In winter of 1691-92, in Salem Village, Massachusetts, outside Salem proper, four girls, Ann Putnam Jr. (12), Abigail Williams (11), Elizabeth Parris (9), and Mary Walcott (17), apparently began to suffer seizures, screaming fits, bursts of gibberish, general fear and violence against others.
It is now theorized by most that Parris and Williams, the two who started the craze, were simply looking to get attention for themselves. But once they were suspected of “indwelling by the Devil,” a crime which might have gotten them executed, they immediately blamed various people throughout Salem Village, and even neighboring towns of possessing them with their spirits, witchcraft and communion with Satan.
The entire area was paranoid about Satan in the first place, and was thus a powderkeg waiting to go off. Putnam and Walcott are believed to have started doing the same thing just for the fun of joining in, but Putnam’s parents saw her “possession” as a convenient means to get rid of some local enemies they’d made. Walcott is thought to have been involved for the sheer pleasure of causing others’ deaths.
It would take too long to give all the particulars here, but in the end, 19 people were hanged in public for witchcraft, and one man, Giles Corey, at about 80 years old, was crushed to death beneath heavy stones for refusing to enter a plea of guilty or not guilty. The local magistrates even indicted and imprisoned a 4 your year old girl named Dorothy Good and aggressively interrogated her as to whether she was a witch.
She, of course, had no idea what in the world they were talking about and only wept for her mother, who disowned her to save herself. They finally told her to confess to witchcraft and she would be given back to her mother, which, of course, she did. She was released on 50 pounds bail and went insane from the ordeal.
The hysteria did not stop until the Governor George Phipps, who knew people were being killed, was informed that his wife had been accused of witchcraft. He immediately ordered the entire farce to cease.
Only five years later, every party involved in accusing or prosecuting innocent people repented, claimed to be ashamed, and begged everyone’s forgiveness. Except for John Hathorne, one of the judges. He condemned, or joined in condemning, most of those executed, rejoiced at their executions, and felt absolutely no remorse for the rest of his life, not even when several women suffered miscarriages in prison due to starvation and the atrocious squalor.
He called these dead infants, “righteous punishment from the Almighty. The children were not human, but born of the Devil, and now burn in the everlasting flames.” Abigail Williams disappeared, some say to New York, where she may have become a prostitute.