.. e the Devil in disguise, but the government officials simply ignored them. Justice Nathanial Saltonstall also apparently disagreed with the ways of the court because he resigned from his position after the first witchcraft trial. Chief Justice Stoughton, however, thought that the evil spirits would not disguise themselves to people who were willing to cooperate with them. The trials now became even more complicated because people would confess out of fear of the magistrates’ accusations and the girls’ convulsions.
Now that the accusations were flying back and forth in full swing, anybody and everybody came to the court to put their two cents in. Hundreds of these local residents came into the court to help testify against crimes alleged witches had committed years, even decades, before. Although many people volunteered to come forward and speak out against these witches, they were very concerned about maleficium, the ability of a witch to do harm to another person through supernatural means. They were afraid that after testifying against the witch that she may put an evil spell on them. Another concern was that the possessed would be forced to sign a Satanic pact, and if they did not do so then the witches would inflict pain upon them until they did. The number of accusations is what made the Salem case different from any other case of witchcraft.
After the executions began in 1692, officials began to deal with the problem of credibility by ignoring any accusations made against the wealthy, well-to-do members of the Salem society. At this point, close to two hundred people had been accused of witchcraft, and more than twenty-five people had died because of the trials. The trials in themselves were a big contradiction. People who pleaded innocent were tortured until they “confessed” that they were guilty. One form of torture was the accused would be pressed by a heavy weight until they confessed.
Giles Corey, husband of Martha Corey, was pressed to death when he refused say that he was involved with the Devil, and that he was, in fact, guilty. One form of torture, though, was even more absurd. The witch’s head would be forced underwater and kept there for a certain period of time. If she came up alive everyone said she had magical powers which kept her from drowning, and then she would be executed. If when they lifted her up she was dead then she was presumed innocent, but that was completely pointless.
Either way the accused were killed. These were a few examples of preposterous tortures against the people. The credibility of these trials was challenged multiple times by many people. These people protesting against the trials varied. Some were villagers and some were authoritative figures in the community.
One of these people was Increase Mather, who wrote Cases of Conscience. He stopped short of calling the possessed girls liars but instead called them “Deamoniacks” as “mouthpieces for the Father of Lyes.” He also argued that “no juror can with a safe Conscience look on the Testimony of such, as sufficient to take away the Life of any Man even if the possessed normally knew their real tormentors.” He said the supposed psychic abilities these girls came to have after being possessed should be ignored because God “has taught us not to receive the Devil’s Testimony in any thing.” Mather also claimed that confessing witches were also “not such credibly witnesses.” He told the people that witches sometimes lied outright with no shame about their rituals and about the names of their various “Associates in that Trade.” Other times Satan filled their heads to make them “dream strange things of themselves and others which are not so.” This work is what eventually led to the end of the witchcraft trials in Salem, Massachusetts. Mather’s son, Cotton Mather, also agreed with his father on the matter of the witchcraft trials but he then reported in the Wonders of the Invisible World that the court had listened carefully to the different eyewitnesses and defendants along with the spectral evidence. Finally, in October of 1693, so many people were doubting the guiltiness of the witches that Governor Phips, governor of Massachusetts, decided to stop the trials and the executions. They realized that the trials should not continue due to lack of evidence and credibility of the witnesses.
Many people accused others of being witches if they disliked them or if they were outsiders in society. Witches on trial were encouraged to give names of their fellow witches and/or to confess to their evil deeds, and in exchange they would be granted a less severe punishment. Because of this, the witches on trial would confess even if they were innocent, and they would also accuse other innocent people of being witches. The government saw that there was no real way to make sure the person was a witch before executing them and that there was a great chance that they may be killing innocent people. People were still being accused of being witches even after the trials were suspended, but the charges were not taken seriously.
Now the question was how to handle the rest of the cases of the people still locked up in the jails awaiting their doom filled trials. Because the possessed could not testify and the magistrates were reluctant to accept any more false statements, by the month of May 1694, the few men and women left in the jails were sent back to their homes. Even the witches who had been tried already and convicted were let free to return to their normal lifestyles. Although there were still some being accused of witchcraft in other towns the cases went unheeded. This chaotic time was for the most part over. Mostly all confessing witches during this period were females ranging in age from less than ten to more than seventy.
Out of the forty-eight possessed, mostly were females. Forty-four percent of the possessed were females between the ages of sixteen to twenty who were “single-women” or “maids” in seventeenth century terms. Another 38 percent were over twenty while 18 percent were under sixteen. Three-fourths of the non-possessed accusers whose main concern was maleficium were men. In 1711, the legislature passed the Reversal of Attainder, which was an act to clear the names of everyone jailed during the trials.
Massachusetts also repaid the survivors and the heirs for jail and court fees and for some property that the government had taken away from them. The government also wrote up a sincere apology for their mistake in proceeding with the trials when there was no solid evidence and for possibly executing innocent people.(See Appendix 1A) As time passed many people wondered what was the purpose of the Salem Witchcraft Trials? Why were so many innocent people jailed or even killed? How could anyone have hanged their neighbor for being a witch? People pondered on what kind of an illness could have been mistaken for the symptoms of possession, but some thought that the possessed were simply liars and fools. Many times, the Puritans were blamed for the trials, encouraging witchcraft fears, and the number of people affected by them. Some people believe that the Puritans blamed anyone who was different as being a witch. This was because the Puritans had always suspected, as one of their main beliefs, that the Devil envied their way of life and was constantly trying his best to make their lives miserable. Their goal in life was to “purify the organization of their church” and to rid it of any sign of the Devil.
By accusing so many people of being witches, they thought they were just purifying the church and their community. Most of the time, credibility of an accusation was not checked thoroughly, instead the person accused was simply locked up in jail until their trial time came. Even then, if they did not confess to being guilty, they were punished sometimes even killed. Although the law is innocent until proven guilty, and had been practiced before the trials, in the case of the witchcraft trials, the accused witches were guilty until proven innocent. Not many were given the chance to prove themselves to be innocent. Endnotes 1.
Karlsen Carol, The Devil in the Shape of a Woman (New York: Vintage Books, 1987), 36. 2. Guilley Ellen, Witches and Witchcraft (New York: Facts on File, 1989), 152. 3. Trask Richard, Salem Village and the Witch Hysteria (New York: Golden Owl Publishing Company, 1991), 185. 4.
Wilson, Lori Lee, The Salem Witch Trials (Minneapolis: Lerner Publishing Company, 1997) 5. Hoffer Peter, The Salem Witchcraft Trials: A Legal History (Kansas: University Press of Kansas, 1997), 212. 6. Rosenthal Bernard, Salem Story: Reading the Witch Trials of 1692 (Cambridge England: Cambridge University Press, 1993), 132. 7. Concle Maryse, I, Tituba, Black Witch of Salem (Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1992), 178.
8. Concle, 178. 9. Roach, Marilynne, In the Days of the Salem Witchcraft Trials (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1996), 94. 10. Hill, Frances, A Delusion of Satan: the Full Story of the Salem Witch Trials (New York: Doubleday, 1995), 76.
11. Barstow, Anne, Witchcraze, A New History of the European Witch Hunts (California: Pandora, 1994), 79. 12. Guilley, 17. 13. Karlsen, 41 14.
Karlsen, 41 15. Karlsen, 41 16. Karlsen, 41 17. Karlsen, 41 18. Karlsen, 42 19.
Karlsen, 42 20. Karlsen, 179 21. Zeinert, Karen. The Salem Witchcraft Trials, (New York: F. Watts, 1989), 22.