tv Salem Witch Trials 101 CSPAN August 24, 2017 5:03pm-6:12pm EDT
live all day coverage begins saturday at 10:00 a.m. with featured authors, former secretary of state condoleezza rice and michael lewis and j.d.vanz. live saturday starting at 10:00 a.m. eastern on c-span 2's book tv. next, author with a in-depth look into the history of salem. he explores how it went from a simple town to a tourist attraction. the presentation was part of an all-day symposium held at salem state university. >> good morning, everybody. lovely to see you all today on this day, this reverent day. my name is donna seger. i'm chair of the history department here at salem state university. i thank you all for coming
today. we're all here, obviously, because of bridget bishop and her battle of victims 1692, the long summer and hot fall of 1692. this is the 325th anniversary of those events. as a history professor, i am sometimes reticent to indulge in what i call anniversary history. because i like my students to think that every single day is historic. but it does feel right to take a moment, take a day, and really think about what happened during that year. so that's what we're doing today. the city of salem is going to be doing probably all summer long.
before i introduce our distinguished guest who is doing to open up our symposium, the mayor of salem, kimberley driscoll, i want to say thanks before i forget to thank everybody at the end while we're wrapping up this day. i'm going to thank all of the presenters for their contributions. but right now, i just want to thank my little committee because we have been working on this for a year. and that would include the two women downstairs who are not going to hear my thanks, beth bearinger and meredith george from essex heritage national area. also, from the salem awards foundation, we have shelby hypes, who has a brief announcement to make right here about our special feature. >> if you would like to participate in a brief informal interview, you have not signed up, i have the sheet. come see me. that's it.
thanks. >> we also want to thank elizabeth peterson from the witch house, and my colleague chad baker who will be speaking to you shortly, who is my colleague for a few more days in the salem state history department, talk about that more later. so without further ado, now i would like to introduce the mayor of salem, kimberley driscoll, for a brief opening remarks. [ applause ] >> thank you, professor vincent, and thank you to everyone who's in attendance. it feels like we have an extra responsibility, and by having a packed room on a beautiful saturday to talk about the salem witch trials and what it means to our community, indeed, i think speaks to both the events that took place at that time and how much people still reflect on them today. in salem, we're always moving forward, but never without reflecting on the road by which we came here. the examples of our past, the
examples of our past are generations who pushed the boundries to innovate and build a thriving community that respects growth. from the visions of the maritime trade that made salem famous around the world, from the entrepreneurs who built our manufacturing base, to the workers in the factories who pushed back when conditions were unfair or dangerous. from those who steadfastly rebuilt the city after the devastating fire of 1914 to the preservationists who saved it from a different kind of devastation in the urban renewal movement, and yes, of course, from the tragic lessons we learned collectively from 1692 as well. it was on that day -- on this day in that year 325 years ago to the day that bridget bishop would become the first of many innocents to lose their lives that year. today, i should say earlier this week, we announced we will gather to dedicate the newest memorial to honor the memory of those unjustly executed.
on july 19th at noon we'll gather on proctor's ledge to dedicate a memorial on that site. 325 years after the first of three mass executions took place at the site, when five individuals were hanged. sarah goode, elizabeth howe, suzanna martin, rebecca nurse, and sarah wild. i hope many of you in the room will be able to join us as we honor their memory and pledge to never forget the lessons of the salem witch trials, mainly to never allow prejudice to conquer reason and fear to overcome courage. salem is a special place because we value that history. every person who lives here is imbued with that history and whether or not they're a family that traces their lineage back generations or whether they're newly arrived, we feel those of us living in salem, it's our responsibility 25 years later to make sure as we move forward as a community, we do so in a manner that reminds all of the
legacies and lessons of the witch trials and it's our duty to provide empathy of human rights, tolerance, and justice. we're so fortunate to have partners both here at the symposium, looking forward to hearing ted again and learning from all the work he's done and professor vincent and her team here who continues to make sure that the history, this important history, is not lost on anybody in our community and those that pass through here. tomorrow we'll be fortunate to join members of the salem award foundation at the site of our memorial to keep in mind these lessons. today, more than ever, in our community and frankly across this country, these are vital lessons that we need to make sure the next generation understands and hears. and it's a place like salem that prides itself on our history, while also having witches as a mascot and on our police car, it's a balance, right? and i think this part of this history, it's important for us to remember and pass on to the
next generation and to continue to fight the fear and the hatred that can overcome a small community like salem or a large country like the united states. thanks for being here to learn more about it, and thank you to professor vincent and her team for putting this all together. [ applause ] >> mayor driscoll's an old friend of mine so she's referring to me by my former name. now i've embarrassed her. so without further ado, i want to introduce to your my colleague emerson tad baker who i think you all agree with me is the expert on the salem witch trials. following the publication of his masterful book "a storm of witchcraft." and we are so lucky to have him to give us an overview. it takes a real master of the craft to be able to present an overview.
