Essay Sample on Salem Witch Trials: A Scientific and Historical Analysis

Posted on November 23, 2009

The Salem Witch Trials, of 1692, occurred in Salem Massachusetts. This is a case where people accused other people of witchcraft. Salem was a town governed by strict Puritan religion, and to have such a charge labeled against you could cost you your life. According to Boyer and Nissenbaum, there were many worldly reasons for the events that happened so many years ago. In this essay, the authors make their findings based on scientific analysis and much historical research. Paul Boyer and Stephen argued that the Salem Witchcraft Trials took place because of the separation of the east and west, the choosing of the ministers of the church, and the agricultural and merchant interests.

After much research, “Boyer and Nissenbaum took their list of accusers and accused the noted the location of each village resident on the map”(Boyer & Nissenbaum 36). Geographically there was lots of evidence of this theory “Of the fourteen accused witches living in the village, twelve lived in the eastern section” (Boyer & Nissenbaum 36). The whole trial episode seems to have come down to the fact that one side of the village accused the other side. “That was Salem Village’s uneasy relation to its social parent, Salem Town” (Boyer & Nissenbaum 36). As the community grew farther away from the original settlement people began to want their own village. As a result, the new settlers wanted to have their own separate entity “with their own church, their own taxes, and their own elected officials” (Boyer & Nissenbaum 38). This east-west division continued to grow and came to the breaking point over taxes, “Everyone paid taxes to support a minister for the town church, to maintain the roads, and to care for the poor” (Boyer & Nissenbaum). The western part of the village commenced to try to break away and form their own town. This is well illustrated in the map that which Boyer and Nissenbaum drew up. The map showed the location of the accusers and the accused. “The map showed that more accusers lived on the western part of the town and the accused lived on the eastern part.” (Boyer & Nissenbaum 37)

Another major reason the Salem Trials took place was the choosing of a minister for the new village. “Not long after the village received the right to build its own meeting house, it settled down to arguing over who ought to preach from its pulpit” (Boyer & Nissenbaum 38). James Bayley was the first selection of the house but had to be relieved after complaints were heard. “Bayley didn’t attend regularly to his private prayers” (Boyer & Nissenbaum 38). George Burroughs relieved James Bayley in 1680 but had to leave after other numerous problems. Deodat Lawson than relieved Burroughs and lasted fours years. Samuel Parris than took over the job in 1688. “His term was equally stormy, and in 1696 his opponents finally succeeded in starving him out of the job by refusing to collect taxes to pay his salary” (Boyer & Nissenbaum 38). Boyer and Nissenbaum discovered a major part of this dispute in the churches records. Boyer and Nissenbaum discovered that the same names were being put together. “The people who supported James Bayley usually supported George Burroughs and then opposed the second two ministers” (Boyer & Nissenbaum 40). The same was found for the other two also. “Conversely, the supporters of Deodat Lawson and Samuel Parris had been the people who complained about Bayley and Burroughs” (Boyer & Nissenbaum 40). This was closely linked to the divisions of the accusers and accused.

Salem town was a spot for commerce in New England; those living in the east part were living well. “By contrast the farmers in the western portion of Salem Village were tied closely to traditional agrarian life” (Boyer & Nissenbaum 40). Those living on the east side wanted to close out everything but the western side. Also those people accused lived on “Ipswich Road, a route that passed by the village rather than through it, a main thoroughfare for travels and for commerce” (Boyer & Nissenbaum 40). Those who lived outside of he precepts of Puritan standards were always in danger. Anyone who dressed flamboyantly or ran a tavern could be accused. “Two tavern keepers, John Proctor and Bridget Bishop, were hung as witches; Elizabeth Proctor barely escaped with her life; and Joshua Rea, another tavern keeper on the road, signed a petition defending Goody Nurse”(Boyer & Nissenbaum 41).

According to Boyer and Nissenbaum “Their reconstruction suggest that the Salem body politic was experiencing its own social analogue of conversion hysteria”(Boyer & Nissenbaum 41). The conflicts that occurred here in Salem went from disagreements between three factions and lead to accusations of “a plague from the invisible world”(Boyer & Nissenbaum 41). The farmers of Salem were determined to stop the merchants at any costs and as a result the charge of witchcraft was applied.

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