One of the darker episodes in American history occurred in Salem, Massachusetts, throughout 1692 and into early 1693. This period saw more than 200 people accused of witchcraft and 20 individuals put to death for apparent crimes.
There is no substitute for visiting the town or reading up on the history on your own, but the main points of the hysteria can be summed up.
In February 1692, three young girls complained of various ailments. Acting strangely, local doctors declared the symptoms beyond the reach of epilepsy. The accusations started flying when the girls complained of being poked and pinched, despite no physical evidence of such treatment.
Tituba, a South American Indian slave, was the first accused. Officials accused her of using tales of sexual encounters with demons and the like to impact the minds of the young girls. Tituba, along with the other early victims, was placed in jail.
One of the most harrowing stories from the trials that sticks with me is the story of Rebecca Nurse. Accused as an old woman, Nurse stood trial and was originally found not guilty. When the public heard the verdict, they demanded a reversal. Bending to public will, the verdict was reversed, and Nurse was put to death.
In September 1692, more accusations and formal indictments were handed out. By March 1693, 14 women and five men had been hung. Another man, Giles Corey, was never formally charged, but was pressed to death in order to try to force him to cooperate with local officials.
The episode finally ended in Boston, when several accused women were found not guilty.
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