i'm really struggling. he told me it's so hard to just do an overview of the salem witch trials in an hour. i said tell me about it. i've got to do all of europe. so i don't feel that sorry for him, really. and i'm sure he will do a great job. tad has been my colleague and my friend for over 20 years, probably well over 20 years, but let's call it 20 years. and i'm kind of sad to introduce him today because i'm hoping this is not his academic swan song. no, he's not dying. it's not that bad. he's going to become the interim dean of graduate studies here at salem state university. [ applause ] i hope in that important position he will have time to continue his scholarship because
he is our expert. so without further ado, tad. >> thanks, donna. you're being way too kind, though, honestly. because there really are so many experts on the salem witch trials. i never could have done my work without their work. and honestly, it's wonderful that some of them will be here today and you'll hear from them as well. margo burns, marilyn roach and a host of others. so yeah. how do we do this in an hour? well, i want to explore a couple of some general points but also a couple of themes we'll come back to. i really want to talk about really politics and religion which i think are sort of overlooked aspects of the witch trials which seems hard to believe because witchcraft is a religious crime and trials by their very definition are political acts.
but we're going to keep on circling back to that point because i think it's incredibly relevant, frankly, today. and at the same time i'd like to start out by pointing out that salem is far from unique. you know, almost every culture under the sun past, present, and probably unfortunately future has their versions of witch hunts. has their versions of witches. and we have to look no further than, you know, donna you're right. you have a lot more witches to deal with in europe. during the great age -- [ laughter ] there were no witches. you're right. but at the same time when you're writing a book, you can't put everything in quotes, right? so i will refer to people as witches but please assume i'm doing this. accused of being witches, right? anyhow, during the great age of witch hunts in europe, about 100,000 people are accused and about half of them are executed. and there are so many that we really don't know the numbers. we certainly don't know all the
names. biggest outbreak over a ten-year period, about 2,000 people died. and they continue into the 18th century and hungary alone, about 800 people die in the 18th century from witch trials. so salem is not the biggest, certainly not the last. and yes, some would say we're still having witch hunts. right? they're in the news pretty much every day. you know, all politicians of all stripes forever refer to salem and witch hunts. the first reference making fun of salem for the witch hunts was published in london in 1697 and it really hasn't stopped since. every party, every politician last year of course it was the benghazi witch hunts, for example. right? so it's a frame of reference that we've come to take and we all know in many ways it's synonymous for salem. and i guess the -- here's the
thing. in salem we have this thing that is the -- by far the largest outbreak of witchcraft in american history. at least 172 people are accused of witchcraft. there could be more. we don't know, as margo will tell you later, we have almost 1,000 surviving documents from the salem trials. one reason we know so much about salem is because it is so well documented, right? but having said that, there's a lot of documents that don't survive. we know that 156 people have legal proceedings that do survive. we do know, of course, that 19 were executed starting on this day in 1692. one pressed to death and at least five died in jail. there might have been a sixth. we're not entirely certain. so by european standards, though, folks, this is unfortunately a fly speck. i mean that with all due respect and will point out one of those people who died in jail roger toothacre was a distant relative of mine. at the same time, to hang 19 people for witchcraft was an all too common event in europe.
that raises the question as to why isn't cologne the witch city? i have been there. it's a lovely cathedral, nice people. no one even mentioned the fact, you wouldn't know the fact there were witch trials there. why is salem alone synonymous with witch hunt, scapegoating, rushing to judgment, fanaticism, extremism, right? why salem? so i want to sort of explore that a little bit about today and talk about how we try to explain the events of 1692 and how do we explain witch hunts? really to talk about maybe sort of those factors particularly those sort of religious and political factors that lead to witch hunts. past, present, and unfortunately future. salem has a really kind of unique place in american history. that was cemented long before the witch trials. salem is one of the first settlements in new england. it is originally the fishing village of the native american
word for fishing place. in 1629, the settlers here for idealistic puritan folk changed the name to jerusalem or salem, shortened, for the city of peace. so from the start, it is meant to be this beautiful christian place. this holy city. john winthrop arrives with the winthrop fleet coming into salem. why? because salem is older than boston. they hadn't created boston yet. salem was the first settlement of the colony. salem is where it all starts. and some time in that process of sailing over or arrival or shortly afterwards, of course winthrop gives his famous sermon a model of christian charity which in it has the famous words, we shall be as a city upon a hill in the eyes of the world are upon us. in many ways, then, salem is that city upon the hill, right? it is that shining example.
metaphorically, physically. this is it. this is the start of the puritan experiment in massachusetts bay. it is supposed to be a place where people walk hand in hand with each other and with god and live in peace and harmony. and i think maybe that's part of the answer as to why we remember the salem witch trials and why we will never forget them. because think of this tremendous fall from grace from this ideal of 1630. 1692, 62 years later while people who were still alive who heard winthrop give that sermon, daughters are accusing mothers, neighbors are accusing neighbors of being witches and the colony, the puritan experiment is being torn apart. and i think that's a trauma we never quite recovered from. in many ways. it's really a turning point in american history. it's in some ways i see it as the beginning of the end of puritanism in new england. and frankly, it's the beginning
of something much deeper. that is our distrust of government. if you think last year's elections were an indication of something new in america, i would tell you it is a very old impulse. this sort of libertarian anti-government streak that manifests itself again throughout american politics. i think it really begins in some ways in 1692 with the first massive failure of the government to protect the lives of the innocent and then, frankly, to try to cover up the fact. and people from the get go refused to let it be forgotten. descendants of the victims petitioned the massachusetts legislature for over the next 50 years seeking re-dress of grievance, seeking pardons for the victims. people here have never forgotten that and indeed never will. so what caused it?
