Salem Witch Trials — the Witchcraft Hysteria of 1692

February 1692–May 1693

The Salem Witch Trials are a series of well-known investigations, court proceedings, and prosecutions that took place in Salem, Massachusetts over the course of 1692 and 1693.

Salem Witch Trials, Howard Pyle

This illustration by Howard Pyle depicts one of the accusers pointing at the accused and saying, “There is a flock of yellow birds around her head.” It is an example of the spectral evidence that was permitted at the trials. Image Source: New York Public Library Digital Collections.

Salem Witch Trials Summary

The Salem Witch Trials took place in colonial Massachusetts in 1692 and 1693 when people living in and around the town of Salem, Massachusetts were accused of practicing witchcraft or dealing with the Devil. The accusations were initially made by two young girls in the early part of the year.

By May, William Phips had been named Governor of Massachusetts and a new charter had been implemented. Initially, Phips responded to the accusations by setting up a special court — the Court of Oyer and Terminer — to hear the cases and to determine the fate of the accused.

Unfortunately, the court was controversial because they allowed “spectral” evidence — visions of ghosts, demons, and the Devil — to be entered into the proceedings. It seemed to fuel the hysteria, which was likely elevated by King William’s War, which was going on in New England at the same time.

By the fall, 19 men and women had been convicted and hanged, and another was pressed to death. Another man died from having heavy stones placed on him. Somewhere between 150 and 200 were in prison or had spent time in prison.

Governor Phips ended the special court in October after accusations were made against well-respected members of the community. In January 1693, the trials resumed, but under the Supreme Court of Judicature. Spectral evidence was not allowed, and most of the accused were found innocent of the witchcraft charges and released.

A handful of the people accused of witchcraft were convicted, but Governor Phips intervened in May 1693 and agreed to release them as long as they paid a fine. By the time the proceedings ended, it was the largest outbreak of witchcraft in Colonial America.

Examination of a Witch, Salem Witch Trials, Matteson
This painting by T. H. Matteson depicts the trial of a woman accused of witchcraft. It was inspired by the Salem Witch Trials. Image Source: Wikimedia.

Salem Witch Trials Facts

Facts About the Accusers in the Salem Witch Trials

Two young girls, Elizabeth Paris and Abigail Williams started to act in a strange manner, which included making strange noises and hiding from their parents and other adults.

Elizabeth Paris, known as Betty, was 9 years old. Her father was the Reverend Samuel Paris.

Abigail Williams was 11 years old. Reverend Paris was her uncle.

More young girls in Salem Village started to show similar symptoms, including 12-year-old Anne Putnam and 17-year-old Elizabeth Hubbard.

Facts About the Accused in the Salem Witch Trials

The first people accused of witchcraft were Tituba, an enslaved woman, Sarah Good, and Sarah Osborne.

Dorothy Good was the youngest person to be accused of witchcraft. She was 4 years old.

Facts About the Role and Testimony of Tituba in the Salem Witch Trials

Tituba is believed to be an enslaved woman from Central America, possibly from Barbados.

She lived in the home of Reverend Paris and had been taken to Massachusetts by Paris in 1680.

Tituba confessed to using witchcraft.

She testified that four women, including Sarah Osborne and Sarah Good, along with a man, had told her to hurt the children.

Her testimony convinced the people of Salem Village that witchcraft was rampant in the town.

Facts About People Convicted and Executed During the Salem Witch Trials

The first person to be executed was Bridget Bishop.

Over the course of the Salem Witch Trials, 19 people were hanged at Proctor’s Ledge, near Gallows Hill.

Another one of the accused, Giles Corey, refused to enter a plea before the court and was ordered to be pressed to death. He was laid down on the ground and had heavy boards placed on top of him. Then heavy rocks were set on the boards until he was crushed by the weight.

The charges against all victims of the Salem Witch Trials were eventually cleared.

The Special Court

The Court of Oyer and Terminer was the special court ordered to oversee the trials, as ordered by Governor William Phips.

Salem Witch Trials Significance

The Salem Witch Trials were important because they showed how quickly accusations and hysteria could spread through Colonial America. At the time, the Witch Trials also threatened the authority and stability of the new charter and government of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, while King William’s War raged across New England and Acadia.

Salem Witch Trials APUSH — Notes and Study Guide

Use the following links and videos to study the Salem Witch Trials, King Willilam’s War, and the Massachusetts Bay Colony for the AP US History Exam. Also, be sure to look at our Guide to the AP US History Exam.

Salem Witch Trials APUSH Definition

The Salem Witch Trials were a series of hearings and prosecutions that occurred in colonial Massachusetts between 1692 and 1693. The trials were a dark chapter in American history, characterized by mass hysteria and accusations of witchcraft. Numerous individuals, predominantly women, were accused of practicing witchcraft, leading to the execution of 20 people — 13 women and 7 men. The trials were fueled by social, religious, and political factors, partially driven by King William’s War, resulting in tragic consequences for the victims and their families.

