“Salem Possessed” is a book written by Paul S. Boyer and Stephen Nissenbaum which focuses on Salem Witch Trials. The writers explain that the problem began in the year 1691 and was marked by the behaviour of some girls in the same village who were involved in fortune telling. They were using a makeshift crystal ball to foretell their future and were aided by a slave couple which had come from Western India.
The first trial began on February in the year 1692 after the arrest of three women who were being accused of witchcraft. The women were inclusive of Sarah Osborn and Sarah Good who did not did not agree to the charges and Tituba who voluntarily agreed to the charges and did not plead innocent.
Around one hundred and eighty five people had been accused by the time the trials came to an end of which one hundred and forty one were women while the rest were men.
The same study explains that out of the total number of the accused, there were fourteen women and five men. Those who faced trial were fifty two women and seven men and finally, those who were convicted were twenty six women and five men (Linder Para. 6).
Since Salem was a religious community, the trials came to and end following a sermon by Increase Marther. The preacher was for protecting innocent people from being persecuted. With that background in mind, this paper shall describe the Salem witch trials and narrow down to women and property in relation to the same.
The Plot Summary
The introductory part has highlighted the main points of Salem Witch Trials and it is equally important to discuss the summary of activities which were taking place to be in a position to analyze some themes of the same. The plight of Salem started when one of the church elders by the name John Putman invited Samuel Paris to preach in the village.
Paris latter agreed to become the minister of the village after he was given a better remuneration which included a better salary, privileges as well as allowances.
During that period, studies indicate that people were divided into two groups of people: the Porters and the Purtnams and all were competing for political as well as religious leadership (Boyer and Nissenbaum pp. 124).
Witchcraft accusations were stirred by the sickness of a young girl who was known as Betty Paris. The girl was complaining of pain and fever and although there was a likelihood that the symptoms were as a result of a disease or some condition like child abuse, it was not possible by then to know the cause of the misery. Nevertheless, some people in the village suspected witchcraft to be the underlying cause. Villagers started to think more about witchcraft when close friends of the sick girl started to experience the same symptoms.
The three girls who were experiencing similar symptoms were known as Mary Walcott, Mary Lewis and Ann Putnam. Although a doctor was consulted to treat them, studies indicate that he diagnosed the problem to have been caused by a supernatural cause (Murphy, Par. 3).
Since the villagers believed that young children were the main target of the witches, there was little cause to doubt the diagnoses. In view of the fact that Salem villagers supposed that dogs were used by witches to bewitch people, one woman proposed the same dogs to be used to verify whether the victims were actually bewitched or not.
To affirm, this dogs were given a cake that was mixed with the urine of the victim and in case the dog and victim displayed similar behaviour, it was concluded that the victim was actually bewitched. The number of the bewitched girls continued to increase and it turned out to be a matter of concern since villagers became obsessed with it.
The trial began when the two girls; Betty and Abigail named the people whom they thought were responsible for their misery. Nevertheless, the analysis of the trial and accusations revealed that the two girls drafted their accusation stories collaboratively. Other girls who were likewise afflicted maintained that they had seen witches flying during winter and were supported by the family of Putnam which was very prominent (Boyer and Nissenbaum pp. 126).
As highlighted in the introductory part, the first group to be accused was composed of three women namely Osborn, Good and Tituba. While Osborn was old and querulous, Good was a beggar who never had a permanent dwelling place and survived mainly by begging for food and shelter from the villagers.
The two magistrates who were dealing with witchcraft cases were John Hathome as well as Jonathan Corwoin. The girls and the villagers volunteered to offer information concerning the accused women.
While the girls explained that they suffered greatly in the presence of the accused, villagers maintained that their animals disappeared or were born with deformities once the accused visited their compounds. It was clear that the judges believed that the women were guilty especially due to the questions which they asked them such as whether they had either seen Satan or whether they believed whether they were witches or not (Sutter, Para. 5).
