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The Salem Witch Trials
Context & Origins of the Salem Witch Trials
Papers from History/American Studies/Feminist, Gender & Sexuality Studies 209/2090:

The events surrounding the trials still affect our society today. Many essay topics concerning the Salem witch trials can be derived from the multitude of information that we have, thanks to the documentation presented from the court transcripts themselves and the testimonies of the villagers who lived through that time of hysteria. In Salem in , those who were tried as witches were accused for many different reasons, including not going to church, being a recluse or expressing support for others who were accused.

Even aiding Wabanaki Indians in the recent wars could have put you on trial as a witch. Talking to yourself or any other "odd" behavior could have landed you an accusation.

An effective essay on the witch trials can discuss the reasons many were accused as witches in Salem. An essay on modern-day "witch hunts" could include any lessons that we as a society have learned from the Salem witch trials. Examples of modern-day "witch hunts" include the communist hunts and the events of the early s that inspired "The Crucible" by Arthur Miller.

Another example is the McMartin preschool abuse trial of the late s. Darya Mattes studied the young children accused as witches; Jedediah Drolet exposed the links among six women accused in Gloucester; Tamar Weinstock argued for the importance of the fact that almost all of the executed men had been accused of abusing their wives in addition to being witches; and most recently Patricio Martinez Llomport using the new edition examined the eight indictments returned ignoramus by the grand jury, suggesting that those jurors, at least, were carefully weighing the evidence and refusing to indict unless that evidence met legal criteria.

Christian Kinsella ranged farther afield, uncovering biographical details about and analyzing the responses of five New York clergymen to questions about witchcraft posed to them by Massachusetts authorities in October--answers that arguably helped to convince Governor Phips to dissolve the Court of Oyer and Terminer. The most unusual paper included here was submitted in by Joseph Featherly, a senior majoring in plant pathology, who investigated the evidence for the presence of ergot poisoning in with the benefit of his expert knowledge.

Although I remain a skeptic, he makes as good a case for ergot's possible involvement in the Salem crisis as I have seen anywhere. In alphabetical order of the authors' last names, these are:. Rachel Benjamin, who researched the background of Giles Corey, the "hero" of some accounts of the trials because of his adamant rejection of the court's authority when he refused to enter a plea. She discovered that Corey the man bore little resemblance to Corey the symbol of principled opposition to the Court of Oyer and Terminer.

Kevin Burra, a chemistry major, who became interested in the pseudo-scientific nature of some of the evidence used in the witchcraft trials. He examined the so-called touch test, in which accused witches were first asked to look at the afflicted people, who responded with fits, and then to touch them, at which their fits purportedly ceased.

He carefully traced the introduction and usage of the test, showing how over-dependence on it helped to end the trials presided over by the Court of Oyer and Terminer. Leela Chantrelle, who chose to study closely the three enslaved defendants in the trials, linking Tituba, Samuel Parris's Indian slave, with the two accused witches identified as being of African origin: Candy and Mary Black.

In a nuanced analysis, she showed how the "otherness" of the three linked them and affected their treatment by the court. Anne Powell, who investigated the two prosecutors who handled the cases at the Court of Oyer and Terminer-Thomas Newton, a trained English lawyer; and Anthony Checkley, another English immigrant who was not an attorney.

By taking advantage of the new information offered in the recent edition of the legal records, she uncovered details of how the prosecutors constructed their cases. Even more importantly, she researched their biographies and revealed their connections to the members of the court.

Madeleine Przybyl, who was interested in tracing the transmission of gossip about "witches" from one town to another. She investigated the familial connections that linked witnesses again Susannah Martin, an accused witch from Amesbury 20 miles from Salem Village , and residents of the Village. Although she located no definitive proof, she identified two different plausible pathways of relationships through which information about an Amesbury woman long suspected of witchcraft might have made its way to the ears of the afflicted people in the Village.

Warrants for the three were issued on February Good and Osborne declared that they were innocent and knew nothing of witchcraft, but Tituba exuberantly confessed, claiming that witchcraft was practiced by many in the area. Her confession excited the villagers. While she was examined in the meeting house in front of hundreds of people, the afflicted girls cried out in what appeared to be extreme agony. More individuals were accused and jailed as the weeks passed, but no trials could legally take place because, for the first three months of the witchcraft uproar, Massachusetts was without a legally-established government.

On May 14, , Governor William Phips arrived with a new charter and soon created a special Court of Oyer to hear and Terminer to determine. The court's first session, held on June 2, resulted in a death sentence for the accused witch Bridget Bishop; she was hanged on June She was not the first accused to die, however; Sarah Osborne died of natural causes in a jail in Boston on May Cotton Mather of Boston's First Church wrote privately to the court expressing reservations on questions of evidence.

On June 15 a group of ministers including Cotton Mather, wrote Governor Phips urging that special caution be taken in the use of evidence in the trials, but the ministers said no more publicly in July, August, or September. The court next met on June 29 and heard the cases of five accused women. When the jury tried to acquit one of them, Rebecca Nurse, Stoughton sent the jury back to deliberate some more. When they returned they had changed their verdict to guilty. The women were hanged on July By this time the witchcraft hysteria had spread not only to Salem Town but to Andover.

August and September brought more convictions and hangings. The last eight accused witches were hanged on September 22, in what would turn out to be the final executions. The elder Mather insisted that proper evidence should be used in witchcraft cases just as in any other capital cases.

He strongly opposed spectral evidence, or evidence based on ghost sightings. As accusations mounted against people of higher and more respectable positions, skepticism grew in the public as to the appropriateness of witchcraft charges.


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Many essay topics concerning the Salem witch trials can be derived from the multitude of information that we have, thanks to the documentation presented from the court transcripts themselves and the testimonies of the villagers who lived through that time of hysteria.

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In this article you may find some decent Salem witch trials topics for your argumentative paper. The Salem witch trials negatively influenced the society. This topic allows you to raise your arguments and prove that the witch trials did no good for society.

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Sep 16,  · My research questions; Salem Witch Trials What impact or role did the Puritans religious and social culture have in the proceedings of the Salem Witch Trials? What impact did New England have itself on the Salem Witch Trials. The Salem Witch Trials, of , occurred in Salem is a case where people accused other people of witchcraft. Salem was a town governed by strict Puritan religion, and to have such a charge labeled against you could cost you your life.