The Crucible, The Salem Witch Trials, and The Red Scare By Danielle Thompson

"It is very certain that the Devils have sometimes represented the shapes of persons not only innocent, but also very virtuous." Cotton Mather

Historical Account

1. Salem Village was a fast-growing farming town, 5-7 miles from meeting house. It served as an agricultural hinterland containing 500-600 residents (Salem Village History.)

Salem Town was a prosperous port. Its economy consisted of commerce, fishing, shipbuilding, and trading. The town held around 2000 residents (Salem Village History.)

2. The Village and Town began to grow apart. Separated by distance, beliefs, and identities, the Village requested its own church, but received a minister and a committee (not exceeding five). The first minister stepped down for unfulfillment, the second for accusation of Satanic agents. He was rumored to be abusive to his wife (SV Church.)

Constant squabbles of autonomy caused the third minister, Deodat Lawson, to step down. The fourth minister, Rev. Samuel Parris was the first ordained minister, creating an official Village church. The town did not like Parris. He was seen as overbearing for demanding firewood, the deed to the ministry house, no taxes, and a complaint from the Villagers for not receiving said demands (Salem Village Divided.)

First Church in Salem Village, illustration published in the New England Magazine Volume 5, 1892

3. One very common theory of these events centers around LSD. Lysergic Acid Diethylamide (The Free Dictionary) is derived from ergot, a fungus that can infect grain and was often ground with rye and flour (Ergot of Rye.) According to Forensics In History, "Loaves of bread accidentally laced with these ergot alkaloids containing lysergic acid were then consumed by the family, although only certain, younger members were highly susceptible," explaining why only the girls were infected.

Another theory of causation of the girls' ideas is Encephalitis. Encephalitis is when a virus abruptly causes the brain to swell, causing a fever, headaches, violent seizures, confusion, and drowsiness (Medical News Today). This would not necessarily explain the 'hallucinations', but it would definitely explain Rev. and Elizabeth Parris' descriptions of Betty and Abigail.

This third theory is my favorite: Lyme Disease. Three to thirty days after a tick bite, 70% of patients are warm to the touch, and undergo severe headaches, neck stiffness, heart palpitations, and temporary loss of short term memory (CDC.) I was initially skeptical of this theory, but upon further research, I realized it was actually very plausible. Infected ticks are called Nymphs. These immature arachnids typically only feed during the spring and summer months (CDC.) The first victim of the accusations, Bridget Bishop, was hanged on June 10, 1692 (history.com.) This fits perfectly into the historical timeline. And, with only the girls being infected, it would fit with the girls dancing in the woods. That is where they were bit.

Comparing Lives

Giles Corey:

  • In 1676, Giles Corey was charged with beating his slave hand, Jacob Goodale, to death. Despite only receiving a fine for his actions, his reputation was forever changed (History of MA.)
  • Certain of his wife's innocence, Corey spoke out against the girls that had accused his wife (The Man of Iron.)
  • Soon after, Giles himself was accused of witchcraft.
  • Ann Putnam Jr. claimed Corey's specter asked her to write in the Devil's Book. Another time, the girls claimed a ghost appeared to them, saying it had been killed by Giles.
  • Giles Corey was examined in April, and left to wait five months in prison with his wife (The Man of Iron.)
  • In September, nearly a dozen witnesses came forward during his trial with the Grand Jury, saying he served bread and wine to a sacrament of witches.
  • Knowing he'd be executed, he refused to stand trial and have his land forfeited to the state (The Man of Iron.)
  • Monday, September 19, Giles was killed by peine forte et dure (strong and harsh punishment) in front of his neighbors.

