“On the evidence of two witnesses or three witnesses, he who is to die shall be put to death, he shall not be put to death on the evidence of one witness.” —Deuteronomy 17:6
The Salem Witch Trial Executions, September 22, 1692
he word “Puritans” often triggers the instant response of “witch burners“ among both casual and professional historians of American history. Who the Puritans actually were, and the details of the civilization they established in New England, seems to be a blank slate, but for one incident which occurred in the third generation of the English settlers. On September 22, 1692 nine men and women were executed by local government authorities in Salem, Massachusetts for practicing “witchcraft.” Before the accusations and trials came to an end, a hundred people had been accused, twenty were executed and five died in jail. What is the truth behind the “Salem Witch Trials?”
An accused woman defends herself before the judge while a girl — presumed to be Mary Walcott (1675-c.1752), one of the “afflicted” witnesses — falls to the floor in a fit
The tragedy of 1692 did not happen overnight or in isolation to the situation in Europe. Salem had been founded early in the New England Puritan hegira and had become the most important port in Massachusetts. The town people and the church established there exhibited signs of spiritual decline and contention for decades, although the town prospered economically. Factions developed over land-use and politics, creating bitterness and family feuds, which festered. The church could hardly keep a pastor in place and the current one was the worst of the lot. The Rev. Samuel Parris had failed in business and then pursued the Gospel ministry. He rarely seemed happy and complained from the pulpit about the inadequacy and slowness of his pay. Church discipline was all but non-existent.