However, based on the evidence we have, what seems to be pretty well established is that my family probably included numerous people who were involved in virtually ALL aspects of this, the most famous witch hunt in American history. This evidence suggests that at least three of the young women who formed the group of “afflicted/accusers;” ten or more others who were among those accused of witchcraft, but not executed; six or seven of the men who sat as members of the Court of Oyer and Terminer (which “tried” the cases); and several of the leading clergy members from Boston, who offered religious advice to the Court and community, were ALL related to my family in some fashion, albeit not always especially closely.
As my (almost) yearly posts on this topic at about this time each year suggest, I have become interested in the phenomenon of the Salem Witch Hunt and have spent a fair amount of time studying a good number of the various works dealing with it, including reprints of many of the actual records of the various “court” proceedings, etc. I do NOT suggest these as “light” reading, especially since these records are, obviously, written in what is now referred to as “Middle English” (much like the language of the First Folio of Shakespeare) and, having been created during the actual proceedings, are often rather ungrammatical (at least by modern standards); crudely abbreviated and inconsistently spelled. They are NOT easy to read, although I would not trust transcriptions into modern English, as the creation of such “transcriptions” would amount to a translation of the documents, with inevitable interpretation issues, which would, almost certainly, have an impact on their accuracy.
I think it is worth noting that ALL of the victims of the Salem witch hunt have finally been exonerated by the Massachusetts legislature (although it took until the end of July of this year (2022) for that to finally happen). Not too many years after the actual “trials,” however, many of the families of those who were executed were paid (token) compensation for their losses and the general thinking among modern scholars of this historical episode seems to be that the events of Salem were largely a result of personal disputes over land boundaries and local political squabbles, combined with established fears relating to wars with indigenous peoples, etc. That conclusion is not universally accepted, however.
To the best of my knowledge, only one of the accusers remained in the area for an extended period of time after the conclusion of the Salem affair, and she eventually “confessed” that she had wrongly accused some of the victims, although she claimed that “…she had not acted out of malice, but had been deluded by Satan into denouncing innocent people.” (I think this is known as “the Devil made me do it” defense.) Since she made this “confession” in order to become a member of the local church with which her parents had been deeply involved and which was an important center of the community, I admit to being unkind enough to have strong reservations as to the sincerity of this “confession.”
Personally, I suspect that this “confession” may well have been an attempt to quiet suspicions that this individual may have enjoyed the attention and power which being an accuser gained her. It’s quite clear that such attention and power would have been quite unusual for a teen-aged girl in that society. She was 13 when the “hunt” started, and it seems quite plausible that she lied to get and maintain the attention she desired, but, obviously, I can’t prove that.
So, why am I spending all of this time trying to establish some degree of credibility for my thoughts about the Salem Witch Hunt? Well, to be quite blunt, I have grown increasingly tired of a certain group of political figures (who MUST be described as being members of the Party they claim IN NAME ONLY, as they do NOT support the traditional values and ideas of that party) maintaining that OTHER political folk are engaging in what the first group insists on calling a “witch hunt” against them. That, of course, ignores the fact that it is this first group (the one who claims to be being “hunted” by others) who is using the exact tactics used by the accusers during the Salem Trials.
I suspect that they are attempting to use the “witch hunt” idea to claim the idea that THEY (of course) are completely correct in their beliefs and actions so that they are the ones who SHOULD be “hunting” the politically unacceptable characters who disagree with them, but, they claim that they are, in fact, the VICTIMS of a “witch hunt” engaged in by those “other” people. Of course, by claiming to be the victims of a “witch hunt,” they complicate the issue tremendously. Apparently, they would have us believe that the “hunt” is being staged by this undefined and unnamed group of citizens which THEY would like to call the “witches.” However, by claiming to be the innocent accused, they seem to be suggesting that THEY are actually the witches, but, of course, they are the innocent ones, in spite of the fact that THEY are the ones making the accusations. Are YOU confused yet? I have a strong suspicion that that’s the point of this verbal nonsense.
