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The Salem Witch Trials, Exploring with Kids

Did you know the Salem Witch Trials started because of two little girls? Well, they did.

Do you believe in witches? What about ghosts? Well, in Salem in the late 1600s these were both real. Real as you and I are today. These beliefs are some of the reasons for these trials.

Exploring Salem and its past is fun any time of the year but in October it’s even more so. Salem puts on quite a party for the whole month. There are many Haunted Happenings for everyone, from magic shows for kids to parades, costume contests, and even Wicked Bloody Mary Sundays, for the adults.

Season of the Witch
October Happenings around Salem

But no matter when you visit Salem don’t miss the opportunity to learn about the Salem Witch Trials. The parallels with today’s society are very interesting. It really is a great conversation to have with kids about how we view others.

Table of Contents

Salem Witch Trials

How did the Salem Witch Trials start anyway, you ask? Well, the story reminds me of a Nancy Drew mystery my girls were listening to on Audible just last weekend on our road trip. The Nancy Drew mystery is called “The Haunting on Heliotrope Lane”. If you don’t have Audible I highly recommend it. In fact, I have several other apps for traveling with kids I’d suggest you look into as well.

So in the story with Nancy Drew, a girl acts possessed by demons after going into an abandoned house. Similarly in Salem, Betty Parris, age 9, and Abigail Williams, age 11, started acting as though they were having an epileptic seizure. They had twitching fits, they screamed out loud, and make animal noises all to the honor of their parents and the other townsfolk. When it happened in church is when things took a turn for the worse. The people of Salem believed the devil was to blame.

Memorial to the Salem Witch Trials

These two girls as well as others told the townsfolk that 3 women were to blame. The girls named Tituba, Betty Parris’ Caribbean slave along with Sarah Good and Sarah Osborne. Tituba told the girls scary stories about witchcraft which is most likely the cause of all the fuss. As for Sarah Good, well, she was a homeless woman and Sarah Osborne’s offense was not going to church, hence outcasts.

These acts by the three women don’t seem bad today but during the late 1600s in Puritan Massachusetts, they were terrible. Puritans believe in hard work, responsibility, self-control, and most of all honesty. Of course, if you do something bad you must confess and repent for your sin.

The Trials

The trials lasted from February of 1692 to September of 1693. I find the most interesting info is that anyone could ask for a trial. Anyone could accuse someone of putting a curse on them or a loved one. And so the trials started. The accused supposedly “afflicted someone with witchcraft” or had an “unlawful covenant with the Devil”.

At the trials, the accuser’s told of seeing ‘ghostly images’ of the ‘so-called witch’ in the same room as them. People thought only the Devil could bring ghostly images. If the “so-called witch” was in a ghostly form, they must be a witch.

bench 2, Salem Witch Trials

There are several ways to test their theory. One was to have a dog eat a ‘witch cake’ which, made from the urine of the ill girls would make the witch cry out. Another method is the “touch test”. If the “suspected witch” touched their victim, the victim’s symptoms would stop. This meant the “suspected witch” inflicted the symptoms. As you can see the evidence against the “suspected witches” was very thin and anyone could easily lie in this process.

Tituba, The Witch

Tituba’s story is quite interesting. Originally she denied being a witch however, as she was on trial she finally gave in. She admitted to performing witchcraft to save her life. Remember, this is a Puritan society and their beliefs are at the forefront of these trials. Tituba must have realized if she confused and repented that her life would be saved. She told of an elaborate story of witchcraft, probably from her Caribbean stories and the townsfolk believed her. She was sent to prison. After the trials are over, Tituba is freed to another slave owner.

Bench, Salem Witch Trials

However, Sarah Good and Sarah Osborne denied any witchcraft or devil work which only made the townsfolk angry. Sarah Good heads straight to the gallows. Sarah Osborne dies in prison though.