Martha Corey:

  • Being among the first to attend trials, Martha quickly, and vocally, expressed her doubts of the girls' truthfulness (History of MA.)
  • She was accused shortly thereafter by Ann Putnam Jr. (known as Ruth in The Crucible.)
  • Many shocked due to her good reputation and high standing in their local society (History of MA.)
  • According to the New England Legal Book of Executions, when Edward Putnam and Ezekiel Cheever went to question Martha, she already knew why they were there. She was described as smug, impudent, and filled with contempt.
  • During her trials, resentment grew for Martha and no one came to her defense.
  • A warrant was issued for her arrest on Saturday, March 19, 1692 (History of MA.)
  • The following day, Corey returned to church as usual and, according to Deodat Lawson, was reported by Abigail Williams and Ann Putnam Jr. to be holding a yellow bird, making it fly around the minister's head.
  • She was charged on two counts of witchcraft, one on Elizabeth Hubbard and one on Mercy Lewis (History of MA.)
  • Martha Corey was found guilty on September 8, 1692 and sentenced to death.

John Proctor:

  • John Proctor was the first male to be named a witch during the Salem Witch Trials (History of MA.)
  • He opened a bar just South of Salem Village in 1668, making him a wealthy man.
  • In 1672, his father passed away and John inherited one-third of his father's land (History of MA.)
  • Proctor married his third wife, Elizabeth, in 1674.
  • When Giles Corey was charged for beating his slave hand, John testified against him. He said he overhead Corey admit to the beating (History of MA.)
  • Like Martha Corey, Proctor was very outspoken on his opinions of accusers truthfulness. He referred to them as frauds and liars.
  • Proctor's servant, Mary Warren, started behaving oddly in March of 1962 and, in an attempt to bring her back to normalcy, would beat Mary.
  • It wasn't until Elizabeth Proctor was accused that John himself started being accused (History of MA.) During her examination, focus began to be shifted to John.
  • He was indicted on April 11, 1692 and charged for three accounts of witchcraft against Mary Warren, Mercy Lewis, and Mary Walcott.
  • While in prison, many friends came to his wife and his defense, even signing a petition for their freedom (History of MA.)
  • In May his three children were accused and imprisoned.
  • Proctor wrote a plea to Boston clergy in July, asking for different judges who could provide him a fair trial. In his letter, he described torture used on innocent victims, including his son William (History of MA.)
  • John Proctor was convicted on August 5th and hanged on August 19th along with five others.

Elizabeth Proctor:

  • Elizabeth was John's third wife. The two were married two years after his second wife's death (History of MA.)
  • Late in the March of 1692, Mercy Lewis and Abigail Williams accused Elizabeth Proctor, claiming her spirit would come at night and torment them.
  • On April 4th, an official complaint was filed against her, issuing a warrant for her arrest. She was apprehended and brought to the Village meetinghouse for questioning on April 11th (History of MA.)
  • Due to the Salem Jail's overcrowding, Elizabeth was transferred to Boston with Rebecca Nurse, Martha Corey, and two others.
  • When the Proctor children were arrested, Elizabeth's sister Mary DeRich, and her sister-in-law Sarah Basset were also arrested.
  • Mary Warren, though not an accuser of Elizabeth, testified against both her and John, accusing their spirits of beating, pinching, and choking her at night.
  • The petition by their friends didn't help the Proctor's case, nor did John's letter to the clergy of Boston (History of MA.)
  • Elizabeth was found guilty and sentenced to death on August 5th of 1692, but due to her pregnancy. She was never executed.
  • On January 27, 1693, she gave birth to her third son and fourth child, John Proctor III.
  • In May of 1693, the Salem Witch hysteria died down and Governor Phipps released the remaining prisoners (History of MA.)

Abigail Williams:

