What happened next

As the witch-hunts continued into October 1692, the jails were continually filled with people accused of being witches and practicing witchcraft. However, by mid-October people seemed to start questioning whether the accused were witches, or whether they had just been "possessed" by the devil. Suddenly the courts were looking at the accused with more caution, as they believed a person possessed was not aware of what evil they were performing. Finally, after the publication of Increase Mather's speech "Cases of Conscience Concerning Evil Spirits Personating Men," which called into question the use of spectral evidence in the witchcraft trials, Massachusetts Governor William Phipps called an end to all witch trials.

As the Salem trials gained momentum and continued into 1693, the Puritan elite began expressing grave doubts about the witch-hunts. In addition to Increase Mather's changing his position on the use of spectral evidence, to condemn people, Increase's son Cotton also changed his mind, eventually supporting his father's view that the witch-hunts had been unjustified. Finally, in 1697, Massachusetts officials concluded that the trials had been a terrible mistake. The governor pardoned all condemned prisoners, and the legislature designated January 14 as a special day of atonement (expression of regret and request for forgiveness). By this time Samuel Sewall deeply regretted the role as judge he had played in the tragedy. Unlike the Mathers, Sewall had not been one of the main promoters of the trials; yet he had cooperated with those in power by sentencing and executing the accused witches. Sewall was so remorseful that he wrote an admission of error and guilt. Then on January 14, the day of atonement, he stood in front of the congregation in the Old South Church at Boston as the Reverend Samuel Willard read Sewall's statement aloud.

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