Tuesday, August 19, 2014

August 19, 1692

August 19, 1692: 5 innocent people were hung during one of the most horrific days of the Salem Witch Trials. John Willard, George Jacobs, Martha Carrier, George Burroughs, and John Proctor were swept up in the hysteria and hanged for their supposed status as a witch compacted with Satan. 

John Willard
A constable in Salem village, responsible for ensuring that the accused were brought before court. When he expressed doubts about those he brought to trial, he himself was implicated, convicted, and hanged.

George Jacobs, Sr.
Was around 72 years of age when his trial began. One of his accusers was his granddaughter, Margaret Jacobs. His body was reclaimed by family after his hanging and buried on their farm. In the 1860s, a skeleton was discovered in the area where he was rumored to have been buried. When the 300th anniversary of the trials came about in 1992, this body was moved to the Rebecca Nurse Homestead and a headstone was erected in his memory.

Martha Carrier
Cotton Mather referred to her as "Queen of Hell". She was unafraid to challenge the accusers, by claiming they were "out of their wits" when they said she had a "black man" whispering in her ear during her interrogation. Having conceived a child before her marriage to her husband, Thomas, and being accused of using witchcraft to spread a smallpox epidemic to family and neighbors, her fate was sealed.

George Burroughs
As a former minister of Salem village, he was a seemingly very unlikely target for the charge of witchcraft. However, financial woes between he and the Putnam family were not forgotten when Ann Putnam was "bewitched" and unleashing accusations. Many accusers said Burroughs was the leader of the Salem area witches, presiding over their dark work. His ability to correctly recite the Lord's prayer before his hanging led many to doubt his guilt (Since it was thought a witch was unable to recite the Lord's prayer correctly), but Cotton Mather urged the crowd not to doubt his guilt, and his hanging went on as scheduled.

 John Proctor
A respected businessman and neighbor about Salem. Initially, the charges were only against his wife, Elizabeth. As he questioned the validity of spectral evidence (The evidence that a person's spirit left their body and caused harm to other and their property) and its role in the trials, he also found himself accused.

There are many aspects of the turmoil in Salem that I am sure I have neglected to mention. A complex web of financial, religious, land-based, and incredibly personal issues were at play, which caused neighbor to turn against neighbor. 

We can say that if we had been there, none of this would have happened... but how can we be so sure? With our 21st century methods and reasoning, we find ourselves to be above the now laughable spectral evidence. However, if we were given the knowledge and approach of a 17th century dweller of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, would we have seen through the hysteria? Or would we have been caught up in it?