Historical events have always shaped modern life. Even as a history student in college, you may not get all of the facts about specific events. If you are a history buff and want some interesting historical facts, we have some great information. Learn 5 facts about the Salem Witch Trials that you may have never known!
Many believe this time in history was all about the persecution of witches and their death. However, some details have been left out. With hundreds of books and many movies made about the Witch Trials, there are still several facts that some people do not know. Enhance your education by learning more about these controversial trials.
No One Was Burned
One interesting fact is that not a single person was burned during the trial. Many believe what is presented in modern films about witches and movies. In Salem, witches were not burned when accused. Instead, they were hung. All of those sentenced to death were all killed by hanging. The only exception was one person, Giles Corey. He was stoned to death for refusing to enter a plea in court.
The myth that witches were burned was inspired by the witch trials in Europe. Here, execution by fire was common. Law codes stated that all witchcraft should be punished by fire, and burnings were overseen by church leaders. While burning was one leading cause of death, thousands were beheaded or hung first. Their bodies were then incinerated. This was done to protect against any chances of sorcery after death. Some condemned witches in Europe were even alive when they were burnt and died from severe burns and fume inhalation.
Racial Discrimination Was Present
Anyone who has taken history classes in school will recognize the importance of racial discrimination. It is something that has played a role in many historical events. There are hundreds of essay samples on the Witch Trials as well as other events that involve race. With some Salem witch trials essays for students, you can get an understanding of how racial injustice was evident. In fact, the first person that ever confessed to being a witch was a Caribbean slave. Tituba was a woman slave of Samuel Paris.
Using an essay, students can examine how the race of confessed witches set the stage for many future events through the trials. Many women of color were accused simply due to their race and social status. Tituba was accused with two others of having low standing within their society. None of these women went to church. The other two did not confess, but Tituba did admit to being a witch. It is now believed her confession came from being tortured. Instead of being hanged like others, she entered a plea. She then helped with the identification of other witches.
Witch Tests Were Designed by Courts
If you have seen a modern TV series on this topic, you may be familiar with some tests that were issued to people. These were designed by courts to determine who was a witch. Unfortunately, they were designed in a way to ensure failure. If one test was passed, another would simply be used until the person failed.
These Witch Tests were initially used in Europe and consisted of 8 different tests:
- Incantation – This required a verbal order for the devil to leave any afflicted victim. If it worked, the accused was a witch.
- Prayer – One had to recite the Lord’s Prayer or selected scripture. Those that could not be deemed a witch.
- Pricking – Witches were poked until they bled. When they did, if any victims felt physical relief, witchcraft was proven.
- Skin – Any appearance of freckles, moles, birthmarks, or other skin marks were considered proof one was in contact with the devil.
- Swimming – Accused witches would be bound and dropped into water. If they floated, they were guilty of practicing witchcraft. If they sank, they were not guilty, but most drowned anyway.
- Touch – If any accused touched another and caused pain, they have been deemed a witch.
- Weight – Witches were assumed to be light. Courts compared their weight against that of the Bible. If accused witches weighed more than the book, another test was used.
- Witch Cake – If any witch created a cake using her urine and fed that to a dog, that dog would have adverse reactions.
Spectral Evidence Was Accepted
As trials were conducted, different forms of evidence were allowed. William Stoughton, the chief justice of Massachusetts, permitted accusers to include these spectral happenings as evidence. These could be dreams or apparitions. Some strongly argued against this. They saw it as a way for the devil to use an image to afflict another and believed it was not under anyone’s control. The courts then argued that if the devil did use your image, you gave permission. This meant you were a witch. Later in the trials, this type of evidence was dismissed. However, this decision came after dozens had already been killed.
Trials Stopped by Governor
A newly appointed governor entered Massachusetts during the hysteria. The town was currently operating without a charter, and a new one was brought by Governor Phips. He created special courts that were used strictly for trying the accused witches. When a witch appeared before the court back then, they were assumed guilty by the law.
Phips allowed the courts to continue trying women of Salem and many innocent people died. When his wife, Lady Mary Phips, was accused, he quickly worked to eliminate any use of spectral evidence. In just a few weeks following, all trials were ordered to end and anyone awaiting trial or execution was released or pardoned.
These trials did not stop because everyone stopped believing in witches. Instead, they stopped because no trial was doing an effective job at identifying who the witches were.
The witch trials in Salem took place at the same time as trials in Spain for witchcraft. In Spain, the Catholic Church was seeking punishment and one of the most famous historical events, The Inquisition, was in full force. The Spanish Inquisition was an effort of a Catholic Church and courts to prosecute anyone who did not follow its teachings.
In Salem, the inquisition was not as intense. Most accused were female. What happened in Salem was not any less lawful, but presents a reminder that many stories and books about the witch hunt Salem leave out details that would help to understand society at that time. Religious intolerance was a main factor of the trials. Today, the same thoughts are in place, with many churches and religious groups looking to create a homogeneous society. Those that think differently are still shunned, though not hanged as a result.