The first three Salem witches

Tituba, Sarah Good, and Sarah Osborne

On February 29, 1692, Salem villagers Thomas and Edward Putnam, Joseph Hutchinson, and Thomas Preston together swore official complaints in court against Tituba, Sarah Good, and Sarah Osborne. These men were all supporters of Samuel Parris, who said that Betty and Abigail had identified the women as witches. Besides Tituba, thirty-nine-year-old Sarah Good was the first person to be accused. According to The Salem Witch Trials Ann Putnam, Jr. swore to Magistrates John Hathorne and Johnathan Corwin that she been plagued by an "apparition of Sarah Good which did torture [her] most grievously." She claimed the apparition then pinched and pricked her for days, while urging her to become a witch. Putnam also said she had witnessed Good doing the same things to other girls, who all confirmed her charges for the magistrates. The three accused witches were taken to jail on March 1 and exam

Once the witchcraft hysteria started no one was safe from being accused.

Reproduced by permission of the Corbis Corporation (Bellevue).

ined for marks by the magistrates. On this fateful day, Tituba readily confessed to the crime of witchcraft and proclaimed the guilt of Good and Osborne as well. Perhaps she thought she stood a better chance of being released if she admitted to a relationship with Satan and accused the other women of evil acts.

Sarah Good's unlucky past

Sarah Good was pregnant, widowed, and poor, with a four-year-old child at the time charges of witchcraft were brought against her. She had had an extremely difficult life. In 1672, when she was a teenager, her father, John Solart, committed suicide and brought scorn and suspicion on his family. The Solarts were living in nearby Wendham village, and they were one of many families involved in disputes over land rights that had caused divisions between Salem Town and Salem Village. Solart's widow remarried, but she refused to share most of his estate with their seven children, leaving them to fend for themselves. Sarah managed to get a few acres of her mother's property near Salem Village, then married Daniel Poole, an indentured servant (one who signs a contract to work for an employer for a specified length of time). Poole died almost immediately, leaving Sarah deeply in debt. When she married William Good, Poole's creditors seized their land as payment for Poole's debts. Now homeless, the Goods begged for food and shelter. Sarah also began to age beyond her years because her life had been so stressful: village records reveal that when she was in her late thirties she appeared to be around seventy years old. Sarah Good's present circumstances and family history made her a prime candidate for accusations of witchcraft. Once she was charged, she could not refute the "spectral evidence"—proof of association with evil spirits— that was the primary weapon against her. Court records show that the magistrates bullied Good and accepted accusations made by Betty Parris and Abigail Williams, even though there was a lack of physical evidence.

Sarah Osborne falls prey to suspicion

When Sarah Good was first examined by the magistrates, she denied the charges against her. Moreover, she announced that Sarah Osborne was responsible for the fits experienced by Betty and Abigail, thus confirming the girls'

The Psychology of Fear and Punishment

Modern psychologists who study the mind and behavior have classified the experiences of the girls in the Parris household as typical hysteria, more specifically a condition called conversion reaction. This condition occurs in situations in which the victim is terrified of being discovered and punished for some crime, usually imagined. Common in children who have been severely beaten or sexually abused, conversion reaction reflects both an individual experience and a response to the psychological environment of an entire community. In the Parris case, the girls most likely became immersed in the drama of Tituba's stories while feeling ashamed and frightened about being disobedient. They must have been frightened of the "evil" they had conjured up, and were terrified of what Reverend Parris might do to them if he found out they had "invited" trouble into his home. The fear they experienced the day they saw the image of a coffin in water would have certainly been enough to put them into a state of deep hysteria.

Indeed, the girls went through the typical stages of hysteria, starting with a preliminary phase of anxious self-reflection or worrying about their "sins." At this point they realized that they were endangering their own spiritual condition and possibly angering God. This led to the onset phase, which is characterized by fainting, wailing, and broken speech. These symptoms intensified when people became alarmed at the strange behavior of the girls, who then began to have visions of witches. Next was the acute phase, during which the girls experienced intense physical sensations. For instance, they felt like they were burning or being pinched by demons. They also thought they could fly, contorted themselves into strange positions, and acted out interactions with witches. A final stage, known as intermission, punctuated the acute phase with moments of calm or deep depression that came and went for hours or days at a time.

accusations. Osborne was a frail sixty-nine-year-old invalid who also came under suspicion because of land disputes. Her first husband, Robert Prince, had been a successful and active citizen who owned over 150 acres of land along a controversial dividing line between Salem Village and the adjacent (next) town of Topsfield. When Prince died, Sarah married their indentured servant John Osborne and tried to change the terms of her dead husband's will. Prince had specified that his two sons, who were only two and six years old at the time of his death, should take over the land when they became adults. He had appointed Thomas and John Putnam, his in-laws, to supervise the trust. Sarah's attempt to change the will put her in direct opposition to the powerful Putnams and raised suspicions about her character. To make matters worse, neither Sarah Good nor Sarah Osborne attended the Salem Village church. Tituba and the two Sarahs were presumed guilty prior to any formal court hearing. They were sent to a Boston jail on March 7, 1692, to await the beginning of the first official Salem trials.

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