  • Abigail Williams was one of the afflicted girls in the Salem Witch Trials.
  • During the trials, Abigail was living with her uncle, Rev. Samuel Parris. The reason, though unknown, is assumed that her parents had died (History of MA.)
  • In the winter of 1691, Williams and other girls were experimenting with 'venus-glass'. The girls would drop egg whites into a glass of water and interpreted their shapes in order to learn more about their future husbands. According to Reverend John Hale, one girl was horrified, interpreting her egg yolk as a coffin.
  • According to Abigail Williams: The Mysterious Afflicted Girl, "Shortly after the incident, in January of 1692, Betty Parris and Abigail Williams began behaving strangely, having fits, screaming out in pain and complaining that invisible spirits were pinching them. Ann Putnam, Jr., and the other afflicted girls soon started experiencing the same symptoms."
  • At the end of February, Rev. Parris called for a doctor, Doctor William Griggs, who couldn't find anything wrong and determined they must be bewitched. Mary Sibley gave directions on witch discovery to Parris' slave, John Indian (History of MA.) Witch Cake, a bread made of rye meal and the afflicted's urine was baked in ashes and fed to a dog. It was then believed that painful symptoms would occur against the bewitcher, ousting them to all (Samuel Page Fowler.)
  • Soon after the witch cake attempt, the afflicted girls named three women as witches: Tituba, Sarah Good, and Sarah Osbourne.
  • Sunday, March 20, Abigail disrupted church more than once, claiming things of Martha Corey's spirit. Corey's attendance is recorded as 'disturbing' all afflicted girls.
  • On March 31st, Abigail claimed to have seen witches having a sacrament, feasting on flesh and blood, during a village fast. During this examination, Abigail and her followers turned on and accused John Proctor of witchery (History of MA.)
  • According to court records, Williams accused about fifty-seven people of witchcraft. Yet, she only testified against eight. Her last testimony was given June 3, 1692. Of the people she accused, fifteen were executed. Others died in jail, were pardoned, found not guilty, escaped jail, or completely evaded arrest (History of MA.)
  • Neither Abigail Williams or Betty Parris ever apologized for their roles in the Salem Witch Trials. There are no records of Abigail Williams previous to the Salem Witch Trials.
“Tituba and the Children,” illustration by Alfred Fredericks, published in A Popular History of the United States, circa 1878

Revered Samuel Parris:

  • Rev. Samuel Parris was the minister at Salem Village during the trials of 1692.
  • Parris officially became minister in July of 1689. Finding himself in the middle of Village feuds, the Reverend did not handle himself well. According to The New England Soul, Parris "inflamed local rivalries by declaring that, if ever there were witches, there are multitudes in New England."
  • Many historians believe that the Putnam family took advantage of the peoples' fear and accused people they didn't like or that they seeked revenge with. Some theories state that Thomas Putnam solicited Parris' help in these plans (History of MA.)
  • In an attempt to save his daughter Betty from getting further involved in the trials, he sent her to live with his cousin Stephen Sewall in Salem Town.
  • Court records state Parris testified against nine people. He also, to Judge Danforth's request, served as court stenographer to seven. In addition, Parris oversaw the excommunication of convicted 'witches.'
  • All of Rev. Parris' testimonies were statements of the girls' behavior of affliction. He never claimed any spectral evidence himself. He was only present in court when requested by court officials (History of MA.)
  • After Parris' dismissal from Salem Village, he lived several places before moving to Sudbury, Massachusetts, spending his final years there with Betty. He died there on February 27, 1720.

Betty Parris:

  • Betty was the first afflicted girl. She dabbled in fortune-telling with her cousin Abigail.
  • According to Betty Parris: First Afflicted Girl of the Salem Witch Trials, Betty began behaving oddly when "she hid under furniture, complained of fever, barked like a dog, screamed and cried out in pain."
  • When Abigail began showing similar symptoms, Betty's father Reverend Samuel Parris became worried and called on Doctor William Griggs, who deducted they were bewitched (History of MA.)
  • Betty never testified in court, despite her name appearing on the first complaints. Trying to cure Betty and shield her from the trials, Rev. Parris sent her to live with his cousin in Salem Town, where she continued to have fits before her eventual recovery.
  • Betty lived in Sudbury, MA until adulthood. In 1710, she married Benjamin Baron, a shoemaker, with whom she had four children. This is where she passed away on March 21, 1760 (History of MA.)

