The Salem Witch Trials
The most famous witch trials in history were made legendary by Arthur Miller’s play The Crucible, which retold the already well-known tale amidst the context of the anti-communist witch hunts of 1950s America.
The trials took place over more than a year, from February 1692 to May 1693, and resulted in 20 executions, largely of women.
Salem Village was a hotbed of petty disputes and fundamentalist Protestantism before two daughters of the local minister exhibited what appeared to be the symptoms of possession. Three women were arrested for afflicting the children, sparking off an orgy of accusations.
Modern historians view the trials as an outbreak of mass hysteria, with victims chosen for their difference – a beggar, a slave of a different race, sliding church goers, “immoral” women… – or to settle scores.
In trials that appear to be a mockery of justice to modern eyes 19 people were condemned to death and Giles Corey, a 71-year-old farmer, was “pressed to death” under rocks – a process that took two days – in an attempt to make him enter a plea.