Three hundred and twenty-eight years ago, a frightening series of events occurred in what was then the English colony of Massachusetts Bay in the Americas that had far-reaching consequences.
Below, I’m going to tell the same story in two different ways. Both stories use the exact same facts, but they will be presented in different ways.
Story 1 – An Invisible Disease
In February 1692, two little girls became violently ill in a village called Salem. These girls lived in the Parris household, one of the wealthiest in the Massachusetts Bay colony.
The two girls in question were Betty Parris, age 9, who was known as Elizabeth, and her cousin Abigail, age 11. Abigail, however, was more like a sister to Elizabeth as Abigail’s parents had died, and Abigail was being raised in the Parris family home.
Deeply concerned about the two girls’ illness, the family called in the town’s most pre-eminent doctor. After carefully examining the girls, the doctor determined that they had not been physically injured, and they were not suffering from any standard illness.
The doctor’s conclusion was that the two girls had been infected by a powerful virus officially known as “witchcraft”. Although naked to the invisible eye, this virus was what was responsible for all of girls’ symptoms.
A search began immediately to find who in town could have infected the girls. After performing an exhaustive “track and trace” program, the authorities discovered that the girls had been infected by three local women.
All three local women denied being infected and showed no symptoms of illness. Only after several days of intense questioning did one woman, named Tituba, admit to being sick and thus infecting the two little girls.
At this point, other local children also began to exhibit signs of being infected by the virus, including Ann Putnam, Junior, age 12, a close friend of Elizabeth and Abigail.
Ann’s father, Thomas, was from an influential family closely aligned with the Parris family. He decided to spearhead an exhaustive track and trace program throughout the entire colony. Thanks to his and Ann’s diligence, dozens of infectious people were soon identified.
All of them were swiftly put into involuntary quarantine by the local authorities.
At first, the community was relieved, believing that the quarantine system had successfully contained the virus. But then a new outbreak struck the region, and the community panicked.
At this point, a woman in good standing in the community named Martha Corey began to question whether or not a dangerous epidemic was, indeed, occurring because there was so little concrete evidence.
Ann Putnam Jr. and several other girls responded by revealing that Martha Corey, age 72, was a “superspreader,” and Martha, too, was soon put into quarantine. Martha then recanted, but it was to no avail as she was soon found guilty of being infected.
At this point, the authorities declared that a pandemic had struck the colony and that the only way to protect the community was to vaccinate it by executing all of the infected people.
The first person to receive a death sentence was Bridget Bishop. Well-known in the community for her erratic and strange ways, it was widely believed that she had been infected for a long time and had just gone undiagnosed.
Public health authorities then adjourned for three weeks to deliberate whether they should continue the vaccination program. They wrote a letter to Cotton Mather, who was probably the most powerful person in the colony, and asked for his advice.
Cotton Mather wrote a letter in response which said quite plainly that, if infected people were not immediately vaccinated, “a door will be opened for a long train of miserable consequences.”
And responding to concerns over just how accurately viruses could be diagnosed, Cotton Mather said that anyone who doubted the dangerousness of this particular virus was indulging in “fake news” and should be ignored. He then wholeheartedly endorsed the plan to execute all infected people.
The local authorities heeded Mather’s advice.
Throughout the summer of 1692, more than a dozen infected people were executed. But despite the vigor of the vaccination program, the number of cases continued to soar even as it was becoming harder and harder to find anyone who was exhibiting any signs of illness.
At one point, one of the condemned, a man named George Burroughs, gave a powerful speech before his execution that clearly showed that he was perfectly healthy. The crowd began to shed tears, and many people began questioning whether or not George Burroughs was actually sick.
Cotton Mather, who had ridden down from Boston to observe the proceedings, then stood up in his saddle and addressed the crowd. He told them that all the tests had come back conclusive and that if Burroughs didn’t appear to be ill, the crowd should trust the experts because it was easy for non-experts to be fooled.
The crowd relented and Burroughs was executed along with four other people, including Martha Corey.
