For the 300th anniversary of the Salem Witch Trials in 1992, I researched the history and submitted a proposal for a memorial. This book, “Witch”, completed thirty years later, contains the text below with a list of the 20 convicted and put to death.
In the area surrounding Salem, Massachusetts, between February 1692 and May 1693, more than two hundred people were accused of witchcraft. Belief in the devil was strong in this relatively isolated, extremely religious community and a recent smallpox epidemic, attacks by Indigenous tribes and boundary disputes between neighbors had created a climate of fear and suspicion in which the accusations of a group of primarily young girls were considered credible.
The Court of Oyer (to hear) and Terminer (to determine), was appointed to hear these accusations. At this time, some believed witches were able to physically torment unsuspecting victims and the magistrates decided to allow this controversial use of “spectral evidence” — the appearance of invisible apparitions only the afflicted can see.
The girls acted erratically, told incredible stories about the accused and of their visions. In some instances, perhaps seeking attention or influence, the accusers were clearly fabricating their torment, however their behavior may have been caused by post-traumatic stress or a neurological illness known as conversion disorder. It may also have been the result of ergot toxicosis caused by the consumption of contaminated rye bread. The erratic behaviors and accusations were likely the result of a combination of factors but much damage was done.
Thirty of those accused were found guilty. Fourteen women and five men were hanged. One man, Giles Corey, was pressed to death for refusing to plead and at least five died in jail.
In January of 1693, a new court, the Supreme Court of Judicature, was appointed which no longer accepted spectral evidence. With this standard of evidence gone, most were found not-guilty and released and the few convictions remaining were overturned by the governor.
The episode is one of Colonial America’s most notorious cases of mass hysteria. It has been used as a cautionary tale about the dangers of isolation, religious extremism, false accusations, and lapses in due process.
Fourteen vintage engravings digitally printed over eco-prints on translucent paper and attached at the foredge. 6.5” x 6” closed, 6.5” x 168” open. Collaged board cover. Clay overlay, embossed with the title, affixed to the box.