In Part III of The Salem Witch Trials Miniseries, we’re taking a look at:
- Dorothy Good
- Why Salem
- Salem vs. outsiders
- Psychological phenomena
- Women, women, women
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The Final Chapter, One Final Time
Poor little 4 year old Dorothy Good, the daughter of Sarah Good, was accused and arrested. When she went into the prison, she looked healthy. In prison, she wasted away and came out of the jail looking sickly.
Her younger sibling was born in the prison, and died in the prison. Her mother was hanged as a witch on July 29, 1692. Dorothy had no idea what was going to happen to her.
According to “A Delusion of Satan” by Francis Hill, Dorothy’s father, William Good, wrote that little Dorothy was locked away for 7-8 months. At 4.5 years old, she came out of it stunted and changed. For the rest of her life, Dorothy needed someone to take care of her.
All the Hard Feelings
Massachusetts Bay Colony was dominantly Puritan, and the Puritans wanted to keep it that way. Quakers and Anglicans were very literally not welcome. Neither were Catholics.
By 1692, the colony had gone through a bunch of really cold winters and harsh summers, which resulted in a decrease in agriculture.
Crops were brought into the colony instead of being sent out. Remember, Puritans believed that anything bad that happened in their lives was a result of God being angry at them.
Before this came King Phillip’s War in 1675, and taxes went up to help fund it. When the war ended, the taxes were still high and the economy took a hit. The stand in government couldn’t really govern.
Towards the end of 1691, there was a new charter and a new governor. Puritanism was no longer the religion of the colony.
Since the laws still had to be made, the courts couldn’t open yet and hear disputes and lawsuits.
So what does that all lead up to? A lot of people wandering around with all their angry feelings on the inside. And as with everything else, the dam has to break at some point.
Of All the Ginless Joints in All the World
Here’s a question: why Salem? Out of all the cities and towns and communities, why was Salem Village the epicenter of this witch hunt? 1. Because of the unrest and factions people had broken themselves into. And 2. In a way, location, location, location. 3. And the afflicted girls, of course.
Salem Village was operating both somewhat independently of Salem Town, and as an offshoot of it. The village was this strange in between place. The village could have its own ordained minister and its own meetinghouse, but Salem Town still held the political strings for the area.
Small disputes could be managed within the village. The bigger things had to be taken to the town. So things just kind of festered among some of the residents, their animosity, jealousy, land disputes, etc.
They Needed a Pitcher, But Got a Belly Itcher
Salem Village was where both farmers and business owners could be found. A bunch of people were dealing with the agricultural side of things, and suffering the hardships that comes with that, as well as people who were on the industrial side of things and had their business in Salem Town.
Then there were the ever present land disputes. The more sons a family had, the more land they might break up between them. And their sons’ sons. And so on. Even better, one or two sons inherit the lot and the rest are sitting around wanting more.
Parris was sort of the tipping point for this small community. Instead of bringing people together, soothing tensions, and being the bridge to peaceful resolutions, he was short sighted, unreasonable, and preached fire and damnation left and right. The village was split in regards to Parris. As a result, Salem Village was on the precipice, ready to explode.
Mass Hysteria & Associates, LLC
How did the affliction spread from one to another? Simply put, mass hysteria. Otherwise known as conversion disorder.
A psychological disorder that causes symptoms like convulsions and blindness, the same things the girls were suffering from.
It can spread and become an outbreak. Conversion disorder is caused by stress and anxiety. It all adds up and eventually manifests itself physically.
The more stressed people became, the more people became afflicted. But can mass mysteria be the only reason that over 70 people accused others of witchcraft?
Even historians, experts in the field, can’t make up their minds or come to an agreed upon reason for all the craziness that happened. And it’s because there are different strokes for different folks.
What other psychological issues could have abounded at the time? Two words: sleep paralysis. For those unfamiliar, it’s when someone can’t move when they’re waking up.
Basically, the brain is awake and is waiting for the body to catch up. In the meantime, someone can still hear and see during these episodes. So sleep paralysis + vivid nightmares, and maybe a dash of mass hysteria could very well = witches.