Giles Corey, a Victim of the Salem Witch Trials

Giles Corey is another very interesting person in the witch trials. His story prior to the witch trials doesn’t put him in good standing with the Puritans. Even though he is a member of the church, his refusal to confess to witchcraft goes against him. In fact, he refuses to stand trial. This refusal puts him in a terrible position with the courts for everyone must be put on trial. However, Corey is correct in that the Puritans presumed you guilty. He knew he would be convicted. So his refusal to stand trial brings an even harsher punishment of pressing.

bench 3, Salem Witch Trials

This is a very interesting punishment even for 1692. Not only was pressing illegal in Massachusetts but also goes against all Puritan beliefs. However, Corey was still given this sentence. This is the only death by pressing in the history of the US. It takes two days for Giles Corey to die. A few days later his wife, Martha whom he testifies against is hung.

bench 4, Salem Witch Trials

The Punishment

If convicted as a witch, your punishment was death. Mostly hangings on Gallows Hill, which is now a park with a baseball field.

The first person to go to Gallows Hill is Bridget Bishop. She wasn’t the first person accused of witchcraft but she was the first to die. Unfortunately, this didn’t bring the townsfolk to their senses and stop the trials. Bridget was the first of 19 hangings.

Cemeteries of the Salem Witch Trials

Three cemeteries in Salem have ties to the Salem Witch Trials. I’ve walked all of these cemeteries and looked for the headstones. However, it is nearly impossible to find any legible headstones from the 1600s. You can see in my pictures though that some headstones from the 1800s are still easy to read.

Howard Street Cemetery is where Giles Corey met his death. Walking this cemetery you can get a feel for those who mattered in society and those who didn’t.

Broad Street Cemetery is where the Corwin brothers rest. George Corwin was the high sheriff in the county in 1692. While Jonathon Corwin was a magistrate at the trials. Jonathon Corwin also was living in the “Witch House” at the time.

Broad Street Cemetery

The last cemetery you should explore and probably the most important is the Old Burying Point Cemetery on Broad St. Not only is this where prominent members of Salem society rest but also many magistrates.

Old Burying Point Cemetery

Unfortunately, the graves of the convicted ‘witches’ are unknown. As outcasts from society, they are in mostly unmarked, sometimes mass, graves.

Altogether approximately 200 people stood accused of witchcraft, 19 hung, 1 pressed to death, and more died in jail.

The Memorial to the Victims

A memorial to the victims of the witch trials is also at the Old Burying Point Cemetery.

The plaque at the entrance to the memorial reads

This memorial is dedicated to the enduring lessons of human rights and tolerance learned from the Salem Witch Trials of 1692.

The courtyard memorial has twenty stone benches with the names of the victims and dates inscribed on them. The trees planted in the center are the same as those on Gallows Hill. The words engraved into the stones at the entrance are what the victims last spoke.

The memorial with stone benches

I hope these words teach us to be more understanding.

“For my life now lies in your hands”

“On my dying day, I am no witch”

“God knows I am innocent”

“Oh Lord help me”

“I am wholly innocent of such wickedness”

“If I would confess I should save my life”

“I do plead not guilty”

Bench 5, Salem Witch Trials

The End of the Salem Witch Trials

Eventually, local ministers tried to convince people to stop the witch hunt. Then Governor Sir William Phips put a stop to the trials. It coincided with his own wife being accused of witchcraft. He established a new Superior Court of Judicature which could not accept ‘ghostly’ evidence. With that, the trials ended and this chapter is over.

Since the Trials

It took until 1702 for the courts to realize the Salem Witch Trials were unlawful. Then in 1711, an attempt to clear the good names of the accused was passed. The sad fact is that it took until 1957, over 250 years later, for Massachusetts to formally apologize for the trials. Finally, in 1992 the memorial was built so that we never forget the tragic events.


Salem Today

Today Salem embraces its witchcraft history, everywhere. One of the elementary schools in town is Witchcraft Heights Elementary School. Needless to say, the town revels in its past.

You can explore the trials further by visiting the Salem Witch Museum right off Salem Common. But just walking around town you will see remnants of witches everywhere. Along Salem Witch Mall, the pedestrian shopping street you will find all sorts of shops dedicated to witchcraft and the paranormal.

In fact, the Peabody Essex Museum which is right downtown has an exhibit from now through April all about the Salem Witch Trials. The documents from the courts haven’t been on display in over three years. A rare treat to see the originals.

