Historical Consequences of the Salem Witch Trials
25 JUN 2018
The Salem witch trials of 1692 took place in Salem Village, located in present-day Danvers, Massachusetts. Over a period of a few months, the town convicted 19 men and women of witchcraft and executed them and put many others in jail. This infamous event in American history had a number of historical consequences including imprisoning and executing innocent people.
1 Execution of Innocent People
The first and foremost consequences of the witch trials were the executions of innocent people. Puritans were fiercely religious and believed that witchcraft involved entering into a compact with Satan to receive evil powers. The town rounded up women who were beggars or who had not gone to church, accusing them of being responsible for God's punishment of dead livestock or illness. The town held sham trials and convicted many of the witches based on spurious evidence and then hanged them on Gallows Hill.
2 False Imprisonment
Besides the executions, the town jailed another 200 or so suspected witches, many based on "spectral" evidence alone. For example, some accusers claimed to see the accused manifested as ghosts or visions, although what they really wanted was to settle personal grudges. Many suspects remained for jail for months because they could not pay for their release, and the law required prisoners to pay for food and board before they could be released so the debt continued to accumulate. The town also seized property belonging to the accused, leaving families destitute.
3 Land and Structural Decay
Because so many people were imprisoned, the trails had great consequences on the land and buildings. It interrupted the planting season, so large fields went unplanted and unharvested. The Salem Meetinghouse became dilapidated with no one to keep it up. This led to poverty and starvation for the populace.
4 Strained Community Relations
The town was never the same after the trials. The Essex County Court ordered a new election for Salem Village because of the fiasco, and the town elected a new committee opposed to the policies of the former. The instigator of the trials, Rev. Samuel Parris, delivered a sermon in November 1693 in which he admitted that he assigned too much weight to spectral evidence. This admission wasn't enough to repair relations, and he left Salem Village in 1696. The new pastor seated the accusers with the accused to help heal wounds, which helped for some families, but many families decided not to rejoin the congregation and moved away.