The true story of the Salem Witch Trials


Elena Keller

In the 17th century, witches were more than a Halloween costume or funny characters from a movie or TV show. According to the Puritans, they were real people, dangerous people, that were “working for the Devil” to bring evil to the world. And in Salem, witches were everywhere…and they had to be stopped. 


Life in the town of Salem, Massachusetts wasn’t always easy. It was a Puritan colony where strict religious practices dictated everything. People weren’t allowed to dance, to go into the woods, to be angry, or to seek revenge. Besides religious strictures, Salem residents also faced ordinary colonial pressures.


The Salem, Massachusetts City Guide says that the fear of witches began on January 20, 1692 when young girls began some very strange behavior. Nine-year-old Elizabeth Pariss, the preacher’s daughter, and eleven-year-old Abigail Williams, Elizabeth’s cousin, began to show signs of possession with blasphemous screaming and convulsive seizures. 


The fear erupted on March 1, 1962 when Samuel Pariss’s slave, Tituba, was arrested after Elizabeth and Abigail accused her of witchcraft. Out of fear of being hanged, Tituba accused other residents in the town of witchcraft who were colluding with the devil. This was the beginning of the Salem Witch Trials. 


Over the next seven months, hysteria swept through Salem as the colonists gradually turned on one another and more young girls started to become “possessed.” The first people who were accused were the undesirables in the town, people that were already regarded with suspicion. 


Events took a turn when more pious members of the community were accused of witchcraft. One of the accused was Martha Corey, an upstanding woman who frequently went to church. Many of the accusers used the witch hunt to take their anger out on fellow members of the community. 


The Salem Witch Trials resulted in nineteen people being hanged, five people dying in prison, and one man, Giles Corey, being crushed to death with stones. According to the Salem Witch Museum, the jurors and magistrates would later apologize and hold a Day of Fasting and Remembrance. The girls who committed the majority of the accusations never apologized for their crimes. 


The City Guide says that the Salem Witch Trials serve “as a yardstick to measure the depth of civility and due process in our society.” In modern day, the town of Salem takes measures to ensure that the victims of the trials are never forgotten.