Salem Witches :: Red Scare Katie Swinson

Historical Account of the Witch Trials

For the most part, the Crucible did a very good job at illustrating what happened during the Salem Witch Trials, but there are still things that are not accurately represented in the play. The real Salem Witch Trials took place from June of 1692 into the following year's early months in which people were overtaken by a mass frenzy of paranoia towards members of the small community in Salem, Massachusetts due to suspicion of witchcraft activity (Ellis, 3). The whole of the witchcraft craze was brought on by the “possession” of some girls, Betty and Abigail, in the village and escalated from there after Tituba, the girls' father's house slave, confessed as well as accused countless others. Following that neighbor after neighbor accusing each other of wrongful witchcraft (Brooks, History of Mass). Many of these accused and accusers we are familiar with from the Crucible.

Residents of Salem arguing and accusing each other.
Young girl who just recently got accused of being a witch.

Theories as to Why the Trials Occurred

1) Strain on the Town's Resources and Rivalries: There was a growth in the town population that occurred because troops were entering the town on the grounds to fight against France during the King William’s War (A Brief History of the Salem Witch Trials). The increased population meant that there needed to be an increase in resources, which was especially challenging because of the Winter season. This strain on the town’s resources and economy resulted in families fighting and disagreeing with other neighboring ones; creating a lot of tension in the town (A Brief History of the Salem Witch Trials).

2) Boredom: Seeing that the town probably lacked a lot of the entertainment value that we have in our everyday lives, the girls who claimed to be possessed and played it off like they were fill with devil spirits were probably only after a little bit of fun (History Lists). They gained their form of entertainment this way.

3) Strong Belief in the Occult: The threat of witchcraft was not a joke to the Puritans living during that time so when adversity began to wreck the town and the people living there, it was reasonable for them to blame it on witches (History Lists).

4) Ergot Poisoning: After examining the environmental conditions during the time of the Salem Witch Trials, it seemed that there was a very good window for the fungus of ergot to grow on some of the grains grown in the area (History Lists). History Lists states that this fungus would in turn cause the girls to begin having "hallucinations and convulsions," both things that the girls did end up reportedly having.

Character real-Life Comparisons

Giles and Martha Corey (Giles Corey and the Salem Witch Trails)

Similarly to the play, the Coreys were wrongful victims of the girls of Salem who claimed to be possessed. The girls started off with accusing Martha Corey of witchcraft after they became aware that she had questioned the validity of the girls' accusations. After the accusation of his wife, Giles tried to defend her in an effort to prevent his wife's death which only made him a suspect of witchcraft as result. They were both important figures in the town as well as Godly people which is why it was a surprise they were accused. In the end, Martha Corey did hang and the description of how Giles denied to make a plea and was killed by heavy stones was accurate. He did beg for more weight in the seconds before he finally passed, showing his extreme bravery that was strong despite the circumstances.

John and Elizabeth Proctor (Elizabeth Proctor: The Salem Witch Trial Widow)

John and Elizabeth were basically the main characters in the play. They were both really accused of witchcraft after they made their suspicions of the girls' possession and bewitched-ness public, seeing that Mary Warren (who worked on their estate in real life and in the play) was acting out and they thought it was just a sham. As for the affair between John and Abigail though, John was 60 and Abigail was 11 so that does not seem like a historically accurate part of the play. Elizabeth was first to be convicted of witchcraft and then later her husband, who was trying to defend her reputation, was also accused similarly to what happened to the Coreys. An accurate part of the play was that Elizabeth truly was pregnant at the time and her hanging was postponed because of that. John though was hanged in August of that year despite his efforts to try and post pone his execution too. Elizabeth was eventually released but was not left with much because she was not mentioned in the will of her husband. Later she got some belongings of her husband.

Abigail Williams (Abigail Williams: The Mysterious Afflicted Girl)

Abigail Williams was the crazy teenage girl dancing in the woods and drinking blood with the goal to kill the woman the man she was "in love" with was married to in Miller's "The Crucible." The latter half about drinking blood to kill Elizabeth Proctor was completely inaccurate though and just added for a dramatic story line in the play. Abby was actually an 11 year old girl who was claiming to be bewitched along with many of the other young girls in the town. She accused around 57 people of witchcraft, according to Rebecca Brooks ; all of those people being forced to rot in jail for months because of her insane accusations. After the trails began to die down, there are no records of what happened in her later life. People who have researched her and tried to figure out where she went and what she did but most efforts are in vain.

Reverend Parris and Betty Parris (Reverend Samuel Parris: Was He to Blame for the Salem Witch Trials?) (Betty Parris: First Afflicted Girl of the Salem Witch Trials)

Rev. Parris was a retired sugar merchant who had lived in Barbados with his family before he moved to Massachusetts to study at Harvard. He then became a minister in the town of Salem. As Rebecca Beatrice states, he may very well had been one of the main causes behind the severity of the trails and his daughter, Betty Parris, being one of the first if not the first girl's to put on the bewitchery show. The Reverend testified against many of the accused, which led to the hanging of some of those innocent people. It is not known whether or not he actively accused people of witchcraft but he definitely did not help the problem by trying to prove the people guilty. After the trials ended though and the hangings were over, there was a division among the town and he was eventually driven out. Betty Parris, who was one of the main accusers along with her cousin Abigail, was actually about 9 and as previously stated was one of the worst about accusing people. When the Reverend moved away, Betty who was only a child went with him and eventually married and had four children. She died at 77.

