The Cause Of The Salem Witch Trials


Early in 1692, numerous females in Salem, a community in colonial Massachusetts, started displaying odd symptoms, including twitching, barking, and reporting being pinched or pierced by unseen pins. This event led to what was commonly referred to as the Salem witch trials. During the Salem witch trials, the law regarded any alleged witch who came before the Court of Oyer and Terminer as guilty. The colony was functioning without a charter since the Crown had canceled the last one due to repeated infractions. The colony’s assembly was given the authority to create a court by a new royal charter that Phips carried with him. To trial the alleged Salem witches, Governor Phips established a special court. The name of the court was the Court of Oyer and Terminer, which in Old Northern French meant “to hear and decide” and was still widely used in English courts at the time.


The Salem witch trials were a series of hearings and prosecutions of persons suspected of witchcraft in colonial Massachusetts between February 1692 and May 1693. More than two hundred persons were charged, with nineteen convicted and executed by hanging. Governor William Phips granted reprieves to twelve additional accused witches but remained in jail and suffered. The local magistrates, assisted by a jury of twelve men, presided over the trials. The first three trials occurred in February 1692, while the rest happened between March and May 1692 (Pruitt). As a result, this essay presents a case study of the Salem witch trials, a series of historical events in the United States. This goal will be accomplished by critically studying the events and producing a comprehensive historical analysis of the historical phenomenon.

The Salem witch trials are one of American history’s most renowned episodes of mob panic and religious persecution. It was also an important occasion in forming the notion of religious freedom in the United States. The witch trials started in February 1692, when a group of girls in Salem Village, Massachusetts, claimed to be possessed by the devil. The girls reported that they had been visited by the spirits of persons whom witches had slaughtered. The girls nominated three ladies as witches: Sarah Good, Sarah Osborne, and Tituba, an enslaved person from Barbados. The ladies were trialed, and Sarah Good and Sarah Osborne were found guilty and condemned to death (Markham-Cantor 55). Tituba was found guilty but was not put to death because she admitted to being a witch and pledged to assist the authorities in discovering other witches. Over the following several months, more than one hundred fifty persons were accused of witchcraft.

Most of the accused were women, and more than two-thirds of them were over the age of sixty. Twenty persons were finally convicted and condemned to death. Nineteen of them were hung on Gallows Hill in Salem on July 1692 (Pruitt). Giles Corey was crushed to death with pebbles when he refused to make a plea during his trial. The witch trials produced great worry and hysteria in Salem Village and the neighboring areas. People were scared that they or their loved ones might be accused of witchcraft and executed. The trials also had a lasting influence on the growth of religious freedom in the United States. The experience of the witch trials revealed that religious persecution might exist in America, and it contributed to the establishment of the concept of religious freedom in the Constitution.

The Salem witch trials are one of American history’s most infamous episodes of mob hysteria and religious persecution. It was also a watershed event in the evolution of the concept of religious liberty in the United States. The events of 1692 took place in a unique historical setting marked by religious, political, and economic conflicts. Gender, sexuality, and power ideologies also influenced the trials of the witches.

The religious milieu of the period was a crucial influence in the witch trials. People escaping religious persecution in Europe established the colonies. However, religious pluralism was not tolerated by the colonists. Puritans created the Massachusetts Bay Colony because they considered the Church of England too corrupt to change. They thought it was their mission to establish America’s clean, virtuous civilization. The Puritans were very devout in their ideas and behaviors and thought the devil was active in the world and witches worked for him.

The witch trials took place during political and economic instability in the colonies. The late 1600s were a time of rapid transformation in the colonies as the population increased and new villages sprang up (Markham-Cantor 59). This aspect created conflict between colonists and Native Americans who were being displaced by the settlers. The colonists were also at odds with the French and English, who were fighting for control of North American possessions. The witch trials occurred in the middle of this political and economic upheaval.

Gender was another issue that led to the witch hunts; Women, according to the Puritans, were subservient to males. This idea was founded on the Bible, which states that man was created before a woman; she was meant to assist man. The Puritan culture was patriarchal, as Men wielded all political and economic authority. Women were supposed to follow their husbands and raise their children at home. Women were also not permitted to own property or engage in public life.

The Puritans’ conception of women as inferior and obedient contributed to a climate in which women may be accused of witchcraft. Women who did not fit the Puritan culture’s ideal of the subservient wife were viewed with suspicion (Kelkar and Nathan 43). Women convicted of witchcraft were often individuals who did not fit the Puritan ideal of femininity. Women who were widowed or divorced were often among them. It was also often for women to be considered too independent or loud. From another gender perspective at the time, the alleged witches were women. This ideology was partly due to the perception that women were more receptive to the devil’s temptations. Women were also more prone to be accused of witchcraft since they were the ones who cared for the ill and aged the most. Women were expected to care for the ill and old in Puritan culture. They were also supposed to assist in childbirth; These were all seen as behaviors that may expose individuals to the devil’s power.

Sexuality ideals also influenced the witch trials; Sex was considered a sacred act in Puritan culture. Sex was only to be conducted inside the boundaries of marriage, and the culture considered sex outside marriage a sin. The Puritans also felt that women were more prone than males to participate in extramarital sexual behavior (Kelkar and Nathan 33). Many accused witches were females suspected of having sexual encounters with the devil. In addition, they were accused of having sexual contact with animals. These claims were founded on the idea that women were more inclined than males to engage in extramarital sexual behavior.

Ideas about power also influenced the witch trials. The Puritans believed that the devil was a powerful being that could influence both people and events. This group believed that witches could cause physical harm to individuals as well as property damage. This idea was the driving force behind the witch trials (Kelkar and Nathan 39). Many Puritans held the belief that the accused witches posed a threat to their society. The witches were frequently women who were regarded as being excessively independent or excessively vocal and were frequently individuals who were regarded as being disruptive to the social order. The witch trials occurred in a specific historical context that included religious, political, and economic tensions. In addition, ideas concerning power dynamics, sexuality, and gender played a role in shaping the trials. The religious atmosphere of the time was a significant element that played a role in the witch trials. People who were running from religious persecution in Europe were the ones who initially settled in what would become the colonies. Despite this, the colonists had little tolerance for different religious practices.


The analysis of the Salem witch trials provides insight into some of the critical events in the United States that were crucial in depicting religious intolerance and social divide within the former British colonies. The presumption of innocence, or the idea that a person accused of a crime is “innocent until proven guilty,” is one of the driving concepts of the American criminal justice system today. Although it has its roots in English common law, the presumption of innocence is not mentioned in significant legal documents like the Magna Carta or the English Bill of Rights of 1689 (Pruitt). None of the Salem witches who were accused of being witches enjoyed the presumption of innocence, which is one of the essential prerequisites for a fair trial but was not specified in the Constitution at the time.

Works Cited

Kelkar, Govind, and Dev Nathan. Witch Hunts: Culture, Patriarchy and Structural Transformation. Cambridge University Press, 2020.

Markham-Cantor, Alice Star. “A Witch in the Family: Story, Legacy, and Justice in the Salem Witch Trials.” 2018, pp. 45–68. Web.

Pruitt, Sarah. “How the Salem Witch Trials Influenced the American Legal System.”, A&E Television Networks, 2021.