The Witch Trials in Salem Witch:
For the sake of my story, I decided the witch trials themselves would be the result of my character’s actions. That’s why the beginning of the story has Millicent trying to save the innocent men and women from the angry mob of Puritans:
Millicent stood hunched over towards the back of the crowd. The cheers for death that rose from the those around her filled her heart with sorrow. Her disguise was incomplete without her own voice calling for innocent lives. Still, she couldn’t make herself join the chant. The words caught in the guilt that filled her chest and throat.
She missed her family but she’d be with them soon enough. The people of Salem Village couldn’t be so bloodthirsty as to never come to their senses. Millicent moved through the crowd unnoticed as she approached the hanging tree. The woman looked terrified as she fought to keep a brave face, tears fell from her eyes.
The executioner kicked the stool out from under her feet and as her eyes widened with terror and her legs kicked in search of the ground, Millicent bowed her head and went to work. Making an entire crowd believe they’d seen someone die was no easy feat, even for the most powerful witch in the New World.
The following scenes jump back almost a year before the trials and accusations of witchcraft.
While Salem is most famous for its witch hunt, 12 women had already died as witches in Massachusetts and Connecticut in the 17th century. And the witch hunts overseas in Europe were just starting to die down.
The Actual Witch Trials Were Caused By Something Much less Ominus
I’ve always been fascinated by the darkness in human hearts. From the witch trials to mass genocide and serial murder, there’s something about how far people are willing to go to hurt others that keeps me watching documentaries and turning pages. How could they possibly justify their own actions? With serial killers it’s a whole other ball game of abnormal psychology and a serious lack of Jiminy Cricket’s but what about these girls made them continue acting out even after people started losing their lives?
When I was a teen I was channel surfing, like one did before DVR, and found a documentary about the witch trials. This one claimed a kind of fungus, ergot, may have been the initial cause. Ergot is a fungus that can grow on rye in the right conditions. Conditions like those in 1692 Massachusetts. Dr. Linda Caporael came up the theory and studied the growing conditions prior to the hysteria of the trials giving this theory a lot of validity.
The idea appeals to me for two reasons:
- The idea that a bunch of teenaged girls would purposely kill 20 people for attention is incredibly sad yet totally believable. I’d rather blame fungus.
- The way they were acting fits with the effects of ergot poisoning. The fungus contains LSD as well as alkaloids which when consumed can cause convulsions, vomiting, muscle spasms, crawling sensations on the skin, and more. All of which were recorded as afflicting the accusers.
The Actual Witch Trials
For those of you who don’t know, the Salem Witch Trials kicked off when two girls, Elizabeth Paris and Abigal Williams began suffering from hallucinations and muscle convulsions (likely caused by ergot in their bread) in 1962. The town doctor concluded witchcraft was to blame. More girls came forward with symptoms and accusations to match. Anne Putnam jr was the most vocal. Eleven of the nineteen people she accused were found guilty.
Over two hundred people were accused of Witchcraft during the frenzy that ensued. Including a four-year-old girl and the oldest was an 81-year-old man (Giles Corey). Over fifty people confessed to witchcraft to stay alive. During the time leading up to the trials, there were a lot of land disputes between families. While it’s not proven, historians suggest that some of the accusers were using the trials to get the land they saw as rightfully theirs.
24 people were killed
Four people died in prison without being convicted. Two dogs were also accused and put to death. The last to be killed, a man named Giles Corey, refused to confess to witchcraft so he was crushed under rocks. The idea was to place large rocks on his chest until he gave a plea. The crushing took two days and ended with him asking for more weight. The gruesome events of his death shocked the town out of their bloodlust. A suspension of the trials was issued after the crushing.
After the trials and executions, the town people regretted everything. Because everyone was so busy accusing their neighbors of witchcraft, fewer people were taking care of the harvest. Resulting in less food and Salem’s economy took a hit. As a result, the people thought God was punishing them for the murders of twenty people.
In January 1697, the Massachusetts General Court ordered a day of fasting and twelve jurors signed a declaration of regret. It wasn’t until 1706 that Anne Putnam confessed to lying. Historians believe her family told her who to accuse because of a family feud.
If you want to read more about the specific events this page is really helpful with names of victims and accusers as well as a clear timeline.