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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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”
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.
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
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.