The point of this “witch hunt” talk, of course, is that ideas (other than those of this one group) must be stopped at all cost because they are “unsacred;” “unpatriotic; “unAmerican;” and, probably, fattening. This is, of course, hogwash, as the entirety of the Constitution and the other founding documents were designed to encourage debate, discussion and compromise, because we had had enough of authoritarian, “royal” rule. I am reminded that this same group wishes us to refuse to acknowledge the existence of slavery in the US, or the broken treaties with indigenous people, or the locking up of American citizens of Japanese ancestry during WWII, or a lot of other FACTS of American history because the truth “might make someone feel bad.” I prefer the old idea of “the truth will make you free,” but I guess I’m old fashioned.
In any event, this “witch hunt” notion crops up every so often to provide those who don’t like republican democracy a chance to “hoot and holler and carry on” about how “ONLY THEY” have all of the “correct” answers and the rest of us should just march in goose lock step to their tune. The last time this was tried that comes to my mind was in the early 1950s when the term “witch hunt” reemerged being used in relation to the activities of the House Un-American Activities Committee (which had been around since the late 1930s) and the investigations led by former Republican Senator Joseph McCarthy of Wisconsin , who
… rose suddenly to national fame in February 1950, when he asserted in a speech
that he had a list of "members of the Communist Party and members of a spy ring"
who were employed in the State Department. In succeeding years after his 1950
speech, McCarthy made additional accusations of Communist infiltration into the
State Department, the administration of President Harry S. Truman, the Voice of
America, and the U. S. Army. He also used various charges of communism,
communist sympathies, disloyalty, or sex crimes to attack a number of politicians
and other individuals inside and outside of government. (Wikipedia)
I think it’s worth noting that, to the best of my knowledge, Senator McCarthy NEVER actually produced specific evidence of “spying” in his hearings or speeches, and it is worth noting that it was NOT a crime to belong to the Communist Party in the U. S. until 1954, so McCarthy’s charges related to someone being a member of such a party really had NO legal validity. I would suggest that his accusations had the same importance as accusing someone of being a Mason, for example. (Another “secret” society which has been accused of nefarious deeds over the course of history by a number of groups, despite the fact that a substantial number of our Founding Fathers, including nine signers of the Declaration of Independence, were members.)
I am particularly fond of a quote from Edward R. Murrow, the outstanding radio (later television) news figure, who, while discussing the antics of Senator McCarthy, once said, in part,
We must not confuse dissent with disloyalty. We must remember always that
accusation is not proof and that conviction depends upon evidence and due
process of law. We will not walk in fear, one of another. We will not be driven by
fear into an age of unreason, if we dig deep in our history and our doctrine, and
remember that we are not descended from fearful men—not from men who feared
to write, to speak, to associate and to defend causes that were, for the moment,
As an individual whose family has been made to pay a price for the unsubstantiated claims and persecutions of an ACTUAL witch hunt, I find it unacceptable that the “McCarthy” types of the world should be allowed to attempt to glorify their crude attempts at forcing their opinions and beliefs on our entire society by implying that those they would destroy actually have done something wrong merely because they don’t agree with some particular group.
I find it especially unacceptable for a former President and his followers to deny the basic principle of law that, “Evidence: something legally submitted to a tribunal to ascertain the truth of a matter” is, or should be, required in order to have a meaningful impact on judgements. The current quibble, in some (especially political) circles, that unless something can be proved beyond all possible doubt, it is just a “theory,” just someone’s opinion, is hogwash. A career in teaching forces me to point out that: “A theory is a statement or principle devised to explain a group of facts or phenomena, especially one that has been repeatedly tested or is widely accepted and can be used to make predictions about natural phenomena.” Thus, a theory is something which has NOT been proven beyond all possible doubt, but which seems to explain a phenomena better than any other available alternative. An example might be the Theory of Gravity, which we find handy to explain why, if we jump out a window, we are going to fall until something stops us. It IS a theory, we haven’t proven (or disproven) it, but it seems to works pretty well.
