Between February 1692 and May 1693, more than 130 people were accused of witchcraft in what are commonly known as the Salem Witch Trials (although hearings were held in several Massachusetts towns). Nineteen people – mostly women – were executed. Neighbors accused neighbors, children their parents, husbands their wives.
The executions at Salem were not the first of their kind in the American colonies — but the Salem Witch Trials stand as one of the most notorious cases of mass hysteria in the United States. The trials are a cautionary tale about the dangers of isolationism, religious extremism and lapses in due process.
Many historians consider the trials to have been highly influential in the history of the United States. According to historian George Lincoln Burr, "the Salem witchcraft was the rock on which the theocracy shattered".
While Salem was not the first witch hunt in America, it was also not our last. Let’s try to make some sense out of this strange episode in our founding history – and see if there are any lessons for the 21st century!
Topics to be Covered
Brief History of Witchcraft Trials
The Supernatural Legacy of Calvinism: God, Satan and Witchcraft
The State of Affairs in Massachusetts Bay Colony and Salem