Revisiting the 1692 incident that led to 20 killed in Salem, Massachusetts

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1 Revisiting the 1692 incident that led to 20 killed in Salem, Massachusetts By Smithsonian.com, adapted by Newsela staff on Word Count 792 TOP: Fanciful representation of the Salem witch trials, lithograph from 1892 by Joseph Baker. Courtesy of Library of Congress. BOTTOM: Drawing of Martha Corey, who was hanged for witchcraft at the Salem Witch trials in Photo: "Stranger's Illustrated Guide to Boston and its Suburbs" by James Stark, The Salem witch trials occurred in colonial Massachusetts between 1692 and More than 200 people were accused of practicing witchcraft, which was known as the Devil's magic. Twenty people were executed. Eventually, the colony admitted the trials were a mistake and paid money to the families of those convicted. Since then, the story of the trials has become synonymous with paranoia and injustice. The story continues to attract the popular imagination more than 300 years later. Everybody Used To Blame The Devil For Everything Several centuries ago, many practicing Christians, and those of other religions, had a strong belief that the Devil could give certain people known as witches the power to harm others. In return, the Devil would have their loyalty. A "witchcraft craze" rippled through Europe from the 1300s to the end of the 1600s. Tens of thousands of supposed witches mostly women were executed.

2 In 1689, English rulers William and Mary started a war with France that played out in the American colonies, ravaging parts of upstate New York and Canada. People fleeing the war flooded into the Massachusetts Bay Colony. Specifically, they came to Salem Village. The displaced people created problems in Salem. There was fighting between rich and poor. Reverend Samuel Parris, who became Salem Village's first ordained minister in 1689, was disliked because of his rigid ways and greedy nature. The Puritan villagers believed all the quarreling was the work of the Devil. In January of 1692, Reverend Parris' daughter Elizabeth, age 9, and niece Abigail Williams, age 11, started having "fits." They screamed, threw things, made peculiar sounds and twisted themselves into strange positions. Another girl, Ann Putnam, age 11, had similar experiences. On February 29, under pressure from local judges, the girls blamed three women for afflicting them: Tituba, the Parris' Caribbean slave; Sarah Good, a homeless beggar; and Sarah Osborne, a poor elderly woman. A Confession Changes Things All three women were brought before the local judges and questioned for several days, starting on March 1, Osborne claimed innocence, as did Good. But Tituba confessed, "The Devil came to me and bid me serve him." She described elaborate images of black dogs, red cats, yellow birds and a "black man" who wanted her to sign his book. She admitted that she signed the book and said there were several other witches looking to destroy the Puritans. All three women were put in jail. Over the next few months, there were charges against other women in Salem. Judges even questioned Sarah Good's 4-year-old daughter, Dorothy, and her timid answers were interpreted as a confession. The Hangings On May 27, 1692, Governor William Phipps assembled a special court. The first case brought to the court was Bridget Bishop. When asked if she had committed witchcraft, Bishop responded, "I am as innocent as the child unborn." The defense must not have been convincing. Bishop was found guilty and, on June 10, became the first person in Salem to be hanged. Five days later, respected minister Cotton Mather wrote a letter begging the court not to allow statements about dreams and visions. The court largely ignored this request. Between July and September, 18 people were sentenced and hanged. In response to Mather's plea and his own wife being questioned for witchcraft, Governor Phipps decided to stop further arrests. He released many accused witches and dissolved the special court on October 29. Phipps eventually pardoned all who were in prison on witchcraft charges by May However, the damage had been done. Twenty suspected witches were killed, several people died in jail and nearly 200 people had been accused of practicing "the Devil's magic."

3 Making Up For The Mistake Following the trials and executions, many involved publicly confessed error and guilt. In 1702, the court declared the trials unlawful. And in 1711, the colony passed a bill restoring the rights and good names of those accused, and granted money to the families of the victims. However, it was not until 1957 more than 250 years later that Massachusetts formally apologized for the events of In the 20th century, artists and scientists alike continued to be fascinated by the Salem witch trials. The play "The Crucible" used the trials as a setting for political commentary. One theory about the chaos blames the unusual habits of the accused on the fungus ergot. This fungus, which can cause illness and strange behavior, is found in cereal grasses common to the area. In 1992, to mark the 300th anniversary of the trials, Nobel Peace Prize winner Elie Wiesel dedicated the Witch Trials Memorial in Salem. The town's most-visited site remains the Salem Witch Museum. It stands as a symbol of the public's fascination with the events of 1692.

4 Quiz 1 What is the MOST likely reason the author included the information about the Christians' beliefs about the Devil? to show why so many people were willing to believe the accused women were witches to show how unusual a "witchcraft craze" was in a religious community to show why the English rulers William and Mary started a war with France to show how religious beliefs can change throughout history 2 Select the paragraph from the section "The Hangings" that suggests the court realized that it had been wrong to jail and hang those accused. 3 Which of the following sentences from the article BEST supports the idea that the court was willing to believe those accused were guilty even without evidence? All three women were brought before the local judges and questioned for several days, starting on March 1, Judges even questioned Sarah Good's 4-year-old daughter, Dorothy, and her timid answers were interpreted as a confession. Bishop was found guilty and, on June 10, became the first person in Salem to be hanged. Twenty suspected witches were killed, several people died in jail and nearly 200 people had been accused of practicing "the Devil's magic." 4 According to the article, how did the court's thoughts about witchcraft change? The court realized that the way they had conducted the trials was not accurate, and that there were probably more witches in Salem than they had thought. The court realized that the three girls who began the accusations were too young to legally testify against the witches, making the trials accurate but unlawful. The court realized that they had made mistakes during the trial, causing the colony to pay money to the families of those who had been accused of witchcraft. The court realized that they did not have enough evidence to accuse people of witchcraft, and began research in order to find new evidence against witches.

5 Answer Key 1 What is the MOST likely reason the author included the information about the Christians' beliefs about the Devil? to show why so many people were willing to believe the accused women were witches to show how unusual a "witchcraft craze" was in a religious community to show why the English rulers William and Mary started a war with France to show how religious beliefs can change throughout history 2 Select the paragraph from the section "The Hangings" that suggests the court realized that it had been wrong to jail and hang those accused. Paragraph 10: In response to Mather's plea and his own wife being questioned for witchcraft, Governor Phipps decided to stop further arrests. He released many accused witches and dissolved the special court on October 29. Phipps eventually pardoned all who were in prison on witchcraft charges by May However, the damage had been done. Twenty suspected witches were killed, several people died in jail and nearly 200 people had been accused of practicing "the Devil's magic." 3 Which of the following sentences from the article BEST supports the idea that the court was willing to believe those accused were guilty even without evidence? All three women were brought before the local judges and questioned for several days, starting on March 1, Judges even questioned Sarah Good's 4-year-old daughter, Dorothy, and her timid answers were interpreted as a confession. Bishop was found guilty and, on June 10, became the first person in Salem to be hanged. Twenty suspected witches were killed, several people died in jail and nearly 200 people had been accused of practicing "the Devil's magic."

6 4 According to the article, how did the court's thoughts about witchcraft change? The court realized that the way they had conducted the trials was not accurate, and that there were probably more witches in Salem than they had thought. The court realized that the three girls who began the accusations were too young to legally testify against the witches, making the trials accurate but unlawful. The court realized that they had made mistakes during the trial, causing the colony to pay money to the families of those who had been accused of witchcraft. The court realized that they did not have enough evidence to accuse people of witchcraft, and began research in order to find new evidence against witches.

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