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The death of innocent women during the witchcraft hysteria

Colonists accused of witchcraft in the Salem Witch Trials did not have a lot of options. During a formal trial, the accused were not represented by lawyers but were allowed to directly ask accusers and witnesses questions.

In addition, the accused often faced overwhelming and easily faked evidence, such as spectral evidence which was the claim that a person visits his or her victim in spirit form to hurt them.

Many times, once a person was accused, scores of witnesses, particularly the afflicted girls, came out against them and provided this type of damning testimony. As a result, the accused the death of innocent women during the witchcraft hysteria weighed their options by waiting and watching what happened to others accused before them.

The following is a list of options an accused witch had in the Salem Witch Trials: Confess and Plead Guilty: Historically, a confession was the single best way for the court to gain a conviction and an execution for charges of witchcraft. The irony is that none of the accused Salem witches who confessed were convicted or executed but all 19 people who refused to confess were found guilty and executed.

Marched from jail for the last time, illustration by Howard Pyle published in Dulcibel: A Tale of Old Salem, circa 1907 The accused witches quickly figured out by watching the early trials that a confession could spare you from the gallows. The problem is that a confession may spare them death but it damned them in many other ways. The biggest concern with confessing to being a witch was that it was a sin. In addition, puritans believed that lying was a sin as well. This comes up many times in the trials, particularly during the examination of Elizabeth Proctor in April of 1692, during which Judge John Hathorne said to both Proctor and the afflicted girls: There is another judgement, dear child.

Puritans were very strict and devout and spent their whole lives trying trying to honor traditional puritan values so they could go to heaven after they died. The puritans believed in predestination, which meant that God had already selected who was going to heaven and who was going to hell at the beginning of time.

There was no way for the puritans to know which group they were in, but they believed if they exhibited the characteristics of someone chosen to go to heaven, by honoring puritan values of honesty, piety, humility, and etc, they were most likely in that group. If they exhibited the characteristics of someone who was not among the chosen ones, by sinning, they were most likely in that group.

Therefore, confessing and lying meant that they were not among the chosen ones selected to go to heaven after all and were most likely going to hell. Another problem with confessing is that it would leave the person susceptible to other witchcraft accusations for the rest of their life. Although it might spare them in the present, a confession could put them in danger again later on so it was not exactly a safe gamble to take.

In addition, the accused had families and deep roots in Salem and the Massachusetts Bay Colony.

Where Were the Accused Imprisoned?

A confession would leave them ostracized from their community and most likely meant they would have to leave the colony to escape the shame. With nowhere else to go, for most colonists, this was not an option. So why did some of the accused confess? The people who did confess were often either tortured, forced or pressured into confessing. A number of these people later recanted their confessions, according to the book A Storm of Witchcraft: John Proctor wrote from prison to five ministers complaining that three boys, including his son William, had their neck and heels tied together until blood gushed from their noses, to coerce confessions.

She answered she had undone herself. I asked in what.

What Options Did an Accused Witch Have in Salem?

I asked then what made her say she did. She answered because they threatened her, and told her they would put her in the dungeon and put her along with Mr. Burroughs [in jail]…She said, also, that if she told Mr. Noyes but once she had set her hand to the book, he would not believe her, but if she told the truth, and said she had not set her hand to the book a hundred times he would not believe her.

Directed by the magistrates to confess, they readily did so. Their mothers, aunts, fathers, and uncles sometimes initially resisted the demands for confession, but they did not.

Dutifully, they acknowledged their culpability and that of others. Ironically, precisely because they behaved like ideal New England children, they — in company with afflicted, who went to the opposite extreme — helped to cause the executions of several Andover residents.