Salem witch trials

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It were better that Ten Suspected Witches should escape, than that one Innocent Person should be Condemned.
—Increase Mather, Cases of Conscience Concerning Evil Spirits Personating Men, Witchcrafts, infallible Proofs of Guilt in such as are accused with that Crime (1692)

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The Salem witch trials in 1692 were the only manifestation of the large-scale European witch-hunts within the American colonies. However, accusations and prosecutions for witchcraft in colonial New England began in 1620 and did not end until 1725. Most of the European colonists in the region were from the North of England and in all but two respects the phenomenon in the New World mirrored that in the Old World.[1] First, the total number of accused and prosecuted victims was smaller in New England, a consequence of a small population. Second, those accused in New England were somewhat more likely to possess higher social status than their counterparts in England, a reflection of the social and economic fluidity of a frontier society.

In accordance with the tradition of Protestant countries of the time, most of those found guilty were hanged rather than burned at the stake. (One man who refused to confess or plead innocence, knowing that either way his land would be taken from his family, was pressed to death.)

In American political discourse, the Salem witch trials often serve as metaphor for the dangerously irrational political passions of the mob. They are of particular scholarly interest for research on gender, class, age and race. As the historical event unfolded, some girls in town denounced a black West Indian servant; many believe that racism had a great deal to do with the whole affair. Moreover, more women were accused than men (although not nearly in the same numbers as in Europe), making for interesting observations on sexism within the US.

See also[edit]


  1. Carol F. Karlsen. 1998. The Devil in the Shape of a Woman: Witchcraft in Colonial New England. New York: W.W. Norton. ISBN 978-0-393-31759-6.