Was it mass hysteria or were Ann Putnam and her posse of misfit Puritans putting on an elaborate show? Think about all those times the accused stood at the examinations and during their trials. Boom, people burst into perfectly timed fits. Practically every single time without fail.
Thomas “The Opportunistic Bastard” Putnam
Thomas Putnam made it easy to see where he may have had a hand in manipulating how things turned out. His wife and daughter were two of the afflicted to start with, and Mercy Lewis, who was their servant. During the trials he was a legal secretary, meaning he was the one recording the depositions during the examinations. About 120 of them.
Plus, the depositions weren’t completed in one sitting. Different ink colors were found on the documents, meaning that Thomas wrote the depositions. And then came back to the documents later on to write some more. Conveniently, though, the new bits of details were added in right before the trials were about to start.
Most of the Putnam land and wealth went to his younger half-brother, Joseph, who also happened to marry well. Thomas, on the other hand, was married with 10 children and had basically zero money to his name. Ann and most of her siblings only inherited 10% of the Carr estate. Which meant he had little to split between his children when they grew up and married. Or he died. He was poor adjacent.
‘W’ is for ‘Witch’…and ‘Woman’ – Coincidence?
As seen throughout the trials, anyone could be a witch. Age didn’t matter, and neither did gender.
However, the majority of those accused were women, aged anywhere between toddler-age (hello Dorothy Good) all the way up to age 70.
Witches came in all shapes and sizes. Ironically, most of the accusers were women too.
Even before the trials in Salem, the number of older women coming under suspicion of witchcraft was constantly growing.
There were so many more women in Salem who were older than 40 than any other age group. And those were the women who were accused of witchcraft the most.
Witches were mean and hateful and glaring at people with their eyes. They were women who didn’t fit the mold, who dared to step outside the little box society forced them into. The rebellion could be big or small. Didn’t matter. All that mattered was that the women were considered ‘other’.
This included midwives, healers, and any other woman who was able to make money using a skill other than babymaking, such as running a business or farm. A woman who could stand on her own and do what needed to be done.
These women really threatened the men around them. They were the ones who didn’t need a man to support them. They supported themselves and their families. Men weren’t they superior, but their equal.
The best way to combat this was to make the women believe they were witches, or make others believe this. Women had to be taught that they were less than men, easily corrupted and full of sin. And this wasn’t something new to Salem or the colony. This is multiple centuries worth of backwards thinking at work.
There was a reason some women may have confessed, aside from wanting to escape the noose. The men in their lives, including religious leaders, made sure to tell these women on repeat that women were susceptible to evil and darkness. Some of the confessed witches may truly have believed they were guilty. One sin, any sin, might’ve been confirmation in their minds that they became friends with the devil.
Then there were the younger girls, the kids or the unmarried individuals, who confessed when placed under pressure from their so-called betters. When they confessed as witches, they were basically stuffing themselves back into the box of the good and proper puritanical woman, regardless of the reason: self preservation or true belief in their own wickedness.
- A Delusion of Satan: The Full Story of the Salem Witch Trials by Frances Hill
- A Storm of Witchcraft: The Salem Trials and the American Experience by Emerson W. Baker
- Salem Possessed: Social Origins of Witchcraft by Paul Boyer and Stephen Nissenbaum
- The Devil in Massachusetts: A Modern Inquiry into the Salem Witch Trials by Marion L. Starkey
- Death in Salem: The Private Lives behind the 1692 Witch Hunt by Diane E. Foulds
- The Devil in the Shape of a Woman: Witchcraft in Colonial New England by Carol F. Karlsen
- The Salem Witch Trials Reader by Frances Hill
- The Same Witch Trials: A Day-by-Day Chronicle of a Community Under Siege by Marilynne K. Roach
- The Malleus Maleficarum of Heinrich Kramer and James Sprenger
- The Crucible by Arthur Miller
Link –> The Crucible (Old Vic in London Play)
Thank You For Your Service: An Anthology
- Click here to learn more about the anthology and the submission guidelines!
- If you have any questions, please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org
*Photos: All photos used in this post are taken from The Library of Congress Archives and are in the Public Domain.
*Music: Initial classical piece that’s a part of the intro is Concerto for 2 Oboes in F Major Op9 no3, 3 Allegro by Advent Chamber Orchestra under the Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 United States License.*
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