Francis and Rebecca Nurse (Rebecca Nurse)

Rebecca Nurse was one of the accused witches. She was an older woman being 71 at the time of the trials. She had always been a pious, gentle and kind woman which is why it was so shocking that she had been accused of witchcraft in the town. There was a lot of back and forth about whether or not Nurse was guilty and the Magistrate who was in charge of her trail even tried to give her a "not guilty" ruling that only made those who were in favor of her hanging more suspicious of her guilt. She was hanged on July 19th after being sentenced in late June, which caused the first public cry of opposition of the trials. People just couldn't believe the fact she was a witch from her long time good reputation. Her husband, Francis Nurse, does not have really any existing records on him but he was known for being one of the town's constables and a respected man.

Thomas and Ann Putnam

The Putnams were a very wealthy family in the Salem community and their role in the witch trials was actually pretty big. Together, the Putnam family accused around 100 people of witchcraft. Similar to "The Crucible", a lot of town residents thought that Thomas Putnam was after economic and political gains by involving himself in the trails. His daughter, Ann, was one of the girls who partook in accusing people of witchcraft. She accused the most people and those accusations later resulted in some of their deaths. His wife also accused several people. Not a lot is known about their lives after the trails, but it is known that Thomas dies less than a decade after the trails.

Tituba (Tituba: The Slave of Salem)

Tituba was a slave to Revered Parris during the Salem Witch Trials which was an accurate aspect of Miller's work. The truth about whether or not she was black is questioned though. There are sources that claim that Tituba was of Indian descent and was born in South America, but it is known that she was bought by Parris when his family lived in Barbados. She was among the first accused by Abigail and Betty Parris and she was a good suspect because it was believed she practiced voodoo, similarly to what was believed about her in the play. Another similarity is that when Tituba was being tried, with her confession she named some other women of being guilty of witchcraft. This only heightened the conflict of Salem and sparked even more craziness. Her confession was full of crazy descriptions, but according to Rebecca Brooks Tituba was probably coaxed into confessing after being beaten by Parris. Despite her confession, she still sat in jail for months where she took back her confession and worsened her reputation. She was later sold back into slavery and not much more is known about her.

Real life v.s. crucible

1) John and Abigail's Affair (Arthur Miller's The Crucible: Fact & Fiction)

As previously mentioned, the affair between Abigail and John was probably the biggest misconception of the Crucible. This is not historically accurate in the slightest way. The play claims that Abby worked in the Proctor house until she was fired by an angry Elizabeth Proctor following her discovery of Abby and John's affair. Abby was an eleven year old girl to begin with and John was in his 60's. This age difference makes the affair unlikely even if young women those days married older men. Burns also describes how Miller writes on how Abby worked in the Proctor home, but still that is another inaccurate point. She never worked in the home; only Mary Warren is known to have worked there (Burns).

2) Tituba's Black Ancestory (Arthur Miller's The Crucible: Fact & Fiction)

This was already addressed in the character analysis of Tituba, but it is still one of the major differences from real-life and the story. Tituba was a slave from Barbados which was a popular place for slaves of African descent to end up, but the assumption that she is black from knowing this information is completely inaccurate. I do have to admit that my knowledge of Pirates of the Caribbean and the fact that the slaves in Barbados in that movie were all African led me to believe that it was reasonable for her to be black. Too bad that movie wasn't out when Arthur was alive so I do not know why he put her in the story as black. Burns states that Miller, having the ability to use the characters however he wanted in his work, probably just preferred to have her as a black character. All documentation from the time describes Tituba as an "Amerindian" (Burns). So I think it is reasonable to believe all that documentation and her origins were Spanish-American.

3) Girls Bewitched Behavior

The girls were crazy in "The Crucible" and in real life, but the way the craziness played out was a bit different in real life. The girls are seen in "The Crucible" as being in a restful state; Betty Parris being in a coma as well as the Putnam daughter. This is not true however as to how they appeared at the beginning of their "demon possessions". They started out with violent spasms and fits of screaming and were not restful at all (Livingston). The girls were also not really found dancing in the woods (Burns). This is inaccurate and probably just an element of drama that Miller wanted to add to his story to improve the entertainment value.

McCarthyism & Witch Hunts

"McCarthyism: the practice of accusing someone of being a Communist and therefore avoiding or not trusting them (Cambridge English Dictionary).

Why did Miller write it?

