Tonight, my special guest returning to the show is author Rebecca F. Pittman to discuss the infamous Salem Witch Trails.


In 1692, a small village in Salem, Massachusetts, was suddenly attacked by the specters of flying witches and all manner of evil. A group of young girls began "crying out" against their neighbors and family members. By the time it was over, nineteen people were hanged, one man crushed to death, and five succumbed to the ordeal of imprisonment. Today, despite the plague of witchcraft that had inflicted England, we still look at this one isolated incident of hysteria and madness, and ask "How did this happen?" This book offers answers to that question, along with exclusive interviews with the Salem Witch Trial's top experts. The book includes never-before-seen photographs and information about Proctor's Ledge from the experts and historians who located the actual site of the hangings. A focus on the paranormal activity happening in Salem is offered in The Haunting section. You will also find a nod to Hocus Pocus and other movies. Spotlights on the best lodging, restaurants, and tourist attractions are also listed, along with maps, and websites for further study. Rebecca F. Pittman is a best-selling author of 13 books, including The History & Haunting of Lizzie Borden, The History and Haunting of Salem, and many more. Her love of mysteries has found her on multiple TV and radio programs. Her website is, where you can sign up for her free Ghost Writings newsletter.


More History On The Salem Witch Trials:

The Salem witch trials were a series of hearings and prosecutions of people accused of witchcraft in colonial Massachusetts between February 1692 and May 1693. More than 200 people were accused. Thirty people were found guilty, 19 of whom were executed by hanging (14 women and five men). One other man, Giles Corey, was pressed to death after refusing to enter a plea, and at least five people died in jail.[1]

Arrests were made in numerous towns beyond Salem and Salem Village (known today as Danvers), notably Andover and Topsfield. The grand juries and trials for this capital crime were conducted by a Court of Oyer and Terminer in 1692 and by a Superior Court of Judicature in 1693, both held in Salem Town, where the hangings also took place. It was the deadliest witch hunt in the history of colonial North America. Only fourteen other women and two men had been executed in Massachusetts and Connecticut during the 17th century.[2]

The episode is one of Colonial America's most notorious cases of mass hysteria. It was not unique, but a colonial manifestation of the much broader phenomenon of witch trials in the early modern period, which took the lives of tens-of-thousands in Europe. In America, Salem's events have been used in political rhetoric and popular literature as a vivid cautionary tale about the dangers of isolation, religious extremism, false accusations, and lapses in due process.[3] Many historians consider the lasting effects of the trials to have been highly influential in the history of the United States. According to historian George Lincoln Burr, "the Salem witchcraft was the rock on which the theocracy shattered."[4]

At the 300th anniversary events in 1992 to commemorate the victims of the trials, a park was dedicated in Salem and a memorial in Danvers. In 1957, an act passed by the Massachusetts legislature absolved six people,[5] while another one, passed in 2001, absolved five other victims.[6] As of 2004, there was still talk about exonerating all of the victims,[7] though some think that happened in the 18th century as the Massachusetts colonial legislature was asked to reverse the attainders of "George Burroughs and others".[8]In January 2016, the University of Virginia announced its Gallows Hill Project team had determined the execution site in Salem, where the 19 "witches" had been hanged. The city dedicated the Proctor's Ledge Memorial to the victims there in 2017.[9][10]


While witch trials had begun to fade out across much of Europe by the mid-17th century, they continued on the fringes of Europe and in the American Colonies. The events in 1692–1693 in Salem became a brief outburst of a sort of hysteria in the New World, while the practice was already waning in most of Europe.

In 1668, in Against Modern Sadducism,[11] Joseph Glanvill claimed that he could prove the existence of witches and ghosts of the supernatural realm. Glanvill wrote about the "denial of the bodily resurrection, and the [supernatural] spirits."[12]

In his treatise, Glanvill claimed that ingenious men should believe in witches and apparitions; if they doubted the reality of spirits, they not only denied demons but also the almighty God. Glanvill wanted to prove that the supernatural could not be denied; those who did deny apparitions were considered heretics, for it also disproved their beliefs in angels.[12] Works by men such as Glanvill and Cotton Mather tried to prove that "demons were alive."[13]



The trials were started after people had been accused of witchcraft, primarily by teenage girls such as Elizabeth Hubbard, 17, as well as some who were younger.[14] Dorothy Good was four or five years old when she was accused of witchcraft.[15]

Recorded witchcraft executions in New England

The earliest recorded witchcraft execution was that of Alse Young in 1647 in Hartford, Connecticut, the start of the Connecticut Witch Trials which lasted until 1663. Historian Clarence F. Jewett included a list of other people executed in New England in his 1881 book.[16]

Political context

New England had been settled by religious dissenters seeking to build a Bible-based society according to their own chosen discipline.[17] The original 1629 Royal Charter of the Massachusetts Bay Colony was vacated in 1684,[18] after which King James II installed Sir Edmund Andros as the governor of the Dominion of New England. Andros was ousted in 1689 after the "Glorious Revolution" in England replaced the Catholic James II with the Protestant co-rulers William and Mary.

Simon Bradstreet and Thomas Danforth, the colony's last leaders under the old charter, resumed their posts as governor and deputy governor, but lacked constitutional authority to rule because the old charter had been vacated. At the same time, tensions erupted between English colonists settling in "the Eastward" (the present-day coast of Maine) and French-supported Wabanaki Indians of that territory in what came to be known as King William's War. This was 13 years after the devastating King Philip's War with the Wampanoag and other indigenous tribes in southern and western New England. In October 1690, Sir William Phips led an unsuccessful attack on French-held Quebec. Between 1689 and 1692, Native Americans continued to attack many English settlements along the Maine coast, leading to the abandonment of some of the settlements and resulting in a flood of refugees into areas like Essex County.[19]

A new charter for the enlarged Province of Massachusetts Bay was given final approval in England on October 16, 1691. Increase Mather had been working on obtaining the charter for four years, with William Phips often joining him in London and helping him gain entry to Whitehall.[20] Increase Mather had published a book on witchcraft in 1684 and his son Cotton Mather published one in 1689. Increase Mather brought out a London edition of his son's book in 1690. Increase Mather claimed to have picked all the men to be included in the new government. News of Mather's charter and the appointment of Phips as the new governor had reached Boston by late January,[21] and a copy of the new charter reached Boston on February 8, 1692.[22] Phips arrived in Boston on May 14[23] and was sworn in as governor two days later, along with Lieutenant Governor William Stoughton.[24] One of the first orders of business for the new governor and council on May 27, 1692, was the formal nomination of county justices of the peace, sheriffs, and the commission of a Special Court of Oyer and Terminer to handle the large numbers of people who were "thronging" the jails.[2



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