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“The Salem Witch Trials of 1692” by Douglas Linder, is a narration about the cases that were heard in the county court. The trials were intended to prosecute people in Massachusetts charged with engaging in witchcraft. The tale illustrates how the initial trials had been carried out in several towns across the province including the village of Salem, Ipswich, Andover, as well as Salem Town. As indicated by Linder, the narrator, all the trials were done in the year 1692. The Oyer and Terminer Court, located in Salem town, conducted one of the resonance trials in that year. After the hearings, about one hundred and fifty individuals were imprisoned. In addition, more individuals were accused of engaging in witchcraft but the authorities did not arrest them (Hoffer, 1999). The story focuses on the issue of witchcraft.

In this tale, many of the individuals, who had been accused of witchcraft and brought to court, ended up being convicted. Quite a good number of the sessions, which were done subsequent to the Salem trials, took place at the Superior Court of Judicature in Salem village. Linder indicates that the court kept transferring its hearings from one county to another. Some of the visited counties included Boston, Ipswich and Charlestown. These counties only had three suspects out of the thirty one cases. With regard to witchcraft, the courts charged twenty nine individuals with capital felony. These individuals had been found guilty of witchcraft and therefore, were hanged. No incriminated individual had the right to appeal the case. As brought out in the narration, in the case that an individual appealed against such a ruling, he or she was “…forced to accept it”. This may be substantiated by the case of Giles Corey who was executed for not accepting to drop his appeal (Hoffer, 1999). This event is among the most memorized with regard to cases of mass frenzy. It has been articulated in several literatures as well as political rhetoric as a warning to the entire society. This tale brings to light the consequences of false allegations, religious radicalism, system failures, and the involvement of local authority in denying people their freedom.  Prior to these prosecutions, supernatural powers were considered to be part of the human life. This was because people believed that some of the events that were happening in their society were from Satan. According to the traditional set up, the peasants mostly depended on particular charms for good harvest. However, with the introduction of white magic, the traditional charm, commonly known as the “black magic”, was ultimately associated with demons and evil spirits.

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According to Linder, the duration between 1560 and 1670 was characterized by witchcraft trials since witchcraft had been associated with wickedness. Salem residents thought that the calamity that had befallen them was as a result of evil activities. They believed that the supernatural forces responsible for the death of their infants, crop failure and disagreements among members of their society.  When the trials were completed and individuals who were accused sentenced, the society realized that they had made a big mistake. As a way of correcting their mistake, the families of the accused victims were compensated. Since then, any trial associated with witchcraft story is regarded as unfair and suspicious. This has continued to enthrall the imaginations of individuals more than three hundred years after the trials (Hoffer, 1999)

It is further illustrated in the story that several centuries ago, many people practicing Christianity assumed that Satan had the ability to give power to a particular group of people, the witches. These witches, in turn, would use their powers to injure and annihilate others. The author asserts that by hurting others, “…the witches demonstrated their devotion to Satan”. He goes ahead to show that witchcraft obsession became so rampant in Europe in the period between1300 and 1600 through the various events that happened. During this period, a lot of people were accused of being witches and quite a good number of them were women.

The prosecutions, as highlighted in the tale, are alleged to have commenced at the village of Salem in 1692. It is articulated in the narration that a young girl, aged nine, started to experience hysteria, a typical symptom of epilepsy that made the girl become very aggressive. In this state, she would scream, throw things all over, show abnormal gestures and also crawl under the furniture. The doctors could not explain what was wrong with this girl. With time, other village members developed similar signs. Intercessions by the spiritual leaders were met with flare-ups from the troubled individuals (Hoffer, 1999).

Three individuals were apprehended after being blamed for causing the problems to the girl who experienced the signs first. The rest of the girls who had similar experiences were Anne Putnam, Elizabeth Hubbard, and Abigail Williams. Those held responsible for the girl’s troubles included Osborne Sarah, Tituba and Sarah Good. The accusation of Ann Putnam was seen by a lot of people as evidence showing that disputes between families could have been the reason for trials (Linder, 2000). Individuals used to engage in inconsiderate arguments which led to fights. This was substantiated by the enmity between the Putnam and Porter families as recount in this tale. One of the charged individuals, Sarah Good, had no home which made her depend on others for food and shelter. She was accused of being a witch due to her weird status.

During the trial, she was also accused of lacking discipline as well as self control. This was illustrated by her actions in which she scorned and tortured the children rather than directing them to freedom. On the other hand, Osborne Sarah, who infrequently went to church related gatherings, was accused of being a witch since the people of Salem believed that she was hiding something and that is why she got married again. The public was also angered by her involvement in trying to influence the case on the custody of the son from her past marriage. With regard to Tituba, she was considered a slave as she did not hail from the Puritan society. Consequently, her accusations were based on her power to attract little girls with her charming stories. These stories revolved around people who were in a sexual relationship with the devil. Through her stories, the young girls got stimulated sexually. In the long run, she was accused of being a witch based on the arousing stories she told the young girls (Linder, 2000).

As highlighted in the recitation, the “…three exiled women fitted the villager’s description of individuals who practiced witchcraft”. They were arraigned before the court and indicted for witchcraft. After several days of interrogations, the three women were locked up. This trial set a precedent for other witchcraft trials as other individuals, including Martha Corey, were accused of the same. It was her firm support of the three accused women that made her to be seen as a part of the evil activity. Martha’s case was filled with a dilemma since she was deeply involved in church matters. This brought a lot of anxiety among the villagers. The villagers supposed that if Martha indeed was a witch, then any person in this society could as well practice witchcraft. As much as she was a staunch church follower, the accusations against her could not be discarded (Linder, 2000).

