In 1692 girls started to jerk about, scream, kick violently and shake. Puritans believed heavily in God and the devil, so the Puritan villagers started thinking there were witches among them, the devil’s foot soldiers. On February 28, 1692, Tituba confessed to being a witch and she talked about her witch sisters who traveled in broomsticks. Then people were accused of being witches. It got out of hand and in 1692, 185 people stood accused, 141 were women and 44 were men. 14 women and 5 men were hung1. You can understand why we wanted to investigate this subject further; especially since we saw a play, called Cry Innocent.
Wednesday, January 27, 2016, a group of actors came to our school to perform a witch trial, which occurred in Salem Village [known today as Danvers], Massachusetts. One of the reasons this group, Cry Innocent, chose Mrs. Bishop’s trial, was because she was found guilty of witchcraft. We were able to see reenactment what the first witch trial was like. Below is a list of people who were at the first trial.
- Bridget Bishop (accused)
- Colonel John Hathorne (Mrs bishop’s “lawyer”)
- John, Sr., Rebecca and William Bly (witness)
- Reverend John Hale (judge)
- John Louder (witness)
- Alice Pickering (witness)
- Sarah and Samuel Shattuck (witness)
- Susannah Sheldon (witness)2
It begins in June 1692, Salem Village (the current city of Ipswich). there were many problems in the town and they believe that there were witches among them. Bridget Bishop was believed to be one of these witches. Mrs. Bishop was accused of injuring multiple people. Most people accused her of sitting on their stomachs then choking them. John Sir and Rebecca Bly reported their son getting sicker and sicker every time Mrs. Bishop visited their house. When her son went to Mrs. Bishop’s house, her son showed up with a bloody face.
At one point in the trial, they brought in a confessed witch who said Mrs. Bishop was a witch and tried to make her do deeds for the devil. Sarah and Samuel Shattuck had reported that Mrs. Bishop had bewitched one of their pigs, who went crazy and tore up the pen. “Are you sure that pig isn’t your wife?” Goody Bishop fires back. “Silence!” yells Reverend John Hale, banging his mace in the floor. (A mace is a pole with metal on the bottom. It was banged on the floor by a court constable, to signal for everybody to quiet down if they were talking during a trial; the same way a gavel is used today in a courtroom. A mace still exists and is in the Beverly Historical Society Museum in Beverly, Massachusetts.)
One witness, John Louder had a different story, “One night, I was sleeping in my bed and I see some kind of monster climbing over my trees in the orchard. It flew into the window. I tried to grab my sword but It wouldn’t let me. It froze me in place, my arms and legs wouldn’t move no matter how hard I tried to move. It sat on my stomach. I passed out. The next day, I took a walk in my orchard. A lot more apples had fallen that night, and as I walked longer, Mrs. Bishop was whistling and picking apples in her orchard, I thought she seemed too happy.”
Then they brought in Alice Pickering, a confessed witch, she confessed without a trial, so Mrs Bishop’s was the first trial. Alice accused Mrs Bishop of trying to “recruit” her to do deeds of the devil, and when she said, “No,” Alice said Mrs Bishop tried to bewitch her to do it.
Claims went on and on. They became harder and harder to believe. John Hawthorn (Bridgets “lawyer”) denied the witness’ statements. Despite Mrs. Bishop’s plea “ I am no witch, I am innocent,” that occurred throughout the trial, Mrs. Bishop was hanged June 10, 1692 on “Witch hill” or “Gallows hill.”
Nobody knows for sure how this hysteria started and how it kept going, so we did some “deep digging” in some of Salem Witch Trial resources. We found multiple theories.
The most recent theory that scientists still interested in this mystery discovered that there might have been a fungus called ergot that was being spread through the wheat, it affects people’s mental states and raises paranoia, it’s highly likely that the people who accused others were hallucinating. 3
A Historian, Richard Trask, believes the trials were caused by “Clinical Hysteria.” Clinical Hysteria is slightly like yawning, one person does it and as soon as you know it everybody’s yawning, but in this case one person starts losing it and everybody’s calling each other a witch. 3
And Soon more girls(we don’t know why it was only girls) started acting the same one theory is that the girls were copying the behavior in a book called “Memorable provinces” .4
We found, our own theory, that there was a strange “coincidence” was that most of the accused were women with property, if they were imprisoned, the government Would steal their land. Most of the women accused had been wealthy, well-established widdows and it was the perfect chance to accuse them of evildoing and the presence of the devil around them. Lots of the accused women were willful and the town thought they would start problems.
We think it also could have been seizures, a symptom of Epilepsy. The reason this theory is last, is because some of the symptoms were different. Seizures were not known about back then. The science encyclopedia by Rosen Publishing Group  states the following:
“In the seventeenth century, people believed that epilepsy was caused by demons, and it was thought to be contagious.”5
One hundred eighty-five people were accused and fourteen people died. In 1752, Salem Village changed its name to Danvers to help eliminate the bad association with the Witch Trials.
Reported by: Sam H. and Aidan C.
1 MacBain, Jenny. The Salem Witch Trials. A Source History Of The Witchcraft Trials In Salem, Massachusetts. New York: Rosen Publishing Group, Inc., 2003.
2 Cry Innocent. <http://cryinnocentsalem.com/> 9 June 2016.
3 Baker, Jennifer. “A Grain to Blame.” Calliope. July/August 2011 Volume 21 Number 9. p. 36-38 .
4 Crewe, Sabrina and Uschan,v. Michael. The Salem Witch Trials. Wisconsin: Gareth Stevens Publishing, 2005.
5 Net Industries and The Rosen Publishing Group.
<http://science.jrank.org/pages/cma5hkecsy/Epilepsy-Seizures-Historical-Perspective.html”>Epilepsy and Seizures – A Historical Perspective – Myths and Misconceptions> 11 February