The trial would have taken another course were it not for Tituba who confessed to the accusations. The woman explained that she was once approached by Satan who was a tall man from Boston and latter was requested to be his servant and affirm the same by signing a book. The woman explained that the tall man would either appear as a dog or even as a hog. Although she tried to seek religious counsel; the woman described that she was prevented from doing so by the devil.
Most surprisingly, Tituba explained that she had around four witches who were serving Satan with her, Osborn and Good included. Consequently, due to her confession, the ministers started to look for more witches and majority of the witchcraft sceptic also became silent (Boyer and Nissenbaum pp. 90).
Some other women were accused of witchcraft especially after the girls reported that they were being attacked by them. Young girls were also accused of the same evil; as young as four years of age. The audience had no other reason other than to believe especially due the confession of the afflicted girls who even confessed of being made dumb by the same witches.
As time went by, one accused by the name Deliverance Hobbs also confessed to witchcraft accusations. Due to the increased witchcraft cases, Phips the governor by then established a new court for the purpose of conducting witchcraft trials and appointed five judges for the same purpose.
The trials involved close examination of the accused by the judges and even use of gossip, stories and hearsay. The accused were most disadvantaged as they were not allowed to appeal or to have witnesses to testify on their behalf.
The trials continued to take place even after the trial of Bridget Bishop who was the first man to be tried and hanged. It was risky for anyone to be against the accusations and such a person also stood a chance of being victimized. Some of the people who confessed were allowed to live but most of them were hanged, stoned and some died in prison (The Salem Witch Trials Par. 8).
Further studies indicate that the trials came to an end in the year 1693 and some of the accused who were still prison were pardoned and allowed to continue with their normal lives.
Women and Property
Most scholars have been committed to analyze the issue of Salem witch trials and have come up with different conclusions. To begin with, a virtual analysis of the accused witches indicates that the total number of the accused women were far much more than men.
Most importantly, although some couples were accused, studies indicate that most of the women who were accused were widows. It is also important to note that young girls were also accused of the same crime (Sutter, Para 5).
The critical analysis of the whole issue indicates that there was a big difference between the accusers and the accused. Studies of Campbell (Para. 4) illustrate that most of the people who were accused were living in the south and they were wealthier than the accusers since they had much property. In addition, most of the accused families were aimed at gaining properties from the accused once they were convicted.
Religious factors also came into play since studies indicate that while most of the accused witches were in support of George Burroughs, the accusers and their families were against him and actually contributed greatly in forcing the ex minister to leave their territory (Murphy, Par. 3).
As much as men were accused and convicted of witchcraft, women were the main victims. Majority of the women who were accused and convicted were aged forty years and above. In most cases, men who were accused happened to be the relatives of the women witches. Most of the people who were accused were rich, relatively rich or powerful. A critical analysis of the issues in Salem indicates that there were underlying causes to the problem which may be inclusive of economic factors as well as sexual and doctrinal threat (Linder, Par. 8).
This is the main reason why most of the people who were accused were wealthy widows. They were viewed as a threat to some traditions involving the transfer of property from the fathers to the sons. In addition, women who never had male children were also at a greater risk of being accused due to the same issue.
Women who inherited property from their husbands were also at a greater risk of being accused especially when there were male children in the same family (Campbell Para 8.). However, there were some who never had property but were still accused like Martha Carrier. Therefore, it cannot be an understatement to conclude that Salem witch trials were spurred by economic, social and religious issues.
Boyer, Paul S. and Stephen Nissenbaum. Salem possessed: the social origins of witchcraft. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1974. Print.
Campbell, Donna M. Salem Witch Trials as Fact and Symbol. Web. 14 January 2011
Linder, Douglas. The Witchcraft Trials in Salem: A Commentary. Web. 16 January 2011
Murphy, Kate. Salem Possessed: The Social Origins of Witchcraft. Web. 14 January 2011
Sutter, Tim. Salem Witchcraft: The Events and Causes of the Salem Witch Trials. 2000. Web. 14 January 2011
The Salem Witch Trials. 2010. Web. 14 January 2011