Martha’s husband Giles, age 81, initially had not believed that his wife was infected as she showed no symptoms. But when presented by the evidence shown to him by the authorities, he had no choice but to sadly accept his wife’s quarantine.
Unfortunately for Giles, a few weeks after his wife was executed, he, too, was diagnosed as being infected with the virus. Knowing for certain that he was perfectly healthy, he protested. The police then moved in and forcibly removed him to a quarantine facility.
The authorities began pressuring Giles to admit that he was infected, but he refused to acknowledge it despite being shown his test results. As such, the authorities kept applying pressure on him until his heart exploded and he died.
Meanwhile, despite having put a large segment of the population in strict lockdown, the number of cases skyrocketed.
Following established medical advice on vaccination from the time, this would mean executing a lot of people, thus destroying the economy, closing all the schools, and severely disrupting normal life for everyone.
Nonetheless, the authorities continue to find more positive cases. But the proceedings came to a swift halt when Mary Phips, the wife of the most powerful politician in the colony (and a close friend of Cotton Mather), was also accused of being infected with the virus.
The governor then immediately disbanded the public health authority to re-examine how it was testing people for the virus.
After ruling out ineffective methods that relied on invisible evidence that produced too many false positives, the authorities had difficulty finding any more new cases.
A large number of people who were still in quarantine were re-examined with the new test, and most of them were found to have been misdiagnosed. The remaining people left in quarantine were eventually released as well, and no further vaccinations were performed.
All told, the pandemic lasted nine months.
A full year after it began, Cotton Mather and other leading advocates of the drastic lockdown measures then went back and rewrote all of their previous statements to make it seem like they had doubted the measures instead of wholeheartedly supporting them.
But not a single person involved in either the vaccinations or the lockdowns ever admitted they had made a mistake, nor did they ever issue an apology.
Quietly, though, the government was forced to pay reparations to some of the people falsely accused of being infected.
Story 2 – Looking Back
The winter of 1692 was incredibly cold and harsh in the Massachusetts Bay colony. The community had just survived a smallpox outbreak as well as a war.
There were several refugees living in the colony, including Abigail Williams, whose parents had been killed in front of her during the war, leaving her a deeply traumatized orphan in the care of the Parris family.
The patriarch, Samuel Parris, was a very strict and dour Puritan minister who considered just about everything to be a “sin,” including singing any song that was not a hymn or having a toy of any sort.
Despite his daughter Betty (Elizabeth) being 9 and Abigail being 11 years old, they were expected to perform a large number of chores as well as recite several prayers daily. With the wintry weather making it virtually impossible to go outside, the two girls were stuck inside all day with nothing to do other than housework.
Bored out of their skulls, the two girls turned to a woman who lived in their household named Tituba. Born in Barbados, Tituba and a man named “John Indian” had been purchased as slaves by Samuel Parris and brought along to Massachusetts.
Tituba taught the girls a game called “The Venus Eye” that supposedly could prophesy the future. It involved putting an egg white into a glass of water and then observing what shape formed. At one point, Betty (Elizabeth) asked the “Venus Eye” what her future husband’s occupation would be, and she “saw” the egg white take the form of a coffin, thus scaring her badly.
A month before the pandemic struck, a neighbor woman named Rebecca Nurse had seen the girls playing the “Venus Eye” and had scolded them for indulging in “superstitious” games.
In February of 1962, Betty (Elizabeth) and Abigail began acting very strangely. Elizabeth would “bark like a dog” and the two girls would hide under the bed, refusing to do chores. They complained of being “attacked” by invisible pinpricks that made it “impossible” to say their daily prayers.
Samuel Parris called in Dr. Griggs to examine the girls, but “Doctor” Griggs had no medical training and no practical experience in treating illnesses of any kind. Despite this, he quickly diagnosed the two girls as being afflicted by “witchcraft.”
Since the minister’s family couldn’t possibly be guilty of being witches, a hunt began to find who had “infected” the girls. The girls were relentlessly questioned until they finally “admitted” that three local women were responsible, including Tituba.
All three women vehemently denied the accusations. Samuel then took Tituba aside and savagely beat her with a cane until she agreed to plead guilty to witchcraft, and all three women were arrested based on this “evidence”.
