The Salem Witch Trials - Learning and Ethics
The Salem Witch Trials (1692-3)
1. A witch-hunt
Innocent people being convicted of witchcraft in and around Salem Village (now Danvers),
Massachusetts, USA (then a British colony).
2. The Crucible
Arthur Miller’s (pictured right) play, The Crucible, based on the trials.
He likened them to the 1950’s anti-communist trials in America, led by Senator Joe
The Puritan church (strictly Protestant):
- supported the Salem witchcraft trials.
- exploited people’s fears, superstition and ignorance.
To escape persecution in England, the first Puritans (the Pilgrim Fathers) emigrated to
Plymouth, Massachusetts, in 1620 in the Mayflower, pictured right.
Who were the bad guys?
1. Samuel Parris (pictured
The Puritan minister in Salem Village.
2. Tituba (his South American slave)
Parris forced her to say that witchcraft caused the “fits” of abnormal behaviour by:
- his nine-year-old daughter, Elizabeth, and..
- some other girls (including Ann Putnam - see below).
This led to widespread hysteria and accusations of witchcraft against hundreds of people .
3. Ann Putnam
One of the girls who (under pressure from her parents) led the witch-hunt.
4. Mary Warren
A servant of John and Elizabeth Proctor, who falsely accused them of witchcraft.
Where and what happened?
Trials were held in:
- Salem Town (a port near Salem Village).
Over 150 people were arrested and imprisoned by the Puritan church.
Who were the heroes?
The innocent victims, of whom 20 were executed including:
(a saintly old lady).
(the only Puritan minister to be executed).
- refused to stand for trial.
- was pressed to death with heavy stones .
Why was witchcraft such a big deal?
Like many people in Europe, Puritans believed in witchcraft, because they thought it was the
devil at work.
This fear was increased by the constant fear of:
- attack from invading French troops and Native Americans (who had killed the parents
of some of the children claiming witchcraft).
What happened after the trials?
The Salem Village church (that led the attacks) gradually repented and in 1712 reversed the
In 1706 Ann Putnam publicly asked for forgiveness.
Lessons for learning and ethics
1. Witch-hunts harm the innocent
Innocent people were imprisoned and killed.
Modern witch-hunts also destroy lives like Senator Joe McCarthy’s (pictured right) attack
on American communists in the early 1950’s.
This attack (called McCarthyism) inspired Arthur Miller to write The Crucible.
2. The truth must prevail
Increase Mather (pictured right), a prominent Boston Puritan minister and the
first head of Harvard University (then Harvard College), supported the trials.
But he changed his views when rumours started about his wife being a witch!
3. Religion must be based on integrity and truth
The Puritan church suffered because of:
- its support for the trials.
- the hypocrisy of its members (whose spiteful accusations of witchcraft were very
4. Change or die
The accusations of witchcraft were based on:
- old beliefs (which were out of touch with the new changing
commercial world in America).
The myths of the past had to be forgotten, so that America could change and
5. Stand up for your principles
People were executed because they weren’t prepared to confess to witchcraft including the kind and well
respected 71-year-old, Rebecca Nurse.
John Proctor and his wife, Elizabeth, were falsely accused by their
servant, Mary Warren.
John was executed but Elizabeth’s pregnancy saved her.
6. Admit your mistakes and learn from them
Despite his disgraceful behaviour, Samuel Parris didn’t apologize for his support of the
witch-hunt until 1694.
He was eventually forced to resign as Salem Village’s minister in 1697.
People were being sacrificed out of spite, envy and hatred.
Giles Corey and the Procters were charged because of their opposition to another church group led by the Putnam
The Putnams also vindictively accused Rebecca Nurse because of long standing property
disputes with her family.
I have nobody to look to but God.
- Rebecca Nurse.
It were better than one hundred witches should live than that one person be put to death for a witch, which is
not a witch.
- Thomas Maule (in his 1695 book which led to his imprisonment).