This research is concerned with the witchcraft hysteria that occurred in Massachusetts, specifically the witchcraft trials held in Salem Village in the year 1692. The purpose of the study is to look at the events surrounding the trails and subsequent executions, probable causes, and some of the key people involved. It is designed to look at the trials in terms of the context of their time.
One of the most important factors concerning the causes of the witchcraft trials in Salem is that they were part of an historical and social tradition that encompassed not only Massachusetts in the colonial period but humankind throughout much of recorded history. The trials, contrary to popular belief, were really not an aberration, but, in part, were a segment of a continuum begun in ancient times. In fact, the first known prosecution for witchcraft occurred in ancient Egypt in about 1300 BC (Fox 11). Kittredge goes so far as to state that "the belief in witchcraft is the common heritage of humanity. It is not chargeable to any particular times or race, or form of religion" (372).
Given this historical perspective, it is then not surprising that the trials of 1692 were but a continuation of trials that had been going on in Massachusetts for at least the last four decades prior to the Salem trials. There was a witch hung in Boston in 1648 and a total of about 15 were hung from that year to 1692. Given that 19 were hung in Salem in the year 1692, it is obvious that there was at least something quantitatively different about Salem than the other witch hunts, if not something qualitatively different. This raises the question of why the witch hunt went on in Salem Village for so much longer than previous witch hunts. This is a problem for which there is no one answer but, in our analysis below, we will examine some of the reasons.
It is important to picture the time sequence of events in Salem in 1692. In February of that year, se...