On March 1, 1692, Sarah Osborne, and Tituba, an Indian slave from Barbados, are charged with practicing witchcraft in Salem, Massachusetts. Later that same day, Tituba, possibly under coercion, confessed to the crime, encouraging the authorities to seek out more Salem witches. Trouble in the Puritan community began the month before, when nine-year-old Elizabeth Parris and 11-year-old Abigail Williams, the daughter and niece, respectively, of the Reverend Samuel Parris, began experiencing fits and other mysterious maladies.
A doctor concluded that the children were suffering from the effects of witchcraft, and the young girls corroborated the doctor's diagnosis. With encouragement from a number of adults in the community, the girls, who were soon joined by other "afflicted" Salem residents, accused a widening circle of local residents of witchcraft, mostly middle-aged women but also several men and even one four-year-old child. During the next few months, more than 150 women and men from Salem Village and the surrounding areas were accused of satanic practices. In June 1692, a special court was convened in Salem under Chief Justice William Stoughton to judge the accused. The first to be tried was Bridget Bishop, who was found guilty and executed on June 10. Thirteen more women and four men followed her to the gallows, and one man, Giles Corey, was executed by crushing. Most of those tried were condemned on the basis of the witnesses' behavior during the actual proceedings, characterized by fits and hallucinations that were argued to be caused by the defendants on trial. In October 1692, Governor William Phipps of Massachusetts ordered the court dissolved and replaced with the Superior Court of Judicature, which forbade the type of sensational testimony allowed in the earlier trials. Executions ceased, and the Superior Court eventually released all those awaiting trial and pardoned those sentenced to death. The Salem witch trials, which resulted in the executions of 19 innocent women and men, had effectively ended.
Michael Thomas Barry is the author of numerous books that include Murder and Mayhem 52 Crimes that Shocked Early California, 1849-1949. The book can be purchased at Amazon through the following link: