1876 illustration of the courtroom; the central figure is usually identified as being Mary Walcott

The Salem witch trials were a series of hearings and prosecutions of people accused of witchcraft in colonial Massachusetts between February 1692 and May 1693. More than 200 people were accused, nineteen of whom were found guilty and executed by hanging (fourteen women and five men). One other man, Giles Corey, was pressed to death for refusing to plead, and at least five people died in jail. It was the deadliest witch hunt in the history of the United States.

Twelve other women had previously been executed in Massachusetts and Connecticut during the 17th century. Despite being generally known as the Salem witch trials, the preliminary hearings in 1692 were conducted in several towns: Salem Village (now Danvers), Salem Town, Ipswich, and Andover. The most infamous trials were conducted by the Court of Oyer and Terminer in 1692 in Salem Town.

The episode is one of Colonial America's most notorious cases of mass hysteria. It has been used in political rhetoric and popular literature as a vivid cautionary tale about the dangers of isolationism, religious extremism, false accusations, and lapses in due process. It was not unique, but a Colonial American example of the much broader phenomenon of witch trials in the early modern period, which took place also in Europe. Many historians consider the lasting effects of the trials to have been highly influential in subsequent United States history.

Many others were accused of witchcraft until the hysteria ended in May 1693, when the governor of Massachusetts set free all of the remaining persons accused of witchcraft and issued a proclamation of general pardon. While the causes of the 1692 witchcraft episode continue to be the subject of historical and sociological study, there is a consensus view that land disputes and perhaps economic rivalry among factions in Salem, Salem Village and Topsfield fueled animosity and played an underlying role.[1]


Trial of George Jacobs - George Jacobs (1609-1692) accused by his granddaughter - a reconstruction of his trial by Thompkins. H. Matteson

This episode is of quite some significance to family historians, since many of those prosecuted and put to death were elderly matriarchs of large colonial families and are survived today by a very great posterity. Many of them suffered because of their advanced age and accompanying senility in that they were unable to appreciate the gravity of charges leveled against them. Wild accusations were being made on a daily basis.

The whole episode finally came to an abrupt end in 1692 when accusations were made against the wife of the governor. One participating judge would later issue a broad apology for his participation in the affair, but not until several years after at least 11 distinguished women had been put to death and many others pilloried in public stockades.

The Salem Witch Hunt ended when the governor of Massachusetts ordered a halt after his own wife was accused of sorcery. Many suspected that poisoned food or fungi caused people to experience hallucinations.

About 100 years later, the many injustices of this time period stood out in the minds of the Founding Fathers. When they drafted the U.S. Constitution, they included a Bill of Rights of basic protections of citizens. One of those was the right to a fair trail by an impartial jury.


  • 1688 - In Boston, Mary Glover (Goody) is convicted of witchcraft for tormenting the four children of John Goodwin. Rev Cotton Mather intervenes successfully and writes a popular book about the event. The symptoms of the Goodwin children are later mirrored by the afflicted children of Salem Village.
  • Nov 1689 - Rev Samuel Parris and his family move from Boston into the Salem Village parsonage with their two slaves - John and Tituba Indian.
  • Feb 1691 - Following several weeks of afternoon fortune-telling, Salem children exhibit strange behavior that is diagnosed by Dr Driggs as the evil hand of witchcraft.
  • Feb 29, 1691 - Three accused women, Sarah Good, Sarah Osborne and Tituba are brought to Ingersoll's Tavern for the first pretrial examination.
  • Mar 19, 1691 - Rev Lawson observes pretrial hearings. Abigail Williams claims to be tormented by the spectre of Rebecca Nurse, beginning of accusations against more respectable members of the community.
  • Mar 24, 1691 - Rebecca Nurse is arrested
  • Apr 18, 1691 - Mary English is arrested by Sheriff George Corwin.
  • Apr 19, 1691 - Multiple arrest warrants issued
  • May 10, 1691 - Sarah Osborne, accused of witchcraft, dies in prison. George Jacobs is arrested for witchcraft.
  • May 14, 1691 - Rev Increase Mather returns to Massachusetts
  • May 25, 1691 - Governor Phips commissions a Special Court of Oyer and Terminer to try witchcraft cases.
  • May 27, 1692 - Governor Phips appoints seven justices to the Court, William Stoughton is named chief justice
  • May 31, 1692 - Captain John Alden, son of famous pilgrim, is arrested.
  • June 2, 1692 - First case opens in Court of Oyer and Terminer with trial of Bridget Bishop and testimony by William Stacey
  • June 10, 1692 - Bridget Bishop is hanged on Gallows Hill - only 8 days after her trial - no appeal.
  • June 15, 1692 - Report titled The Return of Several Minister is prepared to determine trial proceedings
  • June 28-30, 1692 - Witchcraft trials of Good, Wilds, Howe, Martin and Nurse. Rebecca Nurse is found innocent, but her verdict is reversed
  • July 19, 1692 - Execution Day in Salem - hangings at Gallows Hill
  • Aug 19, 1692 - Execution Day in Salem
  • Sep 19, 1692 - Gile Cory charged with witchcraft
  • Sep 22, 1692 - Execution Day in Salem
  • Oct 29, 1692 - Governor Phips closes the Salem Court of Oyer and Terminer
  • Nov 5, 1692 - Three women from Gloucester accused of witchcraft
  • Dec 14, 1692 - Great and General Court of Massachusetts passes laws about dowry and burial of condemned witches
  • Jan 3, 1692 - A new superior court is created but is forbidden to accept spectral evidence, nullifying the testimony of afflicted children
  • May 1693 - Governor Phips receives instructions from England to stop all trials and pardons all jailed prisoners
  • Dec 17, 1696 - Acting Covernor William Stoughton proclaims a day of prayer and fasting to seek forgiveness for trial crimes.

Prominent characters[]

Between June and September 1692 - 20 people were executed in Salem for practicing witchcraft. Many more were accused by later released.

Early history[]

1656 - Anne Hibbins, widow of a prominent merchant (William Hibbins) and sister of Colonial Governor, Richard Bellingham, was tried and executed for witchcraft in 1656 in Boston.

1662 - Rebecca Greensmith is accused and hanged in Hartford, CT for practicing witchcraft to torment one Anne Cole.

1688 - Goodwife Glover, an Irish Catholic laundress is accused and hanged in Boston for tomrneting the Goodwin children.

Tituba the slave[]

The first accusation of witchcraft originated from the household of Reverend Samuel Parris who had recently (in 1689) moved to Salem with his family and two slaves from the Barbados, John Indian and his wife Tituba. Slavery at this time in New England was uncommon (only about 400 total) and a bit ironic for a preacher no less. John worked the fields and Tituba kept the house and did laundry. They were a bit of an oddity in a Puritan household. Tituba entertained can cared for the Parris children regularly because Mrs. Parris suffered frequent illnesses.

The children, often bored, particularly in the winter months, and now joined by several of their friends, enjoyed Tituba's many stories about her homeland, culture and magic. Sometime in the winter of 1692, Tituba started showing the children some black magic games that were suppose to foretell the future, but one day these games took a dark turn with terribly frightening predictions. Some of the s then started showing convulsions and fits that they had been incident to the 1688 witchcraft incident in the Goodwin household.

Modern day scholars suspect that deep-seathed guilt about practicing magic and the fear of getting caught weighed heavily on the young women, particularly starting with Abigail Parris. This circle of teen s included:

  • Abigail Parris
  • Betty Parris
  • Ann Putnam - age 12, daughter of Thomas Putnam, very influential family in Salem village, and prime accuser of witches
  • Mary Wolcott - age 16, neighbor to the Parris family
  • Elizabeth Hubbard - age 17, great neice to the local doctor
  • Susan Sheldon
  • Elizabeth Booth
  • Mercy Lewis
  • Mary Warren (1675-1732), age 17. servant to John and Elizabeth Proctor

Feb 1692 accusations[]

1692, February 29: Based on formal complaints from Joseph Hutchinson (1633-1716), Thomas Putnam, Edward Putnam (1654-1747) and Thomas Preston, Magistrates John Hathorne and Jonathan Corwin issue warrants to arrest Sarah Good, Sarah Osborne and Tituba for afflicting Elizabeth Parris, Abigail Williams, Ann Putnam Jr. and Elizabeth Hubbard."

June executions[]

June 10, 1691 (1)

  • Bridget Bishop - first person hanged for witchcraft - Jun 10, 1692. She claimed innocence to the end.

