October 12th marks the 323rd anniversary of the end of the Salem Witch Trials in 1692. Salem, Massachusetts is famous for the witch trials and the city currently draws in tourists who come to experience the macabre location first-hand. Witch hunts are mentioned in law texts from ancient Egypt but became common practice in Europe between 1450 and 1750. As many as 100,000 people were executed for sorcery in the span of 300 years. The Salem Witch Trials continue to be the most famous trials of all.
What else was going on in 1692?
- William III and Mary are sitting on the English throne.
- The United States is still currently a British colony, as the American Revolutionary War isn’t for another 83 years.
- In June, a massive earthquake hits Jamaica and most Port Royal fell into the sea. At the time, Port Royal was a very wealthy (and wicked) city, frequented by pirates and privateers.
- The Nine Years War rages on, ending in 1697.
Salem Village, then a community of 500 people (and located in present-day Danvers, Massachusetts) was chockablock with Puritans–super rigidly devout Protestant Christians of English descent who wore buckles on their hats. Puritan women were expected to be quiet, well-behaved, modest and subservient to their fathers, brothers or husbands. Women were also considered weak when it came to resisting the temptations of the devil and therefore more likely to be drawn into evil thoughts and actions.
These Salem Puritans were especially susceptible to believing that unusual happenings in their small town could be related to the occult. They were always on the lookout for strange behavior, such as that of the children that started the whole thing.
(This information came from a variety of sources but a huge thank-you goes to SalemWitchTrials.com. If I need to fix any of this information, please let me know.)
Rev. Samuel Parris is hired as Salem Village’s minister. He has a younger daughter, Betty. They also have a slave in the house named Tituba. There is some dispute about Tituba’s race–some historians believe she was Native American, others say Indian or African while others suggest she came from the Caribbean. Tituba entertained Betty and some of her young friends with stories about magic and she would show them tricks. These stories and tricks were kept secret from the Reverend Parris and the parents of the other girls.
Betty Parris, age nine, and Abigail Williams, age 11, develop an illness that causes them to have strange fits. They contort themselves into unusual positions, throw things and scream violently. Several other girls in the village, all around the same age, develop similar fits. Some of the girls claim to see ghosts or spectres. See a full list of the afflicted.
- The physician of Salem diagnoses the girls–witchcraft.
- Salem resident Mary Sibley advises Tituba to make a “witch cake” in the hopes that it will cure them or help the girls say who is casting evil spells upon them.
February 29, 1692
Tituba, Sarah Good and Sarah Osborne are accused of witchcraft. These three would have had few people to defend them as Tituba was a slave, Good lived in poverty and challenged Puritan values and Osborne was of low status and hadn’t attended church in several years because of an illness.
March 1, 1692
Sarah Good and Sarah Osborne are put on trial for witchcraft. Good and Osborne both insist they are innocent. Tituba, as a slave, isn’t put on trial but is examined by village magistrates. She confesses. A few days later, all three are sent to a Boston prison.
March 19, 1692
- Abigail Williams accuses Rebecca Nurse of witchcraft. Nurse is in her 70s, a well-respected member of the community, a grandmother and known in Salem as especially pious. Her trial is on March 24th.
- Martha Corey, also known for her piety and also in her 70s, is arrested on suspicion of witchcraft. She had previously stated that she did not believe the accusations of the young girls.
March 28, 1692
Elizabeth Proctor is accused of witchcraft. Proctor’s grandmother, a Quaker, was charged with witchcraft 23 years earlier. Her husband, John Proctor, believes the girls are lying about being bewitched and said the girls themselves should be tried for witchcraft. This may have lead to his own wife being one of the many accused.
April 8, 1692
Warrants are issued for Giles Corey and Sarah Cloyce. Corey, a man in his 80s, was a prosperous landowner, a farmer and the husband of Martha Corey. Sarah Cloyce was the sister of Rebecca Nurse and had defended her sister the day before she was formally accused of witchcraft.
April 11, 1692
- Sarah Cloyce and Elizabeth Proctor appear before village magistrates.
- Dorothy/”Dorcas” Good, John and Elizabeth Proctor, Rebecca Nurse, Sarah Cloyce and Martha Corey are sent to a Boston prison on this night. Dorothy/”Dorcas” was Sarah Good’s four-year-old daughter who confessed to being a witch in order to be with her mother in prison.
