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The Salem Witch Trials

Today, witches are the thing of many individuals' witch costumes, but in colonial America, being accused of witchcraft was a very serious crime. The year 1962 was a sad one in the history of Salem, Massachusetts. In this year, 20 people, 14 women and 6 men, were accused of being guilty of witchcraft, tried, convicted, and hung. The "evidence" presented in these trials was largely circumstantial. Birthmarks were often used to accuse people of witchcraft, and heresy, gossip, and stories were all allowed in court and accepted as fact. The accused had no protections found in modern court, and in most situations, simply the accusation of witchcraft was enough to send someone to the gallows. In general, the "outcasts" of the town were the ones tried and killed in these trials, with little chance to defend themselves.



January 20 – Two girls, Elizabeth Parris and Abigail Williams, start exhibiting strange behavior, including seizures, trances, and screaming. Other girls follow soon after.

February – The Salem community decide the girls' behavior is due to Satan's influence. They are pressured to identify the cause of their affliction, and they name Sarah Good, Sarah Osborne, and an Indian slave named Tituba as witches.

February 29 – Warrants for Tituba, Sarah Good, and Sarah Osborne, and the women are arrested. Tituba claims that there were witches in Salem, but the two Sarahs plead innocence.

March 1 – John Hathorne and Jonathan Corwin, Salem's magistrates, examine the woman, and Tituba confesses to witchcraft. Others in the town begin to testify to strange experiences and accuse women who were known for eccentric behavior of being witches.

March 12 – Martha Corey is accused of being a witch.

March 19 – Rebecca Nurse is accused of being a witch.

March 21 – Martha Corey is examined by Hathorne and Corwin.

March 24 – Rebecca Nurse is examined by Hathorne and Corwin.

March 28 – Elizabeth Proctor is accused of being a witch.

April 3 – Sarah Cloyce is accused of being a witch. She is Rebecca Nurse's sister.

April 11 – Sarah Cloyce and Elizabeth Proctor are examined by the magistrates with the help of Deputy Governor Thomas Danfort, and Captain Samuel Sewall. John Proctor is also accused of witchcraft and arrested.

April 19 – Mary Warren, Bridget Bishop, Giles Corey, and Abigail Hobbs are examined. Abigail Hobbs confesses to witchcraft.

April 22 – Mary English, Mary Black, Mary Easty, William and Deliverance Hobbs, Edward and Sarah Bishop, Nehemiah Abbott, and Sarah Wildes are examined. Nehemiah Abbot is the only one cleared of charges.

May 2 – Susannah Martin, Dorcas Hoar, Lydia Dustin, and Sarah Morey are examined by the magistrates.

May 4 – George Burroughs is arrested. He was not in Salem, but in Wells, Maine.

May 9 – George Burroughs is examined by the magistrates, William Stoughton, and Sewall. Sarah Churchill, one of the original afflicted girls, is also examined.

May 10 – George Jacobs and granddaughter Margaret are examined. Margaret confessed to being a witch and accused her George Burroughs and her grandfather. Sarah Osborne died in prison.

May 14 – Increase Mather brings a new charter and new governor, Sir William Phips, from England.

May 18 – Mary Easty is released from prison, but is re-arrested because of public outcry.

May 27 – New Governor Phips creates a Court of Oyer and Terminer. He appoints Lieutenant Governor William Stoughton, John Hathorne, Jonathan Corwin, Wait Still Winthrop, Samuel Sewall, Nathaniel Saltonstall, Bartholomew Gedney, and Peter Sergeant to serve as judges in trying the witchcraft cases.

May 31 – Corwin, Gedney, and Hathorne examine Martha Carrier, Wilmott Redd, Elizabethe Howe, John Alden, and Phillip English.

June 2 – The first Court of Oyer and Terminer is held. Bridget Bishop is tried, pronounced guilty, and given a death sentence.

June 10 – Bridget Bishop is hanged in Salem. After her death, some townspeople protest against the trials, but even more accusations of witchcraft are made.

June 29 and 30 – Sarah Wildes, Sarah Good, Elizabeth Howe, Susannah Martin, and Rebecca Nurse are tried and given the death sentence.

July 19 – Elizabeth Howe, Sarah Good, Sarah Wildes, Rebeccah Nurse, and Susannah Martin are hanged.

August 2-6 – Martha Carrier, George Burroughs, John and Elizabeth Proctor, John Willard, and George Jacobs are tried, pronounced guilty, and given the death sentence.

August 19 – Carrier, Burroughs, the Proctors, and Willard are hanged.

September 9 – Mary Easty, Alice Parker, Ann Pudeator, Dorcas Hoar, Martha Corey, and Mary Bradbury are tried, pronounced guilty, and given the death sentence.

September 17 – Wilmott Redd, Samuel Wardwell, Abigail Faulkner, Mary Lacy, Ann Foster, Abigail Hobbs, Rebecca Eames, Mary Parker, and Margaret Scott are tried, pronounced guilty, and condemned to death.

September 19 - Giles Corey refuses to attend the trial and is pressed to death under heavy stones.

September 21 – Dorcas Hoar changes her plea from innocent to guilty, and her execution is delayed.

September 22 – Corey, Scott, Parker, Pudeator, Redd, Wardwell, Easty, and Alice Parker are hanged.

October 8 – Thomas Brattle writes a letter criticizing the trials and the 20 deaths in Salem. Governor Phips is impressed by the letter and orders that intangible evidence is no longer allowed in trials.

October 29 – The Court of Oyer and Terminer is dissolved by Governor Phips.

November 25 – The General Court of the colony creates the Superior Court for the remainder of the witchcraft trials. These were held in May of 1963, but no one was convicted at this time.

Further Reading:

The Salem Witch Trials – A Chronology of Events: Outlines the events of the witch trials in detail.

The Salem Witch Trials Memorial: A memorial to the events in modern-day Salem, Massachusetts.

An Account of the Salem Witch Trials: A detailed account of the events of the trials.

Salem Witch Trials Documentary Archive: Contains links to many primary resources about the Salem Witch Trials.

Salem Witch Museum: The official link to the Salem Witch Museum in Salem, Massachusetts.

The Salem Witch Trials Papers: More primary resources about the Salem Witch Trials.

A Brief History of the Salem Witch Trials: An article from the Smithsonian Magazine.

Salem Witch Trials: A collection of resources from Washington State University.

Possible Cause of Salem Witch Trials: Examines a possible cause of the girls' strange behavior that sparked the witch-hunt.