HST 2004: The Salem Witchcraft Trials
From June to September 1692 one hundred and sixty men and women were accused of witchcraft and nineteen were convicted and hanged on a barren slope near Salem Village. The husband of one of the condemned, a man of over eighty years, was crushed to death under heavy stones for refusing to submit to a trial. In an effort to get to grips with the Salem witchcraft trials historians have lavished their attention on this single summer in this small and otherwise undistinguished New England village. Were the Salem witchcraft trials the result of paranoid anxiety owing to family feuds and the commercialization of agriculture, the decline of puritan zeal and the status of the Massachusetts Bay charter, or clinical hysteria or mass poisoning by a common grain fungus, or caused by fear of Indian attacks amongst unsurprisingly jumpy frontier settlers? All these explanations have their advocates and critics. Others wonder why, if the prosecutions reflected profound and general insecurities, were most of the witches women? Alternatively, how important were the individuals concerned and the choices they made at critical moments as the drama unfolded. Examining contemporary sermons, town records, letters, confessions, depositions, and court records and addressing the problems of source analysis that have yielded a fertile crop of interpretations, this module takes students to the heart of the witchcraft trials and what they reveal of the New Englanders´ assumptions and anxieties in the last days of the seventeenth century.
This site thoroughly documents the Salem Witchcraft Trials. It includes court records and contemporary books and letters concerning people involved in the trials. The Archive's historical maps of Salem Village, Salem, and Andover show the locations of the houses of many of the people involved in the trials and displays the chronology of the accusations from February through November 1692 and the spread of the accusations across the towns of Massachusetts Bay.