Puritan Literature and the Salem Witch Trials
Between the months of June to September of 1692, the infamous witch trials in Salem,
Massachusetts resulted in the deaths of twenty men and women as a result of witchcraft charges.
Hundreds of others faced accusations and dozens were jailed for months during the progress of the
trials. There are an infinite number of explanations for the hysteria that overtook the Puritan
population of Salem.
For example, a combination of economics, religious temperaments, personal
rivalries, and precocious imaginations added to the furor (Hoffer, Weisman).
Significantly, a book
published by Cotton Mathers in 1689, “Memorable Providences Relating to Witchcraft and
Possessions” also contributed to instigating the events (Silverman).
During February of 1692, a young Salem woman named Betty Parris became “strangely”
ill. Her symptoms included wildly running around, diving under furniture, contorting in pain, and
complaining of fever (Hoffer, Reis, Weisman). At this time, the Puritan writer Cotton Mather had
already published what was a popular and widely read book, "Memorable Providences." Mather’s
narrative described an incident of witchcraft in Boston, and Betty Parris' behavior was quickly
interpreted in the contexts of Mather’s account of the Boston “witch” (Silverman).
While Mather introduced a narrative of witchcraft into the Puritan consciousness, the talk of
witchcraft escalated when other local girls, including eleven-year-old Ann Putnam, seventeen-year-
old Mercy Lewis, and Mary Walcott, began to demonstrate similar symptoms of unusual behavior
A doctor was called to examine the girls, and he suggested that the girls' problems might