A lot of these cases were heard in the Oyer and Terminer Court. The abovementioned cases had been set up in Salem for their initial hearings in 1692. The Chief Magistrate of this court was William Stoughton; its Attorney was Thomas Newton and the clerk, Stephen Sewall.  The first individual to be arraigned before this jury was Bridget Bishops. She was charged with failing to conform to the Puritan’s lifestyle as she wore peculiar attires as well as black garments, which was against the community’s culture. When she requested for her weird cot in the course of the trial, many people viewed this as one of her usual disregards for their culture. Her lifestyle, together with this gesture, made her to be accused of involving in witchcraft. She was presented for trial the same day and was declared guilty as charged. Following this development, she was hanged in 1692 (Demos, 1999).

After this case, many more individuals were accused, detained, and tried in Salem Town. These hearings were overseen by magistrates John Hathorne, Jonathan Corwin, and Bartholomew Gedney who were, soon after, elevated to be judges of the Court of Oyer and Terminer. After a number of trials, the major cases were transferred to Andover from Salem. This was in line with the request put forward by the Andover constable which would enable him to meet with a few of the affected girls in the case. This would have helped in getting more information with regard to the causes of their afflictions. A good number of the cases handled in these courts led to the execution of the accused individuals.

Afterwards, the majestic juries indicted eight additional individuals. However, it failed to prosecute William Proctor. Consequently, the court did not set him free as placed fresh charges against him that led to his re-arrest. Another case that seemed to raise eye brows was that of Giles Corey. He had refused the accusation plea which made him to be pressed hard under heavy stones in an attempt to change his mind. After this frightening event, four of the charged people pleaded liable. In addition, eleven more individuals were confirmed to be guilty of witchcraft charges. In the month of September 1692, eight of the convicted culprits, who were later referred to as the “Eight firebrands of Hell”, were hanged (Demos, 1999).

The author indicates that Dorcas Hoar, a convict, was given a temporary acquittal and was advised by several religious ministers to come clean before God. On the other hand, Abigail Faulkner was granted a temporary amnesty due to her pregnancy. After this episode, Governor Phips talked to Mather concerning the Salem trials. His main intention was to obtain the official recorded hearings which were made by Stephen Sewall, the court’s clerk. After obtaining and analyzing the recorded trials, the Governor dismissed the courts. However, this did not make the trials to come to an end. 

According to Linder, it was in the year 1693 that the Court of General Gaol, the new-fangled Superior Court of Judicature, and the Assize Court were convened the county of Essex in Salem. Still at the seat of  the Chief Justice was William Stoughton with Anthony Checkley being the Attorney General  and Jonathan Elatson, the clerk (Linder, 2000). The initial five cases were about individuals who had been indicted but not tried. The court, after examining the evidence, decided that these individuals were innocent. Ostentatious juries had a lot of support to the majority of those individuals who had been jailed without being tried. Quite a good number of the charges were discarded. Nonetheless, about sixteen individuals were prosecuted and later on, tried. Out of the six, three were guilty. When Stoughton sent the three women, together with others from other courts, for the execution, Governor Phips set them free.

From the episodes in the narration, it is evident that prior to the constitutional uproar, the Massachusetts government of the 1680’s was predominated by the Puritan leaders. The puritans, under the stewardship of Calvinism, were against the customary practices of England’s Protestant Church. These customary practices included utilization of the Common Prayer Book, utilization of Holy crosses, wearing of gowns and caps during the service as well as receiving of the sacrament while kneeling. Before 1699, when a lot of the trials were held, there existed witchcraft cases. However, most of these cases were rumors coming from Salem Village’s neighbors. Cotton Mather, a church minister, wrote about the issue of witchcraft. She indicated that she strongly believed in this practice. Following her confession, children began to have weird behaviors and this made a lot of people regard her confession as an involvement of the church in activities related to witchcraft (Demos, 1999).

Even though the final trials were done in 1693, the public response to the proceedings has continued up to today. Many years after the court proceedings, the main subject still remains on the innocence of the individuals who had been unjustly convicted. Consequently, the issue of compensating the victim’s families as well as the survivors is also rife. The subsequent centuries have been characterized by the victim’s descendants who have resolved to honor their kins’ memoirs. Stories revolving around witchcraft claims, trials and executions have since been captured in the imaginations of politicians, artists, human rights activists, religious leaders, as well as writers. Quite a variety of interpretations have emerged in relation to the trials and facts regarding the chronological episode. As much as these interpretations may vary, a lot of them condemn the events. Numerous editorials, containing these trials, have been produced. These editorials have bridged the gap between the contemporary perceptions of the trials and the medieval history that is slowly disappearing. These interpretations are seen to be very significant since they reveal the differences between post-medieval and pre-medieval cultural structures.

The “Salem Witchcraft Trials” were among the most dreadful times with regard to the American history.

The tale has managed to express the theme of oppression through the various events that took place during this period. A lot of innocent individuals were subjugated based on witchcraft allegations. In addition, the narrator has shown that the frenzied “Salem Witchcraft Trials of 1692” were brought about by false notions, the harsh religious beliefs, the Puritan way of life, and panic. Linder has granted his readers the opportunity to relate to the historical events of 1692.

Code: writers15

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