April 19, 1692
Mary Warren is examined by magistrates under witchcraft charges. She had previously accused Elizabeth Proctor of witchcraft while working as a servant in John and Elizabeth Proctor’s household. She took back her accusations when John threatened her.
April 21, 1692
- Warrants are issued for nine more witchcraft suspects, including Mary Easty. Easty was also the sister of Rebecca Nurse and Sarah Cloyce and was a well-respected and pious member of the community.
- Abigail Williams accuses Rev. George Burroughs, the former minister in Salem Village, of witchcraft.
May 8, 1692
Rev. George Burroughs is tried for witchcraft. He maintains his innocence.
May 10, 1692
- Sarah Osborne dies in prison in Boston.
- Warrants are issued for George Jacobs Sr and John Willard. Jacobs was in his 70s and was accused by his own granddaughter. Willard was a Salem constable–one of his duties included bringing the accused before the court. He doubted the validity of the witchcraft accusations before he himself was arrested.
May 18, 1692
Mary Easty is released from prison. Two days later, Mercy Lewis becomes ill and blames Easty. Easty is once again arrested for witchcraft.
May 21 & 23, 1692
Arrest warrants are issued for the children of John and Elizabeth Proctor, Sarah and Benjamin.
May 27, 1692
The governor establishes a Court of Oyer and Terminer to investigate the accusations of witchcraft.
May 28, 1692
- An arrest warrant is issued for William Proctor, the second son of John and Elizabeth Proctor, and John Alden. Alden was a soldier and a sea captain.
- Martha Carrier is arrested after being accused of witchcraft by several people. Her sister and brother-in-law are also arrested. Carrier’s youngest children were even coerced into accusing her of witchcraft.
June 2, 1692
- Susannah Sheldon reports that the spectres of Mary English, Bridget Bishop and Giles Corey appeared to her.
- Bridget Bishop is tried, found guilty and is sentenced to hang.
June 10, 1692
Bridget Bishop is hanged on Gallows Hills. She is the first to be executed during the Salem Witch Trials.
June 15, 1692
The court is advised to not rely on “spectral evidence,” as the only ones who were able to see these spectres were the accusers.
June 29, 1692
Sarah Good, Rebecca Nurse and three others are tried for witchcraft.
July 19, 1692
Sarah Good, Rebecca Nurse, Elizabeth Howe, Sarah Wilds and Susannah Martin are hanged on Gallows Hill.
August 5, 1692
Rev. George Burroughs, John and Elizabeth Proctor, George Jacobs Sr., John Willard and Martha Carrier are tried for witchcraft.
August 19, 1692
Rev. George Burroughs, John Proctor, George Jacobs Sr., John Willard and Martha Carrier are hanged on Gallows Hill. Elizabeth Proctor was found guilty but was given a stay of execution because she was pregnant at the time. She is kept in prison until the birth of her child. Before he is hanged, Burroughs recites the Lord’s Prayer in its entirety. This causes doubt to ripple through the village, as witches and those possessed by the devil aren’t supposed to be able to say the Lord’s Prayer.
September 9, 1692
Six accused are tried and condemned by the court.
September 16, 1692
Giles Corey refuses to stand trial. The court orders the sheriff to “press” him until he enters a plea. While laying flat, he is sandwiched between two boards with large rocks placed on the top board, gradually adding more weight on top of his body.
September 17, 1692
Nine accused are tried and condemned by the court.
September 19, 1692
Giles Corey is pressed to death under the weight of the rocks. He is the only person in New England history to get such a sanction.
September 22, 1692
Martha Corey, Mary Easty and four others are hanged on Gallows Hill.
October 12, 1692
The Salem With Trials are ended by a letter from the Massachusetts governor, William Phips. On the 29th, he dissolves the Court of Oyer and Terminer.
Elizabeth Proctor gives birth to a boy while in prison. She names him John. She is not executed but must stay in prison, as she was convicted.
The wife of the Governor William Phips is accused of witchcraft. Phips pardons the remaining accused of witchcraft and 153 people, including Elizabeth Proctor, are released from prison.
If you wish to learn more about the Salem Witch Trials, the links below are fantastic resources.
- SWT History Channel Documentary on YouTube
- A Brief History of the Salem Witch Trials (Smithsonian)
- Salem Witch Trials Timeline (About.com)
- Salem Witch Museum