The Salem Witch Trials Essay Research Paper — страница 2

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was to plead guilty and avoid execution. Salem was turning into a ghost town. With the community turning on each other, the church loosing its respect and influence, and an unjust legal system, it is only natural that the people were in a state of total chaos. John Demos writes: …only at Salem did any considerable number choose to convict themselves, and there, it seemed, confession was the strategy of choice if one wished to avoid the gallows. Endless rumors was made up because people did not want any blame put on to themselves. The social breakdown in Salem was the major factor in the tragedy that took the lives of many innocent people. There was more than one tragedy happening in Salem. The first was the murdering of many innocent people, and the second was that a community

that was once very close had been broken apart. Often the people of small puritan villages like Salem were like a family, but isolation probably made them unable to adapt to the difficult situation. It is ironical that the attempt to create a society based on rules and regulations given by the church and the most influential men back fired and created a state where people ended up questioning their religious beliefs. That is probably why writers like Herman Melville and Nathaniel Hawthorne in the following years tried to move away from the general puritan ideas and move society into a new and more tolerant age. As the trials went on the accusations became more and more bizarre. When a child became ill, or a cow ceased to give milk, the neighbor was suspected of magic. An

accusation of witchcraft brought into court all the accuser’s enemies and rivals with stories of the mishaps and disputes of the last ten to twenty years, interpreted in the light of vicious occult powers. Also disturbing is the Puritan disregard of justice. The upper class was treated leniently when accused, and placed under house arrest, rather than being consigned to months in a crowded and stinking jail. Because the rich also had the means to travel and live away from home, they could and did escape to New York, and were even encouraged to do so by some authorities. Ordinary people could not be confident even of due process. The sheriff, without warrant, sometimes confiscated the property of an accused couple, leaving their children destitute. At the hearings, the accusers

sat through the interrogations, frequently interrupting, adjusting their stories to fit the testimony they heard and sometimes even assaulting the accused. Onlookers coached and prompted the witnesses. The principle investigating judge, John Hawthorne, showed extreme prejudice. Then, too, most of the key witnesses had admittedly resorted to occult practices themselves, and were children or slaves. Both court and clergy were inconsistent in their attitude toward witchcraft. While in theory condemning any recourse to occult powers, in practice they were more often under the influence of English legal assumptions. In England the witch crises produced proportionally many fewer accusations and a much lower conviction rate than elsewhere, because in England witches were tried not for

trafficking with the occult, but for the actual harm done to others as a result. The resort to white magic to ward off witchcraft was easily forgiven by the Puritans. Even stranger, accused witches were commanded to use their power to heal the afflictions of those who claimed to be suffering from the witch attacks. When the Salem Village minister’s slave, John Indian, a major figure in the witchcraft accusations, had a fit in court, the magistrates ordered [Elizabeth Cary] to touch him, in order to his cure, but her head must be turned another way, lest instead of curing, she should make him worse, by her looking on him, her hand being guided to take hold of his. Most of the accused witches was women J.W. Davidson and M. H. Lytle writes: … out of 178 accused witches who can

be identified by name, more than three out of four were female. And if the backgrounds of accused men are examined, it turns out that nearly half of them were husbands, sons, or other relatives of accused women… [examining] the trial records in more detail, [one finds] that the authorities tender to treat accused women differently from men. Magistrates and ministers often put pressure on women to confess their guilt. The given texts suggest different explanations, it is suggested that it would be most beneficial to accuse and convict the women, because the women’s economical status in the 17th century.