Judges and accusers show minimal guilt

Hell Really Exists

Hell Really Exists

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Eventually a few judges hinted at apologies for their roles in the trials, but they did not assume any real guilt. For instance, Massachusetts governor William Phipps conveniently blamed his lieutenant governor, William Stoughton, who had served as a judge (see Chapter 4). As early as 1693 Phipps wrote a letter to the British government, quoted by Frances Hill in A Delusion of Satan, claiming that Stoughton "Hath from the beginning hurried on these matters with great precipitancy [haste] and by his warrant hath caused the estates, goods, and chattels [movable property] of the executed to be seized and disposed of without my knowledge or consent." Plagued by poor harvests and mild disasters since the onset of the trials, Puritan leaders had begun to worry that God might be punishing them. Consequently some officials made earnest attempts to address the issue. The Massachusetts legislature declared January 14, 1697 a Day of Fasting to commemorate the victims of the trials. On this day, twelve trial jurors signed a petition admitting that they had convicted and condemned people to death on the basis of insufficient evidence. The document stated:

We do therefore hereby signify to all in general (and to the surviving sufferers in especial) . . . that we were sadly deluded and mistaken, for which we are much disquieted and distressed in our minds; and do therefore humbly beg for forgiveness. . . . We do heartily ask forgiveness from you all, whom we have justly offended, and do declare to our present minds, we would none of us do such things again on such grounds for the whole world, praying you to accept this in satisfaction for our offense, and that you would bless the inheritance of the Lord, that he may be entreated for the land. (From Hill, Frances, A Delusion of Satan, p. 99.)

The most emotional plea for forgiveness came from Samuel Sewall (see biography and primary source entries), one of the magistrates (judges). He went a step further than the jurors by "Taking the blame and shame of it" and asking God to forgive him for his role in the trials. As related in A Delusion of Satan, as Sewall stood in front of the congregation of Old South Church in Boston, Massachusetts, his apology was read aloud by Reverend Samuel Willard. Sewall begged God to spare

Words to Know bigot: an extrememly prejudiced person compensation: payment discontent: unhappiness hallmark: a distinguishing characteristic motive: reason optimism: belief that the future holds good things outwit: outsmart rationalism: beliefs based on facts, reason, and logic reclusive: preferring to be alone scapegoat: someone or something that is blamed for everything rather than the person or thing that is really at fault scrutiny: careful inspection stigma: a mental feeling of shame

Samuel Parris Leaves Town

In the wake of the trials Samuel Parris, minister of the Salem Village church, attempted in vain to clear his name and retain his position in the community. As noted in A Delusion of Satan, he pointed to the role that deep social conflicts had played in the trials: "I beg, entreat, and beseech you Satan, the Devil . . . may no longer be served by us, by our envy and strifes . . . but that all from this day forward may be covered with the mantle of love and may on all hands forgive each other heartily, sincerely and thoroughly, as we do hope and pray that God, for Christ's sake, would forgive each of ourselves."

In the end, however, Parris deflected the blame onto Satan rather than himself and the Putnam family, all of whom actively promoted the witch hunts and executions. It was too late: his old rivals united with people who had been victimized by the trials and accused Parris of pressuring the judges to accept spectral evidence (claims of seeing a person's spirit committing a foul act which, though unprovable, was used to send a number of people to their deaths). On November 26, 1694, Parris made another speech in the Salem Village church, this time admitting he had been wrong to believe in spectral evidence. Nevertheless, he still tried to hold onto the deeds to the parsonage and parish lands granted him when he came to teh village (see Chapter 3), but his desperation dealt the final blow to his career. In September 1697 a council of ministers forced him to resign and leave Salem.

the rest of the community and to place the punishment on him instead. Yet even Sewall blamed the trickery of Satan, not the true culprits: the deep social conflicts in Salem and the lies told by Elizabeth Parris, Abigail Williams, and the other girls. "Whatever mistakes on either hand have been fallen into, either by the body of this people or any orders of men [they were a] tragedy raised upon us by Satan and his instruments," he maintained. Nonetheless, for the rest of his life Sewall observed a day of fasting each year in atonement for his sins.

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