I have spent the last few weeks participating in virtual talks offered by the Peabody Essex Museum (PEM) about the Salem Witch Trials. PEM has hosted a few really great panels and I have learned a lot. In addition, I had the opportunity to visit PEM and see the new Witch Trials Exhibit with documents on hand from questioning the accused, trial documents and other documents found from the time period. They also had paintings depicting the trials, floorboards from the jail, windows similar to the style of the time and many other artifacts. One thing I had the pleasure of doing was standing at the documents and reading them with my 13 year old daughter, who had the history jump off the page for her. She has become so excited about the history, even after visiting the City for so many years, this really sparked a connection for her. She has been drawing connections in social justice in her classes and uses Witch Trials examples whenever she can. We are lucky that she is able to read cursive, where there are so many children her age who can not and therefore can not access these amazing pieces of history.
From documents provided by the PEM during one of the panel discussions I attended on the Witch Trials, Then and Now, "the Salem Witch Trials were court proceedings where 200 people in Salem and surrounding communities, were accused of the crime of witchcraft." Beginning with Elizabeth Parris, Abigail Williams, and a few others, these people became widely referred to as the "the afflicted" and began accusing people of spectral attacks, physical harm, and practicing witchcraft (basically signing the Devil's book and doing his work). The Court of Oyer and Terminer was commissioned to oversee the witchcraft accusations, and relied heavily on the use of spectral evidence. According to paperwork provided by PEM, "the use of this type of evidence, although cautioned against both in law and practice during witchcraft trials, became the main form of evidence used in Salem." In the end, 19 would be hung and one pressed to death. 14 were women, 6 were men. What I found most profound was "witchcraft was seen by English law as a capital crime." Five more would die in the well documented harsh jail conditions. The jails would flood, it was hot in the summer, cold in the winter. The jail had dirt floors, and in some cases the Sheriff would handcuff the prisoner's head and feet together. Prisoners were charged room and board, and a fee for their chains (Salemwitchmuseum).