Don’t miss the Bewitched statue of Elizabeth Montgomery on the corner of Washington St. and Essex St. An homage to a good witch.

Now Salem isn’t just about witches it’s also about candy. Try out the sweeter side of Salem with these three sweet shops.

Pin for Later

The Real Witches of Salem
The Real Witches of Salem
The Witches of Salem
The Witches of Salem

Final Thoughts

I think we as a nation can still learn from the Puritan’s mistakes of accusing people of wrongdoing without having all the evidence.

This is why I love exploring history and travel, it truly opens our minds and teaches us about different cultures and places. Hopefully to bring out the good in everyone.

I hope you’ve enjoyed a little bit of the Witch history of Salem. Have you been to Salem, Massachusetts? Did you come in October? Did you explore the witches here? Tell me in the comments.

This Post Has 54 Comments

  1. Marie-Claude Painchaud

    Very interesting post. I live in Montreal, Qc, so unfortunately will not be able to visit since the boarders are still closed. 🙁 I love Boston and the area. Last time I went I was wondering if it was worth it to stop by Salem on my way back, didn’t have enough time. You convinced me to stop by next time. 🙂 I love everything related to witches. I read a very scary book when I was young, well it was scary back then lolll, I think it was The witches of Salem, it was a novel, fiction. I find it fascinating.

    Thank you for that post. Nice pics.

    1. Leeanne

      Thanks, I’m glad you liked my post. Here’s hoping the borders will be open next year and you can visit Salem for Halloween. The whole month of October is great but being in Salem for Halloween is something to experience especially if you love witches.

  2. Tricia Snow

    Interesting history and information. I had no idea pressing was a way to kill someone. No wonder it was illegal!

    1. Leeanne

      It is certainly not a way I would want to die. Crazy time in our history for sure.

  3. Tonya Denmark

    We had seen a play a few years back about the girls, called the Daughters of Salem. It was really good and definitely is just one of the reasons we’d love to visit Salem.

    1. Leeanne

      Interesting. I’m sure you will enjoy Salem when you do visit.

  4. Kendra

    The witch stories and witch trials of Salem are fascinating! Thanks for sharing the history with us here. It’s so intriguing (and quite frightening) how they determined “guilt” back then. I think it would be fun to visit Salem, MA during October, and you bet I would be up for a Wicked Bloody Mary or two!

    1. Leeanne

      It really is crazy that someone’s dream could be counted as evidence in a court of law. I’m sure you would enjoy Salem, they really do embrace the fun of witches in everything.

  5. Cathy

    I would love to visit Salem. I’ll have to add it to my list. The witch trials and executions were a horrible thing!

    1. Leeanne

      I totally agree with you, Cathy. However, just like any time in history, I hope we can learn from it.

  6. Heather Jandrue

    Salem is amazing! I had hoped to go for the Halloween festivities this year, but many have been canceled. I still plan on going to see the witch exhibit. The witch trials have always fascinated me.

    1. Leeanne

      You’re right Salem is amazing. If you go this year definitely buy your tickets online. I was walking around at 8:00 am and the Witch House tours were sold out for the day.

  7. kmf

    We visited Salem last year and all three of us loved this charming community. The Salem Witch Trials was such a fascinating yet disturbing time in our country – actually heartbreaking. I love your point about how history and travel are so important for us to come from a place of understanding and agree these experiences help us open our hearts and our minds. Great writeup of the witches of Salem – and love that you included Bewitched!

    1. Leeanne

      Thanks, Karen. The Bewitched statue is a favorite of so many.

  8. Michele

    We have studied the Salem witch trials in homeschool. I think it would be great to visit when we make our way to the area! Love the photos!

    1. Leeanne

      Thanks. It is a very interesting time in our history for sure. I’m sure Peyton would love to visit Salem.

  9. Alexis Farmer

    I was supposed to go to Salem this year but it fell through 🙁 living vicariously through this post!

    1. Leeanne

      When you do come to Massachusetts definitely go to Salem, I’m sure you will love it.