well, shameless plug for my book. i call my book "a storm of witchcraft" because it really took a perfect storm of forces to create even what it was in america a large outbreak of witchcraft. to have all -- something horrible happen, you have to have many things come together. and in this case, there are a lot of factors. i want to run through them briefly. but to outline them, factualism in salem village. but really colony-wide political instability. the perceived decline of puritanism. the worst most extreme weather of the little ice age. inflation, high taxes, economic failure, military disaster. if it sounds like the four horsemen of the apocalypse, folks, it's pretty close, right? this was a grim time for people to go through. now, in large part, though, the focus of action really begins in just one part of that colony. and that is salem village. salem village is now actually the town of danvers. but it was part of a supersized salem which included a number of present-day towns. salem, danvers, middleton.
a huge area where some people could be up to 12 miles away from the meeting house and be expected to attend worship there in downtown -- what is now dowten salem on the sabbath. ironically on the puritan, on the lord's day of rest, you're expected to spend half a day trying to get into church. imagine trying to do that in a blizzard in february, right? so people in outlying areas like salem village had been trying to achieve their independence and be able to hire and the own minister to break off from salem. and salem had allowed a number of communities to do this including beverly, manchester. but they were reluctant to let salem village go for a number of reasons. but finally in 1672, salem village is granted parish status. it's kind of this quasi-freedom. they're allowed to use their tax money to hire a minister. but they don't have political control over the community.
and that creates all sorts of trouble and factions to the point whereby 1692 they're on their fourth minister in 20 years. and that man is very famous reverend samuel parris. a very contentious figure who is in many ways at the heart of the problems in salem village. he certainly does nothing to improve the situation. and of course the story of salem village and reverend parris is probably told best in the path breaking book on the salem witch trials published in 1974 "salem possessed." and here's a rare photograph. this is from the dust jacket when they were young and going out to conquer the world. publishing really a path-breaking book in american history. where they look at the minutia in salem village and the political and religious conflict in the community. with having said that, with all due respect to these authors of this amazing book, the witch trials were so much more than
salem village. in fact, one of those facts that people don't seem to realize is that there were more people from neighboring andover accused of witchcraft than from either salem or salem village. so this is a broader issue. it isn't just salem village. though admittedly salem is the epicenter of the witch trials. but they spread out from there. why do they do that? it's other factors including colony-wide instability. this goes back to the early 1680s when massachusetts bay loses its treasured charter. the charter of 1629 which grants them essentially self-government and also the right to run as a puritan colony. to make massachusetts bay a unique religious place, a place for the true believers, the puritan saints, and honestly really for no one else. right? this is religious freedom for them. when they lose this charter and it's revoked in 1684, the trouble begins.
we have the following several years of turmoil. the dominion of new england. under a military-like rule, if you will, where citizens lose their freedoms. where toleration of faiths is enforced, which we think is great but the puritans were not big fans of. he's overthrown and replaced by the interim government, the old government of simon bradstreet, which is week and ineffective in trying to fight off a new war. and meanwhile, early in 1692, people hear of the coming of governor william fipps from england with a new charter. and almost the day he arrives is the day that the afflictions began to grow and multiply in salem village because people are nervous about what this all means. all of these things are seen as signs by puritans as a sign of god's displeasure. everything in the 17th century
is a sign of god's pleasure or displeasure in an age before science and age before reason. so in many ways, too, these are all part of spiritual decline in the colony and the idea that something is truly wrong. so briefly let's talk about puritan decline. i won't spend too much time with these themes from the great perry miller and other puritan historians. but essentially there is this thought going on in massachusetts in the second half of the 17th century that they had strayed from that puritan experiment. they had left that straight and narrow path and that the colony was heading to ruin. there are shrinking numbers of church membership. fewer people willing to join the church. everybody must attend worship but only the elect those saints are members of the church. the church is a spiritual body of people, not a building in new england in the 17th century. and fewer and fewer members of the second and third generation are joining.
there's an increasingly wealth and worldliness in massachusetts bay to some degree the colony is victim of its own success. being an important economic engine in the growing atlantic economy. where the lumber and fish from new england is shipped on ships built here and is part of the economy that brings riches to new england and also, too, is deeply embedded in the slave system as well. there's perceived threats from outsiders particularly quakers and other religious groups coming into the colony. we could spend the whole day talking about quakers. if this is my grad course, we'll talk a whole week about the quakers and other threats that seem crazy to us but according to the puritans were all too real. there were more taverns than bible reading in the colony. and the ministers were preaching the fire and brimstone jeremiah sermons saying that god is coming and he is terribly angry and he is going to seek vengeance. and now is the time for moral
reformation before it is too late because satan is in our midst. he's been unleashed by god and it is up to us to fight back. now, i think evidence of this spiritual turmoil in 1692 recognized that there are five ministers who are at least cried out upon for witchcraft. only one has charges formally lodged against him. it's george burrows who is executed. but there are far more who are cried out upon. in total, there are 50 ministers and members of their extended and close family who are cried out upon for witchcraft and formally accused in 1692. that's almost a third of the people accused. by the way, most of these ministers and their families are ministers who've accepted the halfway covenant which some puritan hard-liners see as a watering down. part of the problem in the colony. i won't dwell on it now, but the point is people were really spiritually in turmoil and upset
and angry and to some degrees they were angry with their ministers and authorities, those ruling the colony in 1692. you see that in the patterns of accusation. to make it worse, economic factors and military factors are adding to the downfall of the colony. and again seen as signs of god's displeasure. we are talking about the worst weather of the little ice age. and that doesn't necessarily mean the coldest. it means the most extreme. rapid changes. hot, dry summers. horrible, lethal winters with late frost in the spring, early frost in the fall, crop destruction, famine, storms of biblical proportions. right? frankly, like we know today, climate change isn't just weather getting colder or warmer. it is extremes. that's exactly what was happened. and as the great european witchcraft historian has noted, it's when you have these extreme fluctuations in weather and bad weather and famine, yeah.
that's when you have witch hunts. right? so remember that as we think about the extreme fluctuations in weather we see today. where are our witch hunts, right? so there's also military disaster going on at the same time. a horrible war on the frontier where the english puritans are losing to the french and the native americans in a war that will become known as king williams' war. and it's not just a military and political struggle, but it's cast in religious terms. because the french are catholic. the hated enemy of the puritan. they're aligned with native americans who for the most part are pagan or might have converted to catholicism. so it seems like the agents of satan, pardon me, but this is the way puritans would have seen this. the french and the native americans are aligned together and are going to destroy the puritan experiment. and those attacks take place in the 1690s as close as billerica, as close as andover. salem village was perched on the edge of this frontier. it's hard for us to imagine the
liberty tree mall and north shore mall being on the cutting edge of the frontier. right? but they were. once you get west of route 128, watch out. as someone from pittsburgh, i can endorse that sentiment as well. so the result of all this is inflation, high taxes, economic failure, and a lot of really scared, angry people. so how does this translate into afflictions and accusations in witchcraft? again, it's really complicated. if you want the semester-long version of it, you're not going to get it today. but we'll touch on a few of salient points as to what we think might have led to this. but again, it's a perfect storm. it's lots of different factors. and we're not entirely sure. the most important answer is what was wrong with people was they were bewitched. the good 17th century medical
explanation was these people were bewitched. it's hard for us to wrap our heads around that and accept it. but remember witchcraft was real in the 17th century. everybody, university presidents, kings, emperors all knew witchcraft was real. the tough part was how do you prove someone's a witch, right? that's the tough part. so i really think -- and again, by the way, i'm not the first to come up with this. most of what i'm talking about today has been said at one time or another by the legions of talented witchcraft historians who studied this. people like john demos, mary beth norton, and i could spend the next hour talking about the different works. one clear factor seems to be what is now known as mass conversion disorder which traditionally would have been known as mass hysteria which is a term that is out of fashion for a number of reasons, not the least of which that it's gendered.
mass conversion disorder is controversial, hard to diagnose even today. it's hard to play psychiatrist, which i'm not, looking at people 300 years ago, right? but here's the thing. you understand what it is, your mind is so stressed and in so much turmoil that your mind unbeknownst to your body literally converts that stress into physical symptoms. all right? we are not talking about people acting out. we are not talking about people faking their symptoms. we are talking about people who are terrified because they don't understand why their bodies are doing what they are doing. why they are shrieking, why they are wailing, why they are going deaf, dumb, blind. and not knowing unfortunately makes this worse. because it makes you more worried, gives you more mental anguish and so on. now, interestingly, doctors now now know the most prevalent population by far are adolescent
and teenage girls. at least 70%, 80% of the victims of mass conversion disorder, having two daughters who now made it safely into their 20s, i can say i can relate to this. i would not want to be a teenage girl in america today. and i can imagine it must have been much worse in the 17th century in the stern society that massachusetts bay was like. interestingly enough, mass conversion disorder usually starts with high status teenage girls. very famous case a few years ago in laroy, new york, it starts out with cheerleaders who in any high school are usually at or near the top of the pecking order, right? in 1692 who are the first to become afflicted? the niece and daughter of reverend parris who live with him. he is the most important man in the colony, so his daughters -- in the town, i mean. so his daughters are kind of the most important kids in the village. they have the highest status.
so it's not surprising that they might be the ones to suffer from this. particularly when your angry father is marching around, storming around the parsonage giving these fire and brimstone sermons, being convinced that satan is in his midst, literally terrifying his children to death having no intention to do so, right? so i think that explains at least some of the initial folks who are afflicted in 1692. but to the broader point, there are a lot of people who make accusations in 1692 and who are accused. and i want to at least point out that witchcraft as many of you know is a gendered crime. right? historically about 75% of people accused of witchcraft throughout history have been women. and it's an even higher percentage of that and salem it's a little higher, it's about 76%. but it's the average. there's a stronger correlation to women, though, when you realize that most of the men who were accused of witchcraft are family members, relatives, friends, or defenders of women
who are accused of witchcraft. and in fact, in 1692, again, the overwhelming majority of people who are afflicted are women. mostly the idea of the afflicted girls. but it's more than that, of course. frankly, most of them are teenagers. some of them in their early 20s. there are also a couple of adult women in their late 30s, early 40s. and also at least two men. john indian the slave of reverend parris and interestingly enough, judge jonathan corwin's son. and there's an odd pre-trial hearing where judge hathorn is saying to the accused, why did you afflict judge corwin's son? that tells you of a different legal situation in 1692. but having said that, too, that's just the things that you see on the specials on sale and
with the girls writhing on the floor which is a bit overdramatic. in fact, most of the accusations in salem 1692 were more traditional accusations of witchcraft by men, by women throughout the community. testifying to the use of image magic, knowledge, the ability to harm people, causing livestock to die, causing cows to stop producing milk. kind of more run of the mill things rather than signing a covenant with satan and killing people with his magic. so the affliction and the afflicted girls weren't just girls and the people who were making accusations in salem, i think it's close to 200 people who end up making a complaint or testify in some way in salem in 1692. it is a broad circle. and again, people have lots of things to complain about. but focusing in on those afflicted young ladies, they for
the most part led very tough stressful lives. late teenagers, early 20s, many of them are household servants. quite a few of them with war refugees from that war that's taken place on the northern frontier in maine and new hampshire. some of them are orphans or at least lost one parent. so they've suffered a lot of trauma in their family. and you can see where this would put them not in the best frame of mind, right? the example i like to talk about, that we all like to talk about is mercy short. she's taken captive on a salmon falls raid of 1690 in maine. her parents are killed on that raid by native americans and the french on the raid. she and some other neighborhood kids are marched north to quebec. she's forced to convert to catholicism. and then eventually she'll be redeemed and afflicted by witchcraft. when she is counseled to try to heal her of her grievous
afflictions, she says she has in fact been tempted by satan who is in the shape of a tawny man like an indian, right? and clearly when she -- she's basically reliving these moments when her life had been almost destroyed when she lost everything she knew. and mercy short is a classic case now we know of what we could consider post-traumatic stress disorder. frankly i think anybody who lived on the frontier in this time period probably suffered it the rest of their lives. so there's another factor that comes into play. and particularly, too, and i think many of these afflicted girls were traumatized in one way or another. if you look closely at the testimony in 1692, it seems pretty clear to me that they've gone through verbal if not physical abuse. and yes, i think you might even be able to make the case to at least suggest that sexual abuse was possible in at least one case.
impossible, we will never be able to prove it. but the evidence is kind of tantalizing. if you look at the men who are accused of witchcraft, most of them have histories of violence. and, in fact, most of their specters, their ghosts, their spirits that are afflicting people in 1692 are beating the afflicted girls. torturing them. tormenting them. right? the specters. so it's not much of a leap that these specters who are the masters of these serving girls are also perhaps carrying out physical violence against the girls. in 1692, physical violence by head of the household husband or for that matter wife against children or servants, not uncommon. there was more latitude certainly than there is today. but it sounds like particularly if you're a teenage servant in a household, you're an orphan or war refugee, you probably can't do much to defend yourself against the attacks of your
unhappy master. not just master but husbands are problems. john willard who was executed for witchcraft, there is testimony of him horribly beating his wife. perhaps one reason why his wife's family testifies against him. george burrows, the famous minister who is executed for witchcraft, the wives -- he'd lost two wives. that's not uncommon that people die young. but his wives' ghosts show up to the afflicted girls and tell them he murdered them. he's known for his secretive controlling ways. one of his wives when she tried to write letters to her brother or father, he censored them and read them first. right? very strange fellow. and maybe we're seeing some shades of his domestic relationship in these accusations. or take giles corey.
the famous man who's pressed death. people have a lot of sympathy for this fellow. personally i don't have too much because giles cory, he didn't deserve to die but he certainly was not that nice a guy. he's accused of being an arsonist trying to set fire to his neighbor john procter's house. but his most hideous event in 1675, he beats his servant to death. a boy named jacob goodell. dies a couple days later. he's fined for manslaughter because of it. they couldn't prove it but he was fined for it. but people remembered this in 1692. there was an aged goodell woman who apparently was afflicted and said bad things about giles cory. and in 1692 isn't it interesting that the apparition beats the girls with his staff, basically his crutch. makes one wonder about what's going on.
and perhaps the most famous from the crucible john procter. and of course he did have a sexual relationship with the 10-year-old servant. john procter did have a servant. mary warren. she was one of the afflicted. and john was not happy with her afflictions. and in fact, actually, he publicly admitted to thrashing the devil out of her to stop her afflictions, right? isn't it interesting, his specter threatens mary with hot poker tongs, hot fire tongs and he himself admits to trying to burn the affliction out of her. or take the fact that he calls mary his jade. in the 17th century a word not far removed from sexual dalliance or maybe even hooker. right? not the term an aged man whose young wife is pregnant and has a large family, not the term of
endearment one gives to your serving girl. and there is this interesting bit of testimony where mary is testifying against procter and talks about his specter. and at one point his specter approaches her. mary warren says she grabs the specter and pulls john procter's specter into her lap. again, can never prove anything there. but it does make you feel kind of icky and make you wonder what's going on. doesn't it? so conversion ptsd, abuse, war hysteria. well, clearly that does not explain it all. certainly there are some fraudulent accusations. probably a lot more than we would like to admit especially from young people who i would like to think aren't capable of lying. especially when if you do that
you know if you lie that you're going to be condemned to an eternity in hell if you're a good puritan. but it clearly, clearly happened. what didn't cause it? well, i'll just avoid the question right up front. no ergot poisoning was not the reason for the witch trials. i would say the hippy dippy timothy leary lsd 1970s. could stop there, but the idea of this -- that there is a mold, a natural mold that can grow on supplies of rye grain which was used to make bread in salem village and other places in new england. when this mold grows, if you consume it, ingest it, it is poisonous and can harm you. well, one of the side effects of one of these types of ergot is a hallucinogenic type trips. so they were saying the
afflicted girls were having a bad trip. well, there's a number of problems with this and this theory which is like a vampire that refuses to die even if you drive a stake through its heart. even though it's been regularly debunked by psychiatrists, by mds, scholars ever since. here's the basic problem. the first problem is we're looking for a simple solution, folks. our society likes to take that, please doctor can you give me one pill that will cure all of my ills. and by the way, that would cure everything that's wrong with society and my life as well, right? unfortunately life isn't that simple. i wish it were. i really wish it were. and history isn't that simple either, right? the problem with ergot from a grain supply point of view, not all the afflicted girls live in the same place. some live miles apart. some in andover. mercy short in boston as i mentioned.
we're not talking about one bad grain supply. also if everyone in the village is eating from that grain supply, why isn't everyone becoming afflicted? so it doesn't make any sense from a pattern at all. these are accusations and charges made throughout much of massachusetts bay colony. but beyond that, a doctor tells us there are different types of ergot and there's one type -- let's put it this way. the only type of ergot that causes hallucinogenic type is like a dry rot where your arms and legs shrivel, blacken, fall off, then you die. no one described anything like this in 1692. as far as we can tell, strange as it may sound, most of the afflicted girls appear to have led long, healthy, normal lives. we don't know much about them. but certainly no one walking
around as quadruple amputees. it'd be weird to walk around. never mind. anyway. didn't mean that. but you get what i'm talking about. it's absolutely -- it just doesn't work. and frankly, no, i don't believe in encephalitis, lyme disease, or other conditions. is it possible one or two people had one of these conditions? yes. absolutely. again, in 17th century medicine, it was different than today. but it certainly doesn't explain the whole outbreak. the other thing that i want to say, too, is that it was to get their land. wasn't it? weren't people accused in 1692 by neighbors who were jealous and friends and people who wanted their land and property. because if you accused someone of witchcraft, you got their stuff. sounds goods but not true. as with most things, there is a kernel of truth there. in 1692 for the one time in massachusetts history for reasons i won't go into here, but legal reasons regarding the new charter, massachusetts
reverted to english law which included the provision that a felon's personal possessions were seized, became property of the state. that includes your clothes, your cash, your livestock. furniture. but houses, real estate, all land goes to your heirs if you are executed for a high crime. so you never lose your property. and even if your personal possessions are taken, yeah, guess what, folks. the state wins. the government is the recipient of your property. no one else. there's no finder's fee. no nothing. that doesn't mean to say that jealous neighbors didn't accuse people of witchcraft. but it was not to profit. right? so let's shoot that one down. to me, though, again, i really sort of -- generations of historians have viewed the salem witch trials as a social crime.
most of the stories going back to bowyer and other who is have looked at witchcraft traditionally having social historians. i was inspired by these people and was a young, new social historian in the 1970s. now i guess we're sort of like the old social history which has morphed into the culture history which is now becoming i think the old cultural history. be that as it may, most historians studying witchcraft in america are neighbor accusing neighbor of the psychology behind the accusations and the tensions in the community. but to me, i really, in my book i wanted to look at the judges. now, maybe is the fact i'm the first member of my family not to join the family law firm out in fishburn. but i thought that hadn't been
explored. the critical question was you can have as many people accuse people of witchcraft as possible, you can have juries convict them even. why do judges, sane rational english justices working under english law that frankly isn't all that different than what we have today basic forms of testimony and witnesses. yes, a few irregularities like you're not going to hear testimony when your son is afflicted by the person who afflicted him. but good fair english justice where you were innocent until proven guilty. why do those judges, all experienced men who have seen witchcraft cases before, why are they accepting convictions and signing death warrants? that was the piece to me i was interested in. that's why i say i like to study this as a political crime and as a political crisis as much as anything else. recognizing that political crisis go hand in hand in a puritan colony with religion as well.
so i was intrigued to look at the judges and try to figure out why they turned legal precedent on its head. and by that i mean before 1692, if you confessed to witchcraft and by the way that's usually after judicial torture. you were executed. we know that judicial torture was used in salem even. john procter writes to the minister complaining that his sons and the carrier boys are being tied neck and heels. that is, your heels are tied to your neck and you're hung upside down, head down until basically blood gushes out of your nose. it won't kill you. but you know what? you think it will. in some ways i call it the 17th century equivalent of water boarding. right? and also loosens the tongue. yes, maybe i am a witch after all. you're right. let's reconsider this. there was some of this going on
in salem in 1692. and usually traditionally what happened after that was, right. trial, confess, sentence, execution. within days. so explain to me why in 1692, only those who refused to confess are convicted and executed? there are a few at the end who confess or are tried and convicted at the very end, but for the most part we're talking about people who plead innocent and are eventually led to their deaths because of it. and meanwhile, 55 people, that's about over a third of the people who were accused, confess. none of them die. that to me is the ultimate tragedy of salem. the fact that only those who were so devout that they refused to lie and say that they were a witch because they knew it would be a stain on their immortal soul, a stain on their family, they refused to do it.
only the truly, truly innocent died, that is the ultimate tragedy of bridgette bishop and everyone else. so why, why would the judges do this? the nine judges, i started looking at it closely, and they have a lot in common. they are the wealthiest merchant in the colony. they were hand-picked by the king to do so. that means they are the leading politicians in the land. today what we call the state senate. they are also superior court judges by definition of that appointment and county judges. a majority of them had attended harvard. at one point trained to be ministers as well. these are learned men. yet in 1692, none of them have followed that path. they are major land holders of frontier land, sawmill owners on the main frontier, where most of
them had their sawmills burned and last what would be equivalent today to millions of dollars in investments. they are the leaders of the colony, too. most of them are officers of the militia. judge winthrop, he is actually a witchcraft judge and at the same time is commander-in-chief of the massachusetts army that is badly losing the struggle against the french and native americans. so here's the thing. these men, these devout puritans, also calling for moral reformation of the colony, have to look to someone to blame. let's blame the government. let's blame the military. that's us, too. as dana carvey says, could it be satan? on the surface it's funny. but human nature is to look
away, look outside to find the guilty, find the blame for the problems. rather than to look within, right? these judges are seeing witches everywhere. they know satan has been set loose in the colony, gotten to the colony and them personally and they are hanging judges. intriguingly enough, they are also family. and my research, i determined that 6 of the 9 are related by marriage. interestingly enough, one of the ones who isn't, samuel sewell, who may be the most honest man of the crowd, the one i admire, it turns out his wife is the first cousin of reverend samuel paris of salem village. another interesting link. clearly these are a group. they act together. they are differential towards each either. when william leads the way and says guilty, there is no
descent. these people have the same family class personal business political military interests. right? so it's these conditions that make the judges presume guilt from the start. that satan is loose in massachusetts. you have to look no further than the first day of pretrial hearings when judges hathorne and corwin, question sarah good. and judge hathorne asked her, what evil spirits do you have to familiarity with. center you made a contract with the children? why do you harm the children? doesn't sound like english judgment i would want to be part of. that's the point. in other years it wouldn't have been like this. there were no lawyers in massachusetts in 1692. they were outlawed until the early 18th century. judge acted as prosecution and defense attorney try to ferret out the truth. normally that worked well, but in this case you could see something had already gone badly awry and it was this whole storm
of witchcraft, perfect storm of factors that threw the judges off their normal behavior. many have been involved in witchcraft in the 1680s that had been dismissed. but things changed in massachusetts. lastly, all part of religion and politics, right? that means we need to look at the leadership. imagine if you will, a powerful political leader who comes to office, lacking any political experience whatsoever. he comes to the big city, economic center of the universe. he becomes one of the richest men in america by taking big risks. winning and losing. winning deals. breaking deals. incredibly famous. huge personality. larger than life.
he has late conversion to his political cause. only shortly before seeking high office. makes many members of his party suspicious at his motives. but he champions the cause of the working class as an incredibly popular for that and that helps really launch him to office. once in office, his style immediately makes people nervous. even before he takes office. when they know of his coming office. partly because he is an unconventional communicator. he doesn't really play by the rules. in fact, because of that he quickly almost immediately gets himself embroiled in legal issues. he shows irrational support for mortal enemies of the state. which also scares people. not surprisingly, when you have weak central states, lots of
questions about authority, you have the cry of witch hunt. people are worried. people are looking for witches. now by this time, i know you all realize who i'm talking about. i'm speaking of sir william phipps. governor of the massachusetts bait colony who announced in january 1692, at what which point afflictions begin and people are terrified in part by him. arriving in may of 1692 with afflictions full blown. i happen to know sir william really well. i co-authored the biography with my buddy years ago. that's where i was first drawn into salem's webb. the whole book could have been about witchcraft. he was the first to salvage and a spanish treasure gal on. patron saint of treasure hunters, became immediately famous and developed a fortune through this.
