1692 was (and still is) a very historically important year in America, especially in Salem village. It was the year that many innocent folks were accused of working with the devil; accused of witchcraft. This started the Salem witch hunt trials. The main cause was due to the strong belief that Satan was acting in the “invisible World”. A witch was someone who signed the book of the devil, giving the devil permission to use his or her form to harm others. The Salem witch trials spread about as fast as a cheetah chasing its’ prey. What makes these trials seemingly interesting is that many people accused their own neighbors of witchcraft! When seventeenth- century New Englander’s suspected that they were bewitched, it was usually a close neighbor to which they put to blame. However, it was usually a neighbor with which they had a personal tension or conflict. Many neighbors at the time were rather malevolent and evil – minded. (13) Many people in the Salem village accused their neighbors of witch craft as “revenge” for past tension or conflict. Old feuds between the accuser and the accused spurred many charges of witch craft.
In order to completely understand why it was mainly neighbors whom accused each other, it is important understand that during the seventeenth century, everyone knew their neighbors. Villages were far less populated than they are nowadays. People also accused their neighbors to free themselves of being accused, claiming it was their neighbor that committed the witchcraft.
The residents of the Salem village wanted answers to their problems. If someone believed that an illness, death or loss was caused by witch craft, the accuser entered a complaint against the purported witch with the local civil officer. There is an old saying that states “Keep your friends close, and your enemies closer.” That is exactly what the residents of Salem village did. Since everyone knew their neighbors, it was easy to accuse them of witch craft. For example, Citizens knew whether or not their neighbor went to church and they were always aware of anything that could cause their neighbor a bad reputation. It is also important to seriously understand the way the general English Colonists and puritans viewed the world around them, because there was a dominant interplay of super natural and natural phenomena. (7)
Most cases of neighborly tension and conflict developed accordingly to one of three scenarios. The first scenario consisted of neighbor one requesting a favor from neighbor two. A few commonly requested favors include a temporary shelter or a loan of a household implement. Then, neighbor two would culpability refuse. This led neighbor one to become resentful and vowing to get even. (13)
The second scenario or neighborly tension consisted of an exchange of goods between neighbor 3 and neighbor four to go amiss. Neighbor three felt indignant; becoming angry. In the time that followed, a series of misfortunes were suffered by neighbor four’s family. Because of this, neighbor four would feel very resentful. These three scenarios were the most common cases of which one or the other would accuse his or her neighbor of witchcraft. Seventy- eight percent of all accused witches in England were women. On top of that, “roughly half of the men charged with this crime in New England were married or otherwise associated with women) (11)
The third scenario consisted of neighbor five and neighbor six quarreling because neighbor five damaged property of neighbor six. Neighbor six then accused neighbor five of bewitching them.
The Salem witch hunt panic was caused by an up rise of girls having odd fits. Fits of such violence began to horrify their families and neighbors. Everyone of any relation to these girls and young women became rather curious and eager as to who or what was causing these calamities and how to stop them. A group of girls accused many residents of working with the devil.
An exceptional example of this situation was one of two of the afflicted girls that lived in the house of Samuel Parris; the village minister. One was Parris’ daughter-Betty Parris, and the other was his niece- Abigail Williams. Along with those two, Puttman and Elizabeth Hubbard were also of the first afflicted girls. This was in fact the event that led to the beginning of the Salem witch trials. Parris’ first response was to seek advice from a physician, but the physician told him that medical treatment would not help the situation. In the view of William Griggs (the physician) the girls were “under the evil hand”.
The first three people accused of tormenting these girls were Sarah good, Sarah Osborne, and Tituba – The Indian slave of Parris. Parris accused his slave Tituba of witchcraft and beat her until she confessed herself a witch, and John, her husband, became, through fear, the accuser of others.
Sarah Good was accused of witch craft due to her negative reputation. She was a homeless beggar and was often associated with the death of livestock in her village. She would walk door to door in the neighborhood often asking for charity, but if the neighbor refused, she would mutter under her breath and chant curses in revenge. During this time, many residents believed that such curses worked. Many people of Salem Village that were quite similar in personality to Sarah Good. (68) This shows how easily people could become convinced that hostile neighbors were brandishing forces against them.
The Putnam family against George Burroughs is another great example of how neighbors accused one another. The Putnam family stated the George and his wife lived in their house for some time but they had their differences. They claimed that he was very boorish to his wife and that his wife obeyed him. They did not have much evidence against him other than that they overhear many arguments between George and his wife about signing a covenant. Although they did not have a lot of evidence, they knew enough about George to make him look guilty. He was hanged shortly after. (133-134)
John Bly Sr. and Rebecca Bly against Bridget Bishop was a case similar to the second scenario of neighborly tension. The Bly family stated that they bought a sow from Bridget’s son with the agreement to pay the price agreed upon to Lieutenant Jerimiah Neale of Salem. However, because Bridget did not have the money agreed for pay unto her, she quarreled with the Bly family about it. Soon after, the sow pigged and she threw strange fits. This made them believe she was bewitched by Bridget Bishop after the quarrel. (110-111)
Most of those who were accused of witch craft were tormented and hanged, including Sarah Good. In the middle of the trial era, many “witches “took back their confession, claiming that they only confessed because they were threatened or were afraid of being killed. In the end Samuel Parris, the main cause of this panic, meditated for peace. As the time passed, many apologies were offered as well as reimbursements to the victim’s families.
In conclusion, the residents of Salem Village usually accused their neighbors of witch craft because it was very common to have a history of conflict or tension with your neighbor at the time. The accusers usually came from a family of good reputation, while the accused were usually people who were already looked down upon. Nowadays, most neighbors are friendly with one another and may refer to each other as friends. However, during the Salem witch hunt, not only did neighbors commonly have tensions, but they accused each other of witchcraft which lead to the torture and sometimes even death of their neighbor. This is a great reminder of how family feuds along with politics and religion can yield cataclysmic consequences.