To insist that, after filing many lawsuits declaring that the election was improperly influenced, illegally conducted, rife with fraud, etc.; and having lost every one of these suits due to an inability to produce ANY actual evidence to support these claims, except for the insistence of one of the candidates that “The election MUST have been stolen because that’s the only way I could have lost.” makes about as little sense as can be conceived. In fact, this argument would seem to be only explainable as essentially identical to the “spectral evidence” which was the basis for the accusations and convictions of the Salem trials, which would make these nutcases the perpetrators of the “witch hunt,” not its victims. So, it’s important to understand what is meant by “spectral evidence,” since it seems to be the only “evidence” being offered.
According to US Legal.com (http://definitions.uslegal.com/s/spectral-evidence/):
Spectral evidence refers to a witness testimony that the accused person’s spirit or
spectral shape appeared to him/her witness [sic] in a dream at the time the
accused person’s physical body was at another location. It was accepted in the
courts during the Salem Witch Trials. The evidence was accepted on the basis that
the devil and his minions were powerful enough to send their spirits, or specters,
to pure, religious people in order to lead them astray.
In spectral evidence, the admission of victims’ conjectures is governed only by the
limits of their fears and imaginations, whether or not objectively proven facts are
forthcoming to justify them. [State v. Dustin, 122 N.H. 544, 551 (N.H. 1982)].
I would suggest that this definition was accepted during the Salem affair to allow acceptance of the idea that, if I SAY you sent your spirit/shape/spectre into the world to do harm; then this should be considered as legally acceptable evidence that such an event did, in fact, happen. If that is accepted, then the entire notion of fact: (knowledge or information based on real occurrences) MUST be denied, as we are then defining “reality” as being whatever someone says it is, which seems contrary to the basic concept of law and/or logic.
I must also hasten to point out that the only people who would appear to benefit from the statement that they are the “victims of a witch hunt” would appear to be (as was suspiciously true during the Salem experience) the only people who say that they can “see” the “evidence.” It’s clearly established that only the accusers of Salem saw the “little yellow birds,” and the “black man whispering in the ears of the accused,” and such. In the same light, only those who have declared their intention to overthrow the Presidential election seem to be able to “see” the “clear-cut” evidence of “Massive voter fraud.” (NOTE: I am unaware of ANY challenge to ANY of the other elections which were held at the same time.) Obviously, ALL of the recounts, audits, and court challenges related to the Presidential election were fraudulent, but all OTHER elections were FREE of fraud, as they were never challenged. I suspect there are a lot of crooked politicians who would love to know how THAT was done. As my ancestor, Martha Allen Carrier said in 1692, during the trial which led to her execution during the Salem witch hunt “It is a shamefull (sic) thing that you should mind these folks that are out of their wits.” (From the official record of the examination of Martha Carrier, May 31, 1692. Document #235 in Records of the Salem Witch-Hunt, Bernard Rosenthal, General Editor.)
As this post obviously suggests, I have little patience with the whole notion of the “witch hunt” argument. I think it ranks right up there in stupidity with the “alternative facts” argument as a pseudo-intellectual con. I have never seen anything to suggest that there has EVER been a “witchcraft” trial, from at least the time of Joan of Arc (1431C.E.) to the present, in which it could be successfully demonstrated that actual “witchy” magic was used in some nefarious way to damage someone else. And, considering the “miracles” of Jesus and other Biblical figures, I am forced to suggest that the only real difference between “miracles” and “witchcraft” is public relations. I certainly pray that we will reject the stupidity which the notion of a “witch hunt” represents in the future. After all, this sort of thinking is too reminiscent of the fascination with the occult of so many desperate despots. Such thinking “… is not healthy for children and other living things.”
I’ll be back,
“There can be no keener revelation of a society’s soul than the way in which it treats its children.”
— Nelson Mandela
“Words are, in my not-so-humble opinion, our most inexhaustible source of magic; capable of both inflicting injury, and remedying it.” ― Albus Dumbledore, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows