…in 1692, five people were hanged in Salem, Massachussetts after being convicted of witchcraft. Fourteen more were executed for the crime that year, and a further 150 were imprisoned.
The hysteria began in February 1692 when nine year old Betty Parris and her eleven year old cousin Abigail Williams began to have strange fits – screaming, throwing things around the room, uttering strange sounds and contorting themselves into peculiar positions. They also complained of being pinched and pricked with pins, although no physical evidence of any ailment could be found. Other young women in the village began to exhibit similar behaviours, and soon a merciless witch-hunt began to find the source of the girls’ misery.
The horror of the Salem witch trials is captured brilliantly in Arthur Miller’s play ‘The Crucible,’ first published in 1953. His protagonist, John Proctor, was one of the five executed for witch-craft on this day.