In the past, we have seen a few episodes of extreme extremism that are not understandable. Some cases are strongly related to a culture, while others are the result of someone or something more powerful, such as someone with influence or power. Salem is one example that stands out. In 1692 dozens, mostly women of that town, were executed for believing in witchcraft. Many primary sources are biased, distorted, and inaccurate. Historians disagree over the cause of the madness because there is no objective information. However, most evidence indicates that a change in the social structure occurring at the same time was the primary cause of hysteria.

Salem, like many other towns in New England, had Puritan churches and a democracy that determined who was elected, appointed as schoolmasters, or discussed any dull matter. As the population of Salem grew, these settlements changed. The new settlers were converted to the puritan belief system, which held that they were the “elect” child of God. The church membership grew dramatically as a result of this growth. The fact that many of them did not share the values and ideals of their original settlers led to a rapid division between “elect” members and the rest. This is an important distinction because this is the very first time the purity of religion has been diluted. As a result, many people think that God’s will is being contested. This disrespect for God’s Word creates hatred for many members of this community.

Salem faced a moral crisis, apart from its population growth. As the community grew, it created a divide between the people who lived in Salem Town and the residents of Salem Village. There is a difference in the economies, but it was really a dispute over lifestyles, not about which was better. It is clear that the accused are separated from the accusers when you look at a map. Salem was a village where moral disagreements were growing. Each side started to move closer to the people who agreed to their point of view. As a result of the unity in views, residents began to create smaller communities. The land had become abandoned and unclaimed by the time of the trial. It was impossible to be neutral in this internal split, because simply being on one side made your morals questionable.

Salem’s mass hysteria was also influenced by the increasing prominence of women in local communities. Although women in puritan societies were granted rights not available anywhere else, they still suffered harsh treatment. There was a distinct difference in the treatment of women and men. In court cases and in this case, “witch’ accusations, simple responses were considered grave offenses. When you’re accused but do not know the perpetrator, it is like admitting guilt. It meant that men were superior to women. Marriage was a condition for women to be allowed to own property, conduct business, and sign contracts. As a result, many people in the community started to be condescending towards women when their husbands were kind or died. The majority of those accused were women. Citizens viewed any change in their rigid structure as unacceptable, particularly if it altered the gender roles.

In the new society, a single accusation is enough to put these women or men on trial. Puritan culture at that time was adamant about the existence of Satan. Seven men and 19 woman were executed for witchcraft during the month-long trials, and over 200 people were also arrested. No one was burned alive at the stake like in European witchcraft trials, but they were all hanged. Salem was a case of ignorance and puritanism that is unique in US history. The purpose of this book is to remind the public that structural change does not always have to be met with negativity, but should instead be met openly.


  • owenbarrett

    I'm Owen Barrett, a 31-year-old educational blogger and traveler. I enjoy writing about the places I've visited and sharing educational content about travel and culture. When I'm not writing or traveling, I like spending time with my family and friends.