  10. Sarah

    Salem is such a neat place to visit! This was a really interesting post to read and remember about the witch trials! I learned about them when I was younger, and it is a fascinating (and terrible!) part of Massachusetts’ history. Thanks for sharing!

    1. Leeanne

      Agreed. I’m just glad it stopped when it did.

  11. Julie

    Crazy that anyone could put someone on trial. Happy we have a better system now. I would love to visit Salem one day!

    1. Leeanne

      I agree, it was crazy. I’m sure you and your family will love Salem.

  12. Lisa

    Wow, this is so fascinating. It really is so important to learn from the past. I cannot believe that so many were accused and that 19 we’re hung. I’m glad I didn’t live back then but I would love to visit it now.

    1. Leeanne

      I agree, I glad I didn’t live back then either.

      1. Karen

        So important to acknowledge and understand our history (even the not-so-great stuff). Love the Salem Witch Trials Memorial wall – very tastefully done.

        1. Leeanne

          Thanks. I know you enjoyed Salem when you visited.

  13. Lannie travels

    Such an interesting post! I appreciate all the stories you told about the witch trials. I have never even heard of death by pressing?? Sounds awful.

    I loved learning more about Salem’s history in your post. Thanks for sharing!

    1. Leeanne

      I agree, death by pressing seems beyond awful. I guess that’s why it’s always been outlawed. Awful time in history for Salem.

  14. Pam

    My daughter especially would love this! What an interesting post – thanks for sharing.

    1. Leeanne

      I’m sure your daughter would love to visit Salem, Pam.

  15. Casandra

    I love learning the history of places and events. Such interesting stories!

    1. Leeanne

      I love history too. I think it makes the places we visit come alive.

  16. Taquia

    Salem has such an interesting history! I hope to visit around Halloween one year.

    1. Leeanne

      Definitely come in costume if you are coming around Halloween. That way you will blend right in with everyone else.

  17. alison netzer

    I remember learning about the Salem Witch Trials in school. So crazy that with no evidence these women were put to death. I would love to take my kids to Salem for a visit.

    1. Leeanne

      I’m sure your kids would love Salem.

  18. Barbara

    What a dark time in history! YIKES! Glad we continue evolving as a society…

    1. Leeanne

      Hopefully, we can do better even now.

  19. Cindy Mailhot

    We love visiting Salem and try to go every year.

    1. Leeanne

      It’s definitely a fun city to visit.

  20. Leigh

    I enjoyed reading all the history you put in here- very interesting post! It seems mind-blowing to me that people could think this way and play God so easily with others’ lives. But I guess that’s why it’s so important that we keep these memorials. If we don’t remember, future generations could be prone to making some of the same mistakes.

    1. Leeanne

      I totally agree. We need to teach the past so we can learn from it and do better in the future.

  21. Cindy

    I want to visit Salem someday! I’ll bet the energy would feel interesting to me. There was a definite time in US and European history when many people were accused of witchcraft and died as a result. I’m glad we moved beyond that time!

    1. Leeanne

      Agreed. I’m grateful it was just this short period in US history as I know in Europe it lasts much longer.

  22. Vessy Smith

    Wooow! What a great post! I knew none of this stuff! And death by pressing??? OMG! How horrific! Still, though! I would LOVE to visit Salem. After reading your post, I am totally fascinated by the place! Thanks for sharing! 🙂

    1. Leeanne

      It is a very interesting town with a very interesting history.

  23. Carey

    What a fun day filled with history. I would love to visit and read all about the trials.

    1. Leeanne

      Yes, they are quite interesting indeed.

  24. Missy

    We have not been to Salem, Massachusetts. Such sad stories. I read many Nancy Drew books and love a good mystery.

    1. Leeanne

      I agree. We listen to lots of Nancy Drew stories on Audible while we are traveling.

  25. Chantelle

    I love learning. ( re learning) the history of places! I’d love to visit her and would have never thought of going during Halloween, but it does make sense now that you mention it!

    1. Leeanne

      If you enjoy Halloween events next year’s celebration should be amazing.

  26. Sara

    Great info! I have always wanted to visit Salem! I love all your details on things to do and see!

    1. Leeanne

      I’m sure you will really love Salem when you do get to visit.

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