dancing, it was not long before their stories changed. The girls began to say they were being tortured by witches in the town and that they could see the faces of those afflicting them and that the dancing in the woods was a ritual.
This, along with Tituba coming forward and claiming to converse with the Devil, began a downward spiral of accusations coming from many young girls in the town which in turn led to what we now know as the Salem Witch Trials.
Bridget Bishop, Rebecca Nurse, Sarah Good, Elizabeth Howe, Susannah Martin, Sarah Wildes, George Burroughs, Giles Corey, George Jacobs Sr., Martha Carrier, John Proctor, John Willard, Martha Corey, Mary Eastey, Mary Parker, Alice Parker, Ann Pudeator, Wilmot Redd, Margaret Scott and Samuel Wardwell Sr. were all found guilty of witchcraft and executed between the dates of June 10, 1692 and September 22, 1962.
However, it is important to look past the playwright and into the darker history surrounding the trials, what led up to them and some of the doubts the townspeople of Salem felt throughout them. Although the playwrights captured, and some may argue, glorified the hysteria, the true story is not quite as it was described.
Let’s take a look at the state of what is now New England circa 1692.
America was not a thing. The country was made up of British colonies who had traveled to North America and stolen the land from indigenous peoples who had lived there for centuries before (but that’s a different discussion for a different day).
The British colonies, which were all Puritan at the time, were at a strange in-between point in the 1600s. While they were still being ruled under British Parliament, they had the ability to set up their own loose governmental structure. This caused many issues among the colonies because different colonies wanted different things.
When you combine a confused government with the large attacks from indigenous people who were, rightfully, fighting for their land, the Puritans were in many ways, at a loss.
Their population was withering.
Some historians believe that this hysteria was, in part, a result of the Puritans looking for something or someone to blame their bad luck for.
Switching gears a little bit, an important thing to mention is that not everyone agreed with the executions in Salem. Many people hid their doubts, but the doubts still lingered.
Many skeptics arose when one man in particular was executed after being accused of witchcraft.
That man was named George Burroughs and he was a pastor, though he was never officially ordained which was one of his biggest downfalls during trial. Throughout his trial he not once denied being a witch. It was not until he was found guilty and told he would be executed that he began to defend himself.
On the day of his execution, moments before he was hung, he recited the Lord’s prayer without a single stutter or stumble, something that was believed to be impossible for a witch. Regardless of this act however, he was still hung much to the confusion and dismay of the townspeople who stood witnessing the entire scene.
The Salem Witch Trials is an event that pretty much every New Englander, I won’t speak for the rest of the country, has heard about before and, although it is a spooky story to listen to around Halloween time, it can not be forgotten that innocent people died during those four months.
I hope I didn’t ruin your hot cider too much.
Claire Boughton can be contacted at: