Salem Witch Trials and Executions

The pre-trial hearings in the cases of Sarah Good, Sarah Osborne, and Tituba set the stage for the social strife that would soon rip Salem apart. (See Chapter 3 for information on the circumstances that led to the arrests of these three women on witchcraft charges; also see Tituba's biography entry.) At first no one suspected that Tituba, Elizabeth (Betty) Parris, Abigail Williams, and the other young girls could be lying. After all there was "damning evidence": Tituba had confessed to practicing witchcraft, and the girls had clearly been bewitched by Good, Osborne, and Tituba. During the hearing on March 1, 1692, both Good and Osborne denied the charges against them, pleading for justice and fairness. Yet, according to court records, chief magistrate (judge) John Hathorne deliberately invited several girls to identify Osborne as a witch, telling "all the children to stand up and look upon her [Osborne] and see if they did know her which they all did and every one of them said that this was one of the women that did afflict them and that they had constantly seen her in the very habit [clothing] that she was now in."

The accusing girls were immediately seized by such severe fits that their mouths bled and their tongues became stiff.

In desperation, Osborne at first pleaded innocent; she then shifted tactics, claiming, as quoted by Rice, she had been haunted by "an Indian, all black, which did pinch her in her neck." She went on to imply that Tituba had haunted her for several months, repeatedly ordering her to stop attending church. Osborne thus sealed her own fate by focusing attention on the fact that she frequently missed worship services. When the court asked Osborne's husband and neighbors if she had been to church on Sundays in the past few months, they admitted that she was often absent. In attempting to deflect attention onto Tituba, Osborne inadvertently (accidentally) made herself look like a liar and a co-conspirator.

When Tituba was called upon to speak, she not only doomed the two Sarahs but many others as well. Tituba announced that the children had not been bewitched by spirits but instead by the devil himself, who often appeared to her as a tall man carrying a witches' book. According to Tituba, the book contained the names of nine local witches, two of them being Osborne and Good. Tituba's confession was perhaps even more dramatic than the children's fits, for it fed the worst fears of the crowd in the courtroom. She exaggerated her story with fantastic descriptions of riding to Sabbath (mass meeting of witches) with both Sarahs on a broomstick, at which point the girls again began thrashing about in fits. Tituba herself went into a fit and claimed to have become blind, confirming a popular superstition that when a witch gives up her power she loses her sight.

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