Salem Witch Trials Video for APUSH Notes

This video from the Daily Bellringer provides a detailed look at the Salem Witch Trials.

Salem Witch Trials APUSH Terms and Definitions

William Phips — William Phips was the governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony during the Salem Witch Trials. He played a significant role in bringing an end to the trials by dissolving the Court of Oyer and Terminer, which was responsible for the majority of the convictions. Phips was concerned about the growing public skepticism and criticism surrounding the trials, prompting him to take decisive action and promote a more rational approach to handling alleged witches. He was also worried about the public perception the trials had, during a time of war.

Court of Oyer and Terminer — The Court of Oyer and Terminer was a special court established in 1692 to handle the cases of alleged witches in Salem and surrounding areas. The court was led by several judges, including William Stoughton, and it operated under a unique legal process that allowed spectral evidence, or testimonies of dreams and visions, to be admitted as valid evidence. This, along with other factors, contributed to a biased and unjust environment during the trials.

William Stoughton — William Stoughton was a prominent judge and the Lieutenant Governor of Massachusetts. He presided over the Court of Oyer and Terminer during the Salem Witch Trials. He played a pivotal role in the harsh convictions and sentencing of numerous accused individuals. His unwavering support for spectral evidence and his lack of leniency exacerbated the severity of the trials’ outcomes. After Phips dismissed the cases, Stoughton worked to have him removed as Governor.

Samuel Paris — Reverend Samuel Paris was the minister of Salem Village and one of the central figures in the initial events that sparked the witch trials. He was the father of Elizabeth Paris and the uncle of Abigail Williams, two young girls who experienced mysterious fits and claimed to be afflicted by witchcraft. His role as a religious authority and his support for the accusations fueled the hysteria, contributing to the escalation of the trials.

Elizabeth Paris — Elizabeth Paris was the nine-year-old daughter of Samuel Paris and one of the first accusers in the Salem Witch Trials. With her cousin Abigail Williams, she exhibited peculiar behaviors, including seizures and strange utterances, which were attributed to witchcraft. Their accusations against various individuals, especially Tituba, were instrumental in initiating the investigations and subsequent arrests.

Abigail Williams — Abigail Williams, the eleven-year-old cousin of Elizabeth Paris, was another crucial accuser during the Salem Witch Trials. Like her cousin, she displayed symptoms of bewitchment and was among the first to accuse others, leading to a chain reaction of allegations.

Anne Putnam — Anne Putnam was a teenage girl from Salem Village who actively participated in the trials as an accuser. She made numerous accusations against various individuals, contributing to the mounting hysteria. Her motivations for involvement remain a topic of historical debate, with some suggesting that personal grievances and religious fervor influenced her actions.

Tituba — Tituba was an enslaved woman from the Caribbean who worked in the household of Reverend Samuel Paris. She became one of the first individuals accused of practicing witchcraft after Elizabeth and Abigail accused her of bewitching them. Tituba’s origin and cultural differences contributed to her status as an outsider in Salem, making her an easy target for accusations. Under pressure, she confessed to being a witch and provided testimonies that increased the intensity of the trials.

Bridget Bishop — Bridget Bishop was the first person to be tried and executed during the Salem Witch Trials. She was known for her unconventional lifestyle and had been accused of witchcraft once before.

John Proctor — John Proctor was a respected farmer in Salem Village and one of the central figures in Arthur Miller’s play “The Crucible,” which was based on the events of the witch trials. Proctor was accused of witchcraft after he spoke out against the proceedings, expressing skepticism about the legitimacy of the trials. His refusal to falsely confess and his unwavering integrity ultimately led to his tragic execution.

Giles Corey — Giles Corey was an elderly farmer who became entangled in the witch trials when his wife, Martha Corey, was accused of witchcraft. In a notable act of protest against the unjust proceedings, Corey refused to enter a plea in court, leading to a brutal form of punishment known as pressing. Corey died during the punishment.

King William’s War — King William’s War was a conflict between England and France that occurred from 1689 to 1697, overlapping with the time of the Salem Witch Trials. The war was part of a larger conflict known as the Nine Years’ War or the War of the Grand Alliance. Its impact on the region, including heightened tensions and security concerns, likely contributed to the climate of fear and paranoia in Salem, potentially influencing the outbreak of the witch trials.

Salem Witch Trials — Primary and Secondary Sources

Citation Information

The following information is provided for citations, including APA Style, Chicago Style, and MLA Style.

  • Article Title Salem Witch Trials — the Witchcraft Hysteria of 1692
  • Date February 1692–May 1693
  • Author
  • Keywords Salem Witch Trials, Salem Witchcraft Trials, Salem Witch Trials APUSH
  • Website Name American History Central
  • Access Date June 13, 2024
  • Publisher R.Squared Communications, LLC
  • Original Published Date
  • Date of Last Update March 31, 2024