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Salem Witch Trials - Background

WARNING:  THIS CLIP CONTAINS REFERENCES TO ACCUSATIONS OF WITCHCRAFT.  IT EXAMINES THE BASIS OF WITCH HUNTS, DURING THE 14th-16th CENTURIES.  SOME OF THE DESCRIPTIONS, AND PICTURES, ARE NOT SUITABLE FOR YOUNG CHILDREN.

While "witch hunts" frequently took place in parts of Europe between the 14th and 16th centuries - resulting in the deaths of up to 50,000 people - this phenomenon did not happen in America until 1692. 

That year, in Salem, questionable evidence was used to indict people.  Twenty of those individuals would ultimately die (nineteen by hanging and one by pressing).

Villagers, during three centuries of European witch hunts, would "turn in" fellow residents.  Scholars today believe many such accusations were actually based on jealousy or other motives of personal animosity. 

Local and church authorities rarely did anything to stop such claims.  Compelling evidence leads historians to conclude that contemporary officials (both church and state) actually encouraged the accusations.

A fifteenth-century book - entitled Malleus Maleficarum (also known as "The Hammer of Witches," first published in 1486) - was often consulted to determine whether a particular person could be charged (and tried) as a witch.  Viewed with disdain today, those standards were treated as law at the time. 

Excrutiatingly painful methods of torture, often prescribed by Malleus Maleficarum, were used on accused witches.  In Britain, where the head of state was also head of the church, witchcraft was considered an act of treason - meaning, it was a capital offense.  Thousands of innocent people died because of specious witchcraft charges.

In the seventeenth century, a British king - Charles II - allowed a group of people, called Puritans, to leave Britain and set up a colony in the "New World."  They created a settlement in the current state of Massachusetts

Making a life for themselves in a new place, the Puritans also followed old traditions.  Amongst those traditions was a worry that witches might be living in their midst.

See, also:

Salem Witch Trials - Early Accusations

Salem Witch Trials - Part 3

Salem Witch Trials - Part 4

Salem Witch Trials - Part 5

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Author: Carole D. Bos, J.D. 5186stories and lessons created

Original Release: Oct 07, 2013

Updated Last Revision: Jun 02, 2016


Media Credits

Clip from "In Search of History - Salem Witch Trials" - online, via History.com.  Copyright, History Channel, all rights reserved.  Clip provided here as fair use for educational purposes.

Studio:
A&E Home Video

DVD Release Date:
April 26, 2005

Run Time:
50 minutes

Full documentary available, in DVD format, though Amazon.com and other retailers.

 

To cite this story (For MLA citation guidance see easybib or OWL ):

"Salem Witch Trials - Background" AwesomeStories.com. Oct 07, 2013. Apr 25, 2019.
       <http://www.awesomestories.com/asset/view/Salem-Witch-Trials-Background>.
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