1692 June 10

Bridget Bishop Hanged; First Victim of Salem Witch Trials

 

Bridget Bishop on this day was the first person executed as a result of the infamous 1692 Salem Witch Trials that continued from February 1692 to May 1693. By the time they ended, twenty people were executed after being convicted as witches. Several others were also convicted but were never executed as the community and Massachusetts Bay colony leaders began to come to their senses. The Salem Witch Trials stand as one of the most infamous examples of hysteria and intolerance in American history.

The interrogation of suspected witches began with the question, “What evil spirit have you familiarity with?” It was echoed during the Cold War when HUAC and other communist-hunters asked, “Are you now or have you ever been a member of the Communist Party?”

Over the years, many different theories to explain the Salem witch hunt hysteria have been offered: mental illness; a medical epidemic; political repression (see the Cold War analogy below); patriarchy; social class tensions; conflict over shifting cultural attitudes among the Puritans; and outright fraud. The energetic debate continues, with two new books published in 2015.

During the Cold War in the 1940s and 1950s, many Americans equated the anti-Communist hysteria with the Salem Witch Trials. The great American playwright Arthur Miller wrote The Crucible, making that equation. The play opened in New York City on January 22, 1953. Miller himself was subject to the anti-Communist “witch hunt.” He was called to testify before the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) on June 21, 1956, and was cited for contempt of Congress when he refused to name other people as Communists. He was convicted of contempt, but the conviction was overturned on August 7, 1958.

Read the best new book on the subject: Stacy Schiff, The Witches: Salem, 1692 (2015)

Read: Mary Beth Norton, In the Devil’s Snare: The Salem Witchcraft Crisis of 1692 (2002)

Visit the memorial to the Salem Witch trials: http://www.salemweb.com/memorial/memorial.shtml

Learn more about the trials: http://law2.umkc.edu/faculty/projects/ftrials/salem/salem.htm

See the film based on Arthur Miller’s play: The Crucible (1996)

Examine original documents from the Salem trials: http://salem.lib.virginia.edu/home.html

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