Salem Witch Trials are a famous episode of the colonial history of the United States, which led to the conviction and execution of people accused of witchcraft in 1692 in Massachusetts. The period of events is generally analyzed as the time of intestine strife and paranoia among Puritans, which results in the execution of twenty-five people and the imprisonment of many more.
In January 1692, in daughter and niece of Pastor Samuel Parris – 9-year-old Elizabeth Parris and 12-year-old Abigail Williams – were found symptoms of unknown disease. The girls screamed, made strange noises, hided behind furniture, took unusual poses. Children complained that someone had stabbed them with a pin and knife, and when Parris was trying to read a sermon, they stop up their ears.
Dr. William Griggs decided that the cause of the disease was an activity of a witch. In his “diagnosis,” he refers to the work of Cotton Mather «Memorable Providences Relating to Witchcrafts and Possessions» (1689), which describes a similar case: in 1688, the Boston Irish washerwoman was accused of spellcasting on the master’s children and hanged. Cotton Mather was a graduate of Harvard College and was a priest of the North Church in Boston.
The girls pointed to the alleged witch – a maid in the house, which was a slave named Tituba Parris. According to one source, Tituba was of African descent, on the other – Indian woman. According to the children, the maid told them of witchcraft. Soon the number of cases of the unknown illness has increased, in particular, fell ill 12-year-old Anna Putnam.
There are several versions to explain what happened, – hysteria, conspiracy of children, peculiarity of Puritan psychology, and poisoning. In 1976, in the Science journal, there was considered a version according to which the hallucinations in children were caused by poisoning from rye bread infected by a fungus known as ergot (or Claviceps purpurea). In the same year, the refuting this version was published. According to another version, the children were ill with a particular form of encephalitis – “lethargic encephalitis» (encephalitis lethargica), the symptoms of which are similar to those described in the Salem case. It has also been suggested that the girls suffered from Huntington’s disease.
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