Rebecca Nurse:

  • Rebecca and Francis married in 1640 and were parents to eight children.
  • Her arrest on March 24, 1692 shocked the entire town. She was a very upstanding citizen and an outrageously pious woman (History of MA.)
  • Nurse's accusers, Ann Putnam Jr., Ann Putnam Sr., and Abigail Williams claim to have seen her spirit tormenting Ann Putnam Sr.
  • Rebecca and Francis had a long lived dispute with the Putnams over their adjoining land. Historians believe the accusations against Nurse were made in a form of revenge. All of her accusers were Putnams or friends of the family (History of MA.)
  • And, much like Goodwife Corey, Goodwife Nurse often criticized the young girls for their behavior: the fortune telling and the lying, making her much more of a target. As told in An Account of the Life, Character, & c. of Reverend Samuel Parris, Nurse was not particularly fond of Rev. Parris. She was seen as a respectable, amicable, and educated woman. It is most likely due to these reasons Ann Sr. disliked her.
  • Her trial began to close in the June of 1692 when she was found not guilty. An unsurprising verdict, she was loved in the community so much that a petition was made for her release (History of MA.)
  • But, when referred to as "one of us" by Goody Hobbs, the court's opinion changed. She was convicted on July 3, taken to the church, and publicly excommunicated. Nurse was hanged at Gallows Hill on July 19 alongside Sarah Good, Elizabeth Howe, Susannah Martin and Sarah Wildes (History of MA.)
  • Local legend claims that her son Benjamin sneaked to her execution site after dark, bringing her home for a proper Christian burial.

Francis Nurse:

  • Much less is known about Rebecca Nurse's husband Francis.
  • He served as Salem's constable in 1672 (Familypedia.)
  • He had eight children, four boys and four girls.
  • He attended church regularly and was well respected in town.
  • His family forced out Rev. Samuel Parris in 1697.

Thomas Putnam:

  • Thomas Putnam was the father of afflicted girl Ann in the Salem Witch Trials.
  • Putnam accused and testified against 43 people. Historians believe this family played on the fear of the trials to exact revenge on enemies (History of MA.)
  • In January of 1692, Ann and other girls began showing strange symptoms. A doctor was brought in in February and three women were named responsible: Tituba, Sarah Good, and Sarah Osbourne (History of MA.) Thomas and three others filed complaints against the women, issuing a warrant for their arrest.
  • Putnam wrote a letter to Stephen Sewall in April, speaking of Giles Corey. He carefully reminded Sewall of Corey's previous murder charge. The form of execution used on Giles had never before been used in the colonies; this idea was most likely proposed by Thomas in this letter (History of MA.)
  • Of the 43 people accused by Thomas Putnam, 12 were executed, 3 were found guilty but pardoned, 6 were found not guilty, 13 were never indicted and 2 died in jail. The rest either evaded arrest or escaped from prison.
  • When the Salem Witch Trials eventually came to an end in 1693, Thomas Putnam died six years later (History of MA.)

Ann Putnam:

  • Ann Putnam Jr. was the daughter of Thomas and Ann Putnam and the eldest of ten children.
  • Late in the winter of 1691, Ann was using "venus-glass" to attempt fortune telling with her friends. In January of 1692, her and the other girls became 'afflicted' with odd symptoms. Blame was given to three women quickly deemed witches (History of MA.)
  • Ann was most heavily involved with the case of Rebecca Nurse. Nurse had land neighboring the Putnam's, being a constant topic of argument. Nurse was also highly vocal with her opinions on the girls' truthfulness, leading historians to speculation of the Putnam's motives when Rebecca Nurse was accused of witchcraft by Ann.
  • Of the 62 people Ann accused, 17 were executed, one was tortured to death, one died in jail, and the rest were either never charged, found not guilty, pardoned or escaped from jail (History of MA.)
  • Ann's parents abruptly died in 1699, leaving her to care for her siblings aging from seven months to sixteen years. She never married and remained in Salem for the rest of her life.
  • In 1706, Ann wanted to join the Salem Village Church, but had to first confess any wrongdoings. In a public apology, Ann became the only of the afflicted girls to ever give an apology for her actions and accusations in the previous trials (History of MA.)

