Salem Witchcraft Trials of 1692.

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Salem Witchcraft Trials of 1692

The Salem Witchcraft Trials took place in the village of Salem, Massachusetts in 1692. The year 1692 seems to have been a particularly troubled one in New England. It was a time of political uncertainty, with Increase Mather at the English Court, seeking clarification of the colony's government. The French were waging war, and the Indians were on the warpath. Taxes were intolerable, the winter was cruel, pirates were attacking commerce, and smallpox was raging. In addition, the ingrown irritations of a small village, Salem, where ownership of land and boundaries were in dispute, increased the tensions. To men and women brought up in a restricting evangelical world, the troubles of 1692 were caused by the Devil. The Puritan, New England mind was alerted to devils and to their agents on earth, witches. Belief in the supernatural was unquestioned. The Bible told about witches and demoniacal possession.

The laws of Massachusetts turned legend into law. Witchcraft was a large part of the colonists' lives, especially since Massachusetts was not a monarchy or a republic, but a theocracy (religion governed the laws of the village). Any business with Satan was treason to God - and the colony. This religious control of the state accounts in part for the panic in Massachusetts at a time when elsewhere the witchcraft delusion was diminishing. When one of those accused of being a witch, William Barker, added politics to religious heresay, the Puritans believed him: "The design was to destroy Salem village, and to begin at the Minster's house, and to destroy the Church of God and to set up Satan's kingdom" (Hale, Modest Inquiry into Witchcraft, Boston, 1702).

The immediate cause of this "subversion" was a group of unmarried young women who visited the house of Rev. Samuel Parris...