July executions[]

July 19, 1692 (5)

  • Rebecca Towne Nurse (1621-1692) - Hung July 19, 1692 (age 71) for Witchcraft with her sister. Another sister was accused but released. Rebecca immigrated from England as a young child on the ship "Rose of Yarmouth" in April 1637.
  • Susanna Martin - hung July 19, 1692
  • Elizabeth Howe - hung July 19, 1692
  • Sarah Good - hung July 19, 1692
  • Sarah Wildes - hung July 19, 1692

August executions[]

August 19, 1692 (5)

  • George Burroughs - The Reverend
  • Martha Carrier
  • John Willard
  • George Jacobs SR
  • John Proctor (1631-1692) - he had bravely declared the Salem children of lying about witchcraft, but they then accuse him and his wife Elizabeth of witchcraft.

September executions[]

Sept 22, 1692 (8)

  • Mary Towne Eastey (1634-1692) - hung on September 22, 1692 (age 53) sister of Rebecca Nurse. Another sister was accused but released. Mary from England as a young child on the ship "Rose of Yarmouth" in April 1637.
  • Alice Parker
  • Ann Pudeator
  • Martha Corey
  • Margaret Scott
  • Wilmot Read
  • Mary Parker
  • Samuel Wardwell

Last Execution (1)

  • Giles Corey, husband of Martha Corey - Giles died at trial after being crushed with heavy rocks for refusing to speak.

Accused but released[]

Accused of witchcraft but later released.

  • Sarah Cloyse (1642-1703), was accused but eventually released. But two of her sisters (Towne) were hung in 1692 for witchcraft.
  • Mary Phips - wire of Massachusetts Governor William Phips - When she was accused of witchcraft, her husband ordered a halt to all witch hunt activity.
  • Sarah Osborne - died in jail in Spring 1692 while awaiting trail
  • Elizabeth Proctor - spared the fate of her husband because she was pregnant. By delaying here , her baby, who may not have survived infancy, saved her life.
  • Tituba - She became Samuel Parris' slave when he lived in Barbados. She was the first person accused of witchcraft, and the first to confess (possibly to gain leniency). But she later recanted her confessions. Eventually released after a year in jail and then disappeared.
  • John Alden (1622-1701) - (son of Mayflower pilgrims) a 17th-century American soldier and sailor. He was a well-known public figure in his time but is now chiefly remembered as a survivor of the Salem witch trials, of which he wrote a much quoted account. He was subsequently accused of witchcraft during the Salem Witch Trials in May 1692. He had been inclined not to make much of the matter, but was prevailed upon by some friends and broke out of jail. He escaped to Duxbury, where he stayed with friends until, as he later said, "the public had reclaimed the use of its reason". When he returned, he was cleared by proclamation.

Judges of Salem[]

The Court of Oyer and Terminer was based on an old Anglo-French legal phrase meaning to hear and determine. When Increase Mather returned from England in May-1692, he arrived with a new colonial charter that allowed for the creation of such special criminal courts. Seven judges were appointed to serve on this court.

  • Samuel Sewall - one of the trial judges who five years laters expressed publicly deep remorse for his role.
  • John Hathorne - one of two magistrates to approve the first witchcraft arrest warrants in Salem. Becomes heavily invested in the proceedings because he allowed them to start.
  • Jonathan Corwin - one of two magistrates to approve the first witchcraft arrest warrants in Salem. Becomes heavily invested in the proceedings because he allowed them to start.
  • William Sloughton - deputy governor from Dorchester -
  • John Richards - Boston -appointed to Court of Oyer and Terminer
  • William Sergeant - Boston -appointed to Court of Oyer and Terminer
  • Samuel Sewall - Boston - appointed to Court of Oyer and Terminer
  • Wait Winthrop - Boston - appointed to Court of Oyer and Terminer
  • Nathaniel Saltonstall - Haverhill -appointed to Court of Oyer and Terminer
  • Bartholomew Gedney - Salem - appointed to Court of Oyer and Terminer


  • Cotton Mather - famous reverend an author of many books
  • Samuel Parris - famous reverend

Court Officers[]

Church remonstrance[]

As a result of the persecutions, many members withdrew from communion and attendance at the Salem Village church (mostly relatives of the accused). This was the beginning of the remonstrance of the people against Rev. Samuel Parris as their minister, which resulted in his dismissal from that church in 1697. In this movement, John Tarbell bore a prominent part. Leading this movement were the following:


  1. ^ Topsfield and the Witchcraft Tragedy. (Topsfield: Topsfield Historical Society 1992) 1-12.

wikipedia:en:Salem witch trials for more info on this event.

wikipedia:en:Rebecca Nurse