Living as we do in the 20th century, the charges imposed on people throughout New England during the 1680s and 1690s seem preposterous. Any behavior regarded as strange by fellow citizens was sufficient to hold a trial with a sentence of death. Though such scenarios seem unfathomable in our modern culture, it was a reality for hundreds of New England settlers. The causes of the famous outbreak of witch trials in Salem, Massachusetts are rooted in social, economic, and political aspects of the late 17th century Salem community.
Early New Englanders were unable to accept the increase in diversity and the break in tradition that occurred between generations. This, in addition to various unappealing events which occurred throughout the late 1600s, created tensions within the New England community. Such tensions were the cause of the prevalent hysteria concerning witchcraft in the 1680s and 1690s. The disastrous consequences of these tensions included the execution of hundreds of innocent civilians during the Salem witch trials. Accusations of witchcraft often targeted widowed, middle-aged women with few children, and of low social standing. Sometimes, the accused women were those who had acquired possession of property and respectively contested the gender norms of Puritan society. In addition, separation of Church and State was nonexistence, and often religion was intertwined with political law. As a result, anyone who opposed the Puritan Church in even the slightest of instances was susceptible to chastisement by law. "Witchcraft" was viewed as a rebellion against the Church, heresy, and association with the devil, and was punishable accordingly. Finally, people living in Salem, Massachusetts were motivated to accuse others of witchcraft because, if convicted, the property that they had owned would be sold. These factors contributed to the major social, political, and economic reasons why the Salem witch trials began.