McCarthyism was a huge problem in American during the time period that Arthur Miller was living. The term is named after a senator during the time of the Red Scare who was notorious for his constant accusations of people being communists (McCarthyism). Miller wrote the Crucible in response to the Red Scare and it is basically a giant analogy to the events happening during that time. Miller was inspired to write about the Salem Witch Trails because it was a way he could indirectly display his opposition to the Red Scare and McCarthyism without openly writing about the issue (Why Arthur Miller Wrote "The Crucible"). The accusations McCarthy was making against people during the Red Scare was very directed towards Hollywood and the Playwright community; communities Arthur had friends in and was apart of seeing that he was a playwright. Many of his own friends or acquaintances were wrongly accused of communism and he was tired of the injustice (Why Arthur Miller Wrote "The Crucible"). Through writing the play, he rose awareness on the insanity of McCarthyism by bringing up an event is America history that very much compares to what was going on then that we all mock and find silly today.

How does McCarthyism compare to the Witch Trials? (McCarthyism)

If you refer to the given definition of McCarthyism, you can pretty much just replace the word "communist" with "witch" and that's basically what happened during the witch trials. People were accused let and right of misdemeanors without viable evidence and in turn were not trusted and shunned by the rest of the population. This scared people because it did not matter if you had a history of communistic activities or ties to communistic ideals, you could simply be accused by an angry neighbor and BOOM put in federal prison and granted a ruined reputation. People were constantly put in jail or even sent out of the country due to their ties to communism during the Red Scare which what happened to the accused witches in Salem, minus the hanging part.

The House of Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) was basically another version of the trial officials in charge of trying the accused witches. HUAC was formed in 1938 and went on a long path of trying the accused communists in an effort to clear the country of communism and bad influences. The actions ARE THE SAME for the witch trial judges and court officials so it blows my mind how our country had been so mocking of the Salem Witch Trials but allowed all the wrongful activities of the Red Scare to take place. Only true explanation for how America could let basically the same event of the past happen in a modern setting was the immense fear that was shared during both historical events. Fear can make the masses do crazy and irrational things.

Thanks for reading all of this. Here is the wonderful bibliography :)

"A Brief History of the Salem Witch Trials." Smithsonian.com. Smithsonian Institution, 27 Oct. 2011. Web. 08 Feb. 2017.

Brooks, Rebecca Beatrice. "Abigail Williams: The Mysterious Afflicted Girl." History of Massachusetts. N.p., 23 Aug. 2016. Web. 12 Feb. 2017.

Brooks, Rebecca Beatrice. "Betty Parris: First Afflicted Girl of the Salem Witch Trials." History of Massachusetts. N.p., 13 Aug. 2016. Web. 12 Feb. 2017.

Brooks, Rebecca Beatrice. "Elizabeth Proctor: The Salem Witch Trials Widow." History of Massachusetts. N.p., 20 Aug. 2016. Web. 12 Feb. 2017.

Brooks, Rebecca Beatrice. "History of the Salem Witch Trials." History of Massachusetts. N.p., 19 Nov. 2016. Web. 08 Feb. 2017.

Brooks, Rebecca Beatrice. "Reverend Samuel Parris: Was He to Blame for the Salem Witch Trials?" History of Massachusetts. N.p., 13 Aug. 2016. Web. 12 Feb. 2017.

Brooks, Rebecca Beatrice. "Tituba: The Slave of Salem." History of Massachusetts. N.p., 13 Aug. 2016. Web. 12 Feb. 2017.

Burns, Margo. "Arthur Miller's The Crucible: Fact & Fiction." Arthur Miller's The Crucible: Fact & Fiction. N.p., 1997. Web. 12 Feb. 2017.

Ellis, Lacey. Salem Witch Trials. Tech. N.p., n.d. Web. 7 Feb. 2017.

"Giles Corey and the Salem Witchcraft Trials." Giles Corey and the Salem Witchcraft Trials. N.p., n.d. Web. 09 Feb. 2017.

"List of 5 Possible Causes of the Salem Witch Trials." List of 5 Possible Causes of the Salem Witch Trials - History Lists. N.p., n.d. Web. 08 Feb. 2017.

Livingston, Deborah. "The Salem Witch Trials Vs Arthur Miller's The Crucible." All Articles RSS. N.p., n.d. Web. 12 Feb. 2017.

"McCarthyism Definition in the Cambridge English Dictionary." McCarthyism Definition in the Cambridge English Dictionary. N.p., n.d. Web. 12 Feb. 2017.

"McCarthyism." PBS. PBS, 23 Aug. 2006. Web. 12 Feb. 2017.

"Salem witch trials." Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, n.d. Web. 08 Feb. 2017.

Ray, Benjamin. "Salem Witch Trials Documentary Archive." Salem Witch Trials Documentary Archive. N.p., 2002. Web. 12 Feb. 2017.

"Rebecca Nurse." Rebecca Nurse. N.p., n.d. Web. 12 Feb. 2017.

"Why Arthur Miller Wrote “The Crucible”." PBS. PBS, 3 Sept. 2003. Web. 12 Feb. 2017.

"Witch Trials, Salem, Massachusetts." Witch Trials, Salem, Massachusetts. N.p., n.d. Web. 09 Feb. 2017.

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Katie Swinson
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