During this time Salem was beset by internal conflicts that became crucial to the later witch trials. The six hundred Salem residents lived in two distinctly different communities— Salem Town and Salem Village. The town was located closer to the Atlantic coast and had become a bustling, urban commercial center with many affluent citizens. In contrast, the village was an isolated agricultural hamlet of a few scattered houses and farms. In the winter residents had to walk up to two hours just to go from one side of the village to the other because of the wilderness and harsh weather conditions. Salem villagers were mostly farmers and servants who adhered to more traditional religious and social values than town residents. Community relations were further strained as the town underwent an economic boom and the village remained a struggling settlement. By the early 1690s a marked class division had developed between the town and the village. Discord reached a peak as Salem residents argued about land rights and economic problems. Several other issues contributed to mounting tensions. For instance, Salem leaders argued about when and how men should pass down their property, often setting father against son. They were also trying to determine whether power and authority should stay in the hands of the established elite, or
whether the merchant class could become part of the ruling group. Still another struggle involved deciding how much political power should be shared between the upper and lower classes.
Although Salem Town had political and religious authority over Salem Village, about half of the villagers felt they should rule themselves. Preacher Samuel Parris (see biography entry), a newcomer to the area, was the controversial leader of a group that wanted independence from Salem Town. The villagers who favored self-rule gathered around Parris and his close friends, the Putnams, who owned most of the farming land in Salem Village. In fact, witchcraft accusations started in the Parris household, and many of the accusers were villagers. Targets of the accusations lived in Salem Town or were villagers who did not support the separation movement. Tensions ran so deep that in 1692 Salem was basically dry kindling waiting for a spark to ignite it.
Was this article helpful?