Tituba:

  • Tituba was the Indian woman who served the Parris household with her husband John.
  • One of the first accused in the trials of 1692, Tituba allegedly practiced voodoo and taught the afflicted girls about fortune telling, but there is no evidence of this (History of MA.)
  • Tituba and her husband helped Mary Sibley bake a witch cake. When the girls symptoms became worse, they accused Tituba and two others for afflicting them, causing the women to be promptly arrested.
  • It is possible the affair could've been ended then and there. But, during Tituba's examination, she provided a list of names, accusing others and sparking a massive witch hunt (History of MA.)
  • Tituba made confessions of conversations with evil pigs and dogs and seeing Sarah Good and Sarah Osbourne turn into creatures with wings. Some sources say she only made these confessions after being beaten by Rev. Parris. Also, knowing a confession could save her life in addition to her low social standing, Tituba had nothing to lose.
  • On May 6, 1962, Tituba was found not guilty by a grand jury due to lack of evidence. Yet, the woman remained in jail because Rev. Parris refused to pay her jail fees. In April of 1693, she was sold to an unknown buyer for only the price of her jail fees. She was most likely purchased with her husband; Puritans were reluctant to separate married couples (History of MA.)

Contrast

  1. I think the largest difference in the play and history is that of Abigail and John's age. Abigail was eleven and John was sixty during the time of the trials, making an affair highly unlikely. If this encounter was false, it was also unlikely that John and Elizabeth were dealing with distance at the time. They were probably aware that she was pregnant a good bit before her arrest. This would also mean Abigail had much less of a motive to have Elizabeth out of the way.
  2. Another difference in The Crucible and my research was the death of Giles Corey. While it was pressing in both cases, his dying words were reported very differently. In the play, he is seen as a martyr. When given one last chance to confess, he said "More weight," through gritted teeth, showing he would not break. But, according to The Man of Iron, Giles' final words were a plea for more weight, knowing it would bring about a quicker death. Also, it was more of a last-ditch effort to 'stick it to the man' because most of his land had already been taken, rather than a noble effort to preserve his childrens' inheritance.
  3. Another significant difference was the offspring of the Putnam family. In The Crucible, The Putnam's had only one living child, Ruth, who had similar behavior as Betty Parris. The grief of losing many children caused Ann Putnam to send Ruth to voodoo, looking for the murderer of her babies. This linked Ruth to the accusatory girls and gave her a reason to share afflictions with Betty. In reality, The Putnams had ten children. This provides no motive for the actions of Ann Putnam Jr. (also known as Ruth in The Crucible.) In addition, the Putnam's were among Rev. Parris' biggest accusers in The Crucible, but in reality were among his biggest supporters, accusing those who felt otherwise (History of MA.)

Compare

McCarthyism:

McCarthyism is stated by dictionary.com to be 'the practice of making unfair allegations or using unfair investigative techniques, especially in order to restrict dissent or political criticism.' Wisconsin Senator Joseph McCarthy's claim to fame was his attempt to fish out high-positioned Communists in America. The 1950's was a time when the U.S. Constitution's promises were forgotten (U.S.History.) Its comparison to The Salem Witch Trials can be summed up in this statement from Encyclopedia Britannica: "Although he failed to make a plausible case against anyone, his colorful and cleverly presented accusations drove some persons out of their jobs and brought popular condemnation to others."

Sen. Joseph McCarthy

The House Un-American Activities Committee:

"The House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) was created in 1938 to investigate alleged disloyalty and subversive activities on the part of private citizens, public employees, and those organizations suspected of having Communist ties" (CCAS.) Citizens were called into high-profile hearings before congress, creating an intimidating atmosphere. Often, dramatic yet questionable ideas were unearthed about Communists infiltrating American institutions (history.com.) This to me has similarities to Thomas Putnam and his gang of men who would accuse innocent people of witchcraft. Putnam wrote most of the girls' depositions, usually paraphrasing in his own words. Many believe he was making accusations to fit a personal agenda.

Miller's Personal Experience:

"When the U.S. government sought to suppress Communism and radical leftist activity in America," Arthur Miller was compelled to write The Crucible (None Without Sin.) When his close friend, Elia Kazan testified in front of the HUAC, Miller traveled to Salem to search the trials. In Kazan's controversial testimony, names were given of peers with Leftist cause ties. Miller used The Crucible as an allegory to the Red Scare of the 1950's (None Without Sin.)

