The Salem Witch Trials were the largest outbreak of witchcraft in American history, the result of a perfect storm of disaster.
In 1692 and 1693, the Salem Witch Trials were held in a town in northeastern Massachusetts. According to Emerson Baker, a history professor at Salem State University and author of The Magic Storm, the center of the trial was the village of Salem, now the town of Danvers.
Baker said more than 150 people were tried during the Salem witch trials. Most were held in prison for several months, and some were sentenced to up to a year or more. Five people died in prison, 19 were executed, and one was crushed to death.
Baker pointed out that the witch-hunt phenomenon is a regional crisis, caused by a perfect storm of factors.
One reason for this was that, especially in the village of Salem, there were disputes and factionalism over who should be the minister, which pitted neighbors against each other. Baker noted that this controversy within the community laid the foundation for the accusations of witchcraft. In fact, the first people to be accused were the daughter and nieces of a pastor who had political enemies.
Additionally, people in the Salem area worried that they were losing their Puritan mission. Most came to Massachusetts to create their own communities where they could worship their faith. But by the 1690s, Baker said, many felt they had lost their original enthusiasm.
Baker said the people of Massachusetts were also concerned about the wars being fought on the northern frontier, present-day New Hampshire and Maine. They had fought and lost against the Native Americans and their French ally.
Extreme weather causes extreme consequences
In addition to war, religious concerns, and political tensions, people were experiencing prolonged periods of severe weather.
This was of particular concern because the people of New England in the 17th century were primarily an agricultural society. Their communities were primarily made up of farmers, or people who depended on gardens to feed their families. Therefore, when bad weather occurred, it led to crop failure, often starvation, disease, and death.
Such a devastating weather pattern was caused by something much larger and more widespread than the people of Salem had guessed.
“After all, the Salem Witch Trials took place during what we now know as the Little Ice Age, when the climate was colder and the weather more severe,” Baker said.
He pointed out that the Little Ice Age lasted from about 1400 to 1800, which led to much cooler temperatures. According to Encyclopedia Britannica, during the Little Ice Age, temperatures across the Northern Hemisphere dropped by 1.1 degrees Fahrenheit, or 0.6 degrees Celsius, and mountain glaciers expanded.
In addition to lower temperatures, the Little Ice Age brought more storms and instability, Baker said.
During the Little Ice Age, there was a cold winter with heavy snowfall. In the spring, when farmers plant their crops, there are frosts until June. Summer was not very suitable for replanting. The weather was hot and dry enough to ruin even more crops before another frost arrived in August and early September.
“The 1680s and 1690s turned out to be the most extreme weather of this entire Little Ice Age,” Baker said. “This was a truly unprecedented scale and impact.”
War on the frontier, along with harsh weather, led many Puritans to believe that God was angry with New England for losing its spiritual community. In an attempt to find the culprit, they held witch trials.
Baker pointed out that people in the 17th century sometimes blamed witches for bad weather.
“If there was a severe storm at sea that caused a ship to sink, or a lightning strike to destroy a house, or a storm to destroy crops, people often felt that it might be the work of witches,” he says. says.
However, this trial did not lead to better days for people in Salem and around New England. Baker says that over the next few years, things worsened until she realized the grave mistakes she had made during the witch trials.
In 1697, Massachusetts called for a day of public humiliation and fasting. Baker said the occasion included publicly confessing how the colonies were wrong, including how they were tricked by Satan into executing people on charges of witchcraft. Ta.
“It wasn’t a complete apology, but it was as close as the government could get to admitting at that point that executing witches might not have been a great idea,” he said. “Clearly it wasn’t just the witches, there were other things going on.”
At the Salem Witch Trials, more than 150 people were tried across the Atlantic, even in Europe, where the Little Ice Age wreaked havoc, and approximately 100,000 people were tried for witchcraft. Baker noted that about half of them were executed.
“Salem is known as the City of Witches, but in reality, it’s a symptom of a larger problem, and it’s like a timeless crime that every society has gotten away with.”