One of the most fascinating aspects of the Salem Witch Trials is how quickly the trials and prosecutions progressed. The year 1692, in Salem Village, was chaotic to say the absolute least. In that one year, 156 people were accused. The trials and accusations were a snowball effect. Once they started, the paranoia grew as well as the accusations, jailings, and convictions.
In January of 1692, two young girls, Betty (age 9) and Abagail (age 11) began strange behavior - having convulsions, not being able to move, having no reactions to anything. And, keep in mind, this was all happening within the Ministers home. After the word spread in Salem, other young girls began acting similarly.
By February, Dr. William Griggs was called to check out the girls and with no medical explanation, claimed them to be "under an evil hand." After the diagnosis, Mary Sibley was asked to make a urine cake to rid the girls of the Devil. Once the cake was made, Mary was brought in front of the congregation and publicly chastisied because the urine cake was seen as an act of countermagic. The girls accused of being under an "evil hand" were brought to the Ministers house shortly after and forced to name the witches who had spelled them. The young girls accused Tituba, Sarah Good, and Sarah Osborne. These women were all already outcasts of society in different ways, so the community wasn't shocked to hear their names. Tituba actually confessed to being a witch and warned that "witches are among you," and then was sent to be jailed in Boston.
By the spring of 1692, women and (some) men were getting accused of witchcraft left and right. Like I said, it was a total snowball effect. Once the three women were accused, it semeed everyone in Salem became a witch, or knew a witch, or had witnessed witchcraft. Everyone was suspicious of everyone. The paranoia was so high that in April, a 4 year old was even accused of witchcraft.
In May, Governor Phips returned to Salem to set up a kind of court system for the trials that had started piling up. This court was 7 judges who would hear and determine the innocence or guilt of the accused. These judges were all biased (of course) and were all eager to get anyone practicing witchcraft into a jail cell. After the very first trial with the new court system, Bridget Bishop was put on trial and hanged, and immediately afterwards a juror retired due to this decision.
In the following months, the accusations, trials, and deaths continued and grew in numbers. People who in jail, would confess and then take back their confession, as well, which only added to the confusion. The summer was a hysteric time in Salem due to the witch trials.
By the fall, reason started to set in little by little and Governor Phips finally ruled that spectral evidence could no longer be used in these cases. This was a ground breaking decision in that in ruled out many peoples accusations. In October, even Governor Phips' wife was accused of witchcraft and for many, that was a turning point in realizing that these accusations were not entirely truthful. By the last trial in Salem, the magistrates were embarrassed more than anything and even publicly apologized.
Looking back on the Salem Witch Trials, it is truly fascinating to me that things spiraled out of control so quickly. Although the consequences of the trials lasted much longer than just a year, the trials came to an abrupt end when the community finally realized how out of control the situation had gotten. Once the wives of Governor Phips and even the Reverend had gotten accused, it became clear that these accusations were more or less shots in the dark to anyone in the community.