Works Cited

"Abigail Williams: The Mysterious Afflicted Girl." History of Massachusetts. N.p., 23 Aug. 2016. Web. 13 Feb. 2017.

Achter, Paul J. "McCarthyism." Encyclopædia Britannica. Encyclopædia Britannica, inc., 28 Nov. 2016. Web. 13 Feb. 2017.

"Ann Putnam, Jr: Villain or Victim?" History of Massachusetts. N.p., 12 Feb. 2017. Web. 14 Feb. 2017.

"Betty Parris: First Afflicted Girl of the Salem Witch Trials." History of Massachusetts. N.p., 12 Feb. 2017. Web. 13 Feb. 2017.

"Elizabeth Proctor: The Salem Witch Trials Widow." History of Massachusetts. N.p., 20 Aug. 2016. Web. 13 Feb. 2017.

"Encephalitis: Diagnosis, Symptoms and Treatment." Medical News Today. MediLexicon International, n.d. Web. 09 Feb. 2017.

"Ergot of rye." Ergot of rye. N.p., n.d. Web. 09 Feb. 2017.

"First Salem witch hanging." History.com. A&E Television Networks, n.d. Web. 09 Feb. 2017.

"Francis Nurse (1618-1695)." Familypedia. N.p., n.d. Web. 14 Feb. 2017.

"Giles Corey and the Salem Witchcraft Trials." Giles Corey and the Salem Witchcraft Trials. N.p., n.d. Web. 13 Feb. 2017.

"House Un-American Activities Committee." House Un-American Activities Committee. N.p., n.d. Web. 13 Feb. 2017.

History.com Staff. "HUAC." History.com. A&E Television Networks, 2009. Web. 13 Feb. 2017.

"John Proctor." History of Massachusetts. N.p., 12 Feb. 2017. Web. 13 Feb. 2017.

"LSD." The Free Dictionary. Farlex, n.d. Web. 08 Feb. 2017.

"Martha Corey: Gospel Woman or Gospel Witch?" History of Massachusetts. N.p., 21 Aug. 2016. Web. 10 Feb. 2017.

"McCarthyism." Dictionary.com. Dictionary.com, n.d. Web. 13 Feb. 2017.

"McCarthyism." Ushistory.org. Independence Hall Association, n.d. Web. 13 Feb. 2017.

"Reverend Samuel Parris: Was He to Blame for the Salem Witch Trials?" History of Massachusetts. N.p., 13 Aug. 2016. Web. 13 Feb. 2017.

"Signs and Symptoms of Untreated Lyme Disease." Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 26 Oct. 2016. Web. 09 Feb. 2017.

"The Salem Witchcraft Site." Salem Village Divided. N.p., n.d. Web. 09 Feb. 2017.

"The Salem Witchcraft Site." Salem Village History. N.p., n.d. Web. 09 Feb. 2017.

"The Salem Witchcraft Site." SV Church. N.p., n.d. Web. 09 Feb. 2017.

"The Trial of Rebecca Nurse." History of Massachusetts. N.p., 20 Aug. 2016. Web. 14 Feb. 2017.

"Thomas Putnam: Ringleader of the Salem Witch Hunt?" History of Massachusetts. N.p., 12 Feb. 2017. Web. 14 Feb. 2017.

"Tituba: The Slave of Salem." History of Massachusetts. N.p., 13 Aug. 2016. Web. 13 Feb. 2017.

"Transmission." Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 04 Mar. 2015. Web. 09 Feb. 2017.

"Why Arthur Miller Wrote “The Crucible”." PBS. PBS, n.d. Web. 14 Feb. 2017.

Made with Adobe Slate

Make your words and images move.

Get Slate

Report Abuse

If you feel that this video content violates the Adobe Terms of Use, you may report this content by filling out this quick form.

To report a Copyright Violation, please follow Section 17 in the Terms of Use.