Outbreak of accusations and the consequences

Accusations began from the home of Rev. Samuel Parris, pastor of the Salem Village Church, in late January 1692.  His daughter and niece were the first to be "bewitched," and his Caribbean slave woman was one of the first to be accused and arrested.  After examinations by ministers and doctors of the strange behavior exhibited by the girls, it was determined that they were afflicted by witches.  Three women were subsequently accused of the capital crime of witchcraft. They were arrested, examined by the Salem Town magistrates and held in prison. Parris' slave confessed and accused the other women arrested with her. 

Another daughter of a prominent Salem Village family fell afflicted, then another, then another. more people were accused and imprisoned. 

Bridget Oliver Bishop was arrested in Salem Town on April 18, 1692. She was executed June 10,1692, fifty-two days only later. 

While she was in prison, in May, William Phips, the new Governor of Massachusetts,  arrived from England to find "this province miserably harassed with a most Horrible witchcraft or Possession of Devils..." (Letter of Gov. Phips, no. 1)  Without convening a new legislature, due to the immediacy of the situation, he established a court of Oyer and Terminer, to "hear and determine" (Hoffer, pg. 71). 

Bridget Bishop, as the others, were examined for a devil's mark. Matrons charged to search for the mark reported to the court that on Bishop they had found an "excrescence of flesh...not usual in women" 
(Hoffer, pg. 91)

John Procter, a wealthy Salem Village land owner, officially complained about the use of torture to extract confessions (Konig, pg. 172). He was executed August 19, 1692.

On June 2, 1692 the court of Oyer and Terminer convened and its first order of business was to sentence Bridget Bishop to death.  Through September, Eighteen more were executed, one died under torture. None of those executed would confess or admit to being witches.

The court relied heavily on the validity of 'spectral evidence.' For example: In the testimony of William Stacy against Bridget Bishop on May 30, 1692, he said that after he refused to perform a milling service for Bishop the wheel of his wagon, "plumped or sunk down into a hole upon plain ground." He claimed when he went back later, there was no hole to be found.  He also testified that Bishop appeared to him in his bedchamber dressed in a black cape and hat and hopped about his bed and room ( Witchcraft, pg. 41).  This testimony, combined with other similar supernatural appearances attributed to the accused, was enough to convict.  English common law (and Biblical Law) required two witnesses. 

The court was disbanded on October 29, and Phips granted pardons to the accused witches in May1693.  In 1711 the Massachusetts colonial government passed legislation legally and formally clearing the names of the accused and offering restitution to the families.  Bridget Bishop's family did not come forward to accept the settlement.  Her daughter Christian Oliver Mason died in January 1693, survived by a husband and daughter. Bridget's third (?) husband Edward died in 1695. 

Salem Village incorporated as Danvers, Massachusetts in 1752. 

In 1957 the Commonwealth of Massachusetts formally apologized to the memories of the executed and accused. 

Salem, formally Salem Town, maintains a lucrative trade in witchcraft.


Court - "Why you seem to act witchcraft before us by the motion of your body, which seems to have influence upon the afflicted?"

Bishop - "I know nothing of it. I am innocent to a witch.  I know not what a witch is."

Court - "How do you know, then, that you are not a witch?"
(Witchcraft, p. 39).


"...Bridgett Bishop...was indicted and arraigned upon five several indictments for using, practicing, and exercising...certain acts of witchcraft...[t]o which indictments the said Bridgett Bishop pleaded not guilty and for trial thereof put herself upon God and her country..."
(Witchcraft, p. 51-52).


"...I have taken the body of the within named Brigett Bishop out of their Majesties' jail in Salem and safely conveyed her to the place provided for her execution, and caused the said Brigett to be hanged by the neck until she was dead and buried in the place."
(Witchcraft, p. 51).


"They are in their Fits tempted to be Witches, are shewed the List of the Names of others, and are tortured, because they will not yield to Subscribe, or meddle with, or touch the Book, and are promised to have present Relief if they would do it"  (Deodot Lawson, Burr, pg. 161).


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