it was a second try to do this. again he went belly up before this trying to do it. he is a survivor. but when he does, he goes back it england, knighted by the king of england. he comes back to massachusetts bay. he is arguably the most famous englishman in america. he could have stayed in england the rest of his life and every night someone would have bought him dinner and a pint of ale to hear his stories. he was that famous. that wealthy too. he comes home in 1692 as the first royal governor of massachusetts bay in a royal charter. that makes him of course governor during the salem witch trials. he ends them only after 19 are dead. and really only after his wife is accused of being a witch. about that time, he writes a
letter back to the crown and he basically says, gosh, you know, this is horrible. i was off all summer and fall fighting against the french and indians in maine. when i came back, i saw what the things deputy grn had done and i was mortified and brought it to an end immediately. liar, liar, pants on fire. he was in the calling almost all of that time. fake news. he knew exactly what was going on and was covering himself as best he could. he gets into a mess with the french. one of his successes, he invades port royal, invades acadia and captures it. they don't have enough people to occupy the territory. instead he swears them to the oath of loyalty to the english king. and phips thinks it's real.
he defends the french acadia, he welcomes them as merchants and traders to the waterfront of boston. and other people go, really, sir william? really? we're at war with these people. really? he runs across the scene one day on the waterfront in boston where one of these french merchants is being a hard time by the customs officials. phips known for his very open sometimes vulgar expressions and bare knuckle street politics says this man as good an englishman as you are and i will basically beat you if you don't leave him alone. the irony as we now know is that that man is a french spy. he was gathering information for a planned invasion of new england and boston.
throughout his career as governor, phips was only border line literate as we can tell. there is a lot of stuff we can't get to the bottom of. he dies of illness before he can defend himself before the king. a rather sad story to a rather interesting character. i can't help but reflect on william phips these days. so in conclusion, how could they be so dumb? people always ask me this. how can they believe in witches? how can they execute 19 innocent people? well, here's the problem, folks. as i said, witches were all too real in 1692. their goal was to destroy our faith, our society. and the problem is, it is almost impossible to detect them.
the leading minister of the colony, top political aide, interesting combination, to governor fhips, no division of state and church. that maps in 1692. increase mathers writes a book calling for the end of the witch trials. in the end he said it is hard to tell if someone is a witch or not. legally there is only two ways you can technically convict people of witchcraft. signed confession or the testimony of two people saying they have seen someone carry out a mall fee -- malfeasant act of black magic with satan. since we all hope i believe is not real it is hard to get people to testify to that, right? so instead they start trying to lean on other evidence. because you know, satan has to be here somewhere, right? that's when we look at the
spectral evidence, spirits of people harming other people. anne and finally, mathers says, you know what? enough is enough. people can't say this too loudly but by fall of 1692 is t is clear that innocent people have been executed. mather puts it this way, better than a hundred witches should live than one innocent person should die. yes, there are probably witches out there and we will never figure out who they are because they are almost impossible to detect. witches can be anyone. family, friends, loved ones, neighbors. heck, ministers, i mentioned all of the ministers accused. massachusetts legislature who are accused. people didn't trust their politicians. didn't trust their ministers. they were angry, they were scared. anybody could be a witch. right? what do you do? how do you fight this invisible threat?
this invisible world? how do you stop them? i think we know the answer, folks. if you swap witches in 1692 with terrorists today you probably understand the problem. and realized how really difficult it is to try to deal with a threat that we all know is alive and well and threatens us at the roots of everything we believe in. but how do we do it? and particularly how do we do it without giving up the cherished english liberties, right? to me, it is the big issue we have to deal with as a so site today. but of course, we don't believe in witches or witch hunts, do we? thank you very much. [ applause ] now i think i have maybe 5, 10 minutes to answer questions.
i'll be here all day so i can take them. charlie, if you want to use the microphone so your voice could be heard. all right. >> what was the population in salem at the time? >> okay. question is what was the population of salem at that time? salem village had maybe 500 or 600 people in it. population of salem town itself here, sort of the neck, the rest of the community, maybe a couple thousand. you are dealing with a population of roughly 22,500 people. if you think about that, population density is ridiculous low by modern standards. other questions? yes. here we go. there's the mike coming right to you. don't be shy. >> okay. so i read that some folks accused were pardoned in the
'50s and others in 2001. why did it take so long? >> good question. first pardon was in the early 1700s. it was called a reversal of attainer. a general reversal of attainer. against most of the people. but those laws only applied to those families who requested them. so there were a lot of people that didn't have a lot of close loved ones or were alienated from families and didn't have anyone to come forward to request they be exonerated. >> in the 1950s, man who was a relative, made a request the remaining witches, if you will again, quotes, have the attainers be reversed. the document said anne and others. one of my former grad students, paula keen, in my witchcraft said a footnote, professor baker, look at this.
i don't think those other people, by law your name has to be mentioned, by name for it to count. i don't think there are five people that had their reversal attained. what do you think? should i try to do something about it? a very famous caller remind me, crazier the things have happened. she launched a one-woman campaign, those of you know her know what a remarkable woman she is. she got our legislature involved and delegates involved and got the last reversal of attainer which was signed on halloween 2001 by governor swift. i applaud governor swift. i just wish he hadn't come to salem on halloween to do it because as we know there are no connections between witchcraft and halloween. so that's why it took so long. in large part people thought they had. even then it took almost 20 years to get it reversed. yes. any questions? great. thank you all very much. american history tv in
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