The Salem Witch Trials 1692

August 2, 2022

With October just around the corner, Halloween and Salem Massachusetts often comes to mind. The city of Salem Massachusetts has a global perception for being a town of Halloween and witch related festivities. Part of this perception is tied to the Salem Haunted Happenings celebration that takes place here in Salem Massachusetts every October. This year will be the 40th anniversary of the fun and festive celebration. These celebrations are full of joy and togetherness, but it is also important to understand the history that comes along with the discussion of the Witch Trials and the October season. Take a moment to read the brief history below to deepen your understanding of Salem Massachusetts and what happened here in 1692.

The Salem Witch Trials of 1692

In January of 1692, the daughter and niece of Reverend Samuel Parris of Salem Village became ill. William Griggs, the village doctor, was called in when they failed to improve. His diagnosis of bewitchment put into motion the forces that would ultimately result in the hanging deaths of 19 men and women. In addition one man was pressed to death; several others died in prison, and the lives of many were irrevocably changed.

Time Period Of The Salem Witch Trials

To understand the events of the Salem Witch Trials, it is necessary to examine the times in which accusations of witchcraft occurred. There were the ordinary stresses of 17th-century life in the Massachusetts Bay Colony. A strong belief in the devil, factions among Salem Village families and rivalry with nearby Salem Town combined with a recent smallpox epidemic and the threat of attack by warring tribes created a fertile ground for fear and suspicion. Soon, prisons were filled with more than 150 men and women from towns surrounding Salem; their names had been “cried out” by tormented young girls as the cause of their pain. All would await trial for a crime punishable by death in 17th-century New England – the practice of witchcraft.

Historical Background of the Witch Trials

In June of 1692, the special Court of Oyer (to hear) and Terminer (to decide) sat in Salem to hear the cases of witchcraft. Presided over by Chief Justice William Stoughton, the court was made up of magistrates and jurors. The first to be tried was Bridget Bishop of Salem who was found guilty and was hanged on June 10. Thirteen women and five men from all stations of life followed her to the gallows on three successive hanging days before the court was disbanded by Governor William Phipps in October of that year. The Superior Court of Judicature, formed to replace the “witchcraft” court, did not allow spectral evidence. This belief in the power of the accused to use their invisible shapes or spectres to torture their victims had sealed the fates of those tried by the Court of Oyer and Terminer. The new court released those awaiting trial and pardoned those awaiting execution. In effect, the Salem Witch Trials were over.

As years passed, apologies were offered and restitution was made to the victims’ families. Historians and sociologists have examined this most complex episode in our history so that we may understand the issues of that era and view subsequent events with heightened awareness. The parallels between the Salem Witch Trials and more modern examples of “witch hunting” like the McCarthy hearings of the 1950’s, are remarkable.

How to Learn More Today

Salem Massachusetts to this day is still filled with a plethora of resources surrounding the Salem Witch Trials of 1692. Guests and residents alike can engage with local organizations that have put time and hard work into compiling resources surrounding the events that took place. The Salem Witch Museum has a wonderful timeline inside of their museum that lists out the history of what it means to be a witch, from its origins to current time. For visual learners, History Alive offers their Cry Innocent show which puts the audience in the seat of the jury during the trial of Bridget Bishop in 1692. The Peabody Essex Museum is another wonderful institution here in Salem Massachusetts that houses primary documents from the 1692 Salem Witch Trials. There are many more businesses and organizations around town that give background on the Salem Witch Trials that can be found listed on our Museums & Attractions tab here on our Haunted Happenings site. We hope that this knowledge helps you to engage with our historic city in a meaningful way connecting you to our past, and allowing you to better understand and appreciate the current day Salem Massachusetts.