Perhaps scared by how far things had gone, Betty (Elizabeth) and Abigail refused to testify against Tituba (or the other two women). But their friend Ann Putnam Junior, age 12, and some of her friends soon began to get in on the craze.
One of the first people Ann accused was Rebecca Nurse, the woman who had previously chastised the girls for playing games like the Venus Eye.
Ann’s father, Thomas, went into a full-blown panic and began carting his daughter all around the colony in order to “find” more witches.
Despite the very serious accusations, at first, the local authorities were hesitant to find anyone guilty of witchcraft. But the girls, led by Ann Putnam, were persuasive, shrieking and yelling in court that they alone could “see the proof” that the accused were witches.
After several months, a woman named Bridget Bishop was found guilty and executed. She hadn’t been amongst the first to be accused of witchcraft, but she was the easiest one to convict because nobody in town liked her.
Nonetheless, after Bishop was hanged, the local authorities decided to consult with Cotton Mather, the most powerful man in the colony, before proceeding further with something as serious as mass executions.
At the time, Cotton Mather was flush with success and power. Indeed, he had just returned from England where he had handpicked every single member of the Massachusetts colonial administration, including its court judges, the governor, and lieutenant governor.
Cotton had already written a bestselling book about witchcraft and was delighted to hear that his theories were being “proven” by the conviction of Briget Bishop in Salem as a witch. He urged the local authorities to continue to investigate and convict and execute witches to prevent them from “infecting” the Salem community.
From Boston, Cotton Mather wrote a long letter stating that anyone who doubted the existence of witches was in league with the devil, thus giving the local authorities a green light to continue with the trials.
Initially, all of the accused were misfits or people in low standing in the community. But when a prominent woman named Martha Corey started questioning the accuracy of the testimony of the girls, the girls accused her of witchcraft.
Along with Rebecca Nurse, several prominent and upstanding citizens were now being accused of witchcraft, and nobody seemed immune.
Soon, dozens of people were in jail. As the summer rolled along, the convictions grew, and many people were hanged, including a man named George Burroughs.
Before his head was put in the noose, George Burroughs addressed the crowd and recited the Lord’s Prayer perfectly. As witches were not supposed to be able to (flawlessly) quote the Bible, the crowd was stunned.
But Cotton Mather, who was in attendance, stood up in his saddle and said that “the Devil” could make anyone do anything, and so the crowd relented to Burroughs’s execution.
Despite the Salem authorities hanging some 20 people (as well as two dogs) for witchcraft, Ann Putnam and her father Thomas were still quite busy finding new cases.
One of those people was Giles Corey. He refused to plead guilty because he knew he was not a witch, but he also refused to plead not guilty, knowing that all of the people who had been executed had pleaded not guilty.
The authorities then decided to force him to enter a plea by laying him on the ground and placing a board on his chest. The local sheriff, George Corwin, then placed heavy rocks on top of the board.
After one entire day under the heavy weight, Giles Corey still refused to enter a plea. Sheriff Corwin added more rocks but to no avail. Corwin then climbed on top of the board and jumped up and down, but all that accomplished was Corey’s tongue lolling out of his mouth which the sheriff had to forcefully put back into his mouth.
Giles survived three days but was ultimately crushed to death. His refusal to enter a plea meant that he could not be posthumously found guilty and thus his estate was passed along to his family.
Meanwhile, as the only way to escape punishment for an accused witch was to accuse someone else of bewitching them, the accusations “went viral,” until Mary Phips, the wife of the governor, had also been accused of being a witch.
At this point, Cotton Mather quickly decided to put a brake on the proceedings.
Cotton Mather reversed his earlier advice and told the governor to institute a new court of inquiry, one that could no longer accept invisible (“spectral”) evidence and had to rely on normal proofs such as those used in a standard criminal court that could be cross-examined by the accused.
Unsurprisingly, none of the rest of the accused witches were ever found guilty. Most were let go right away, but others were forced to pay for their time in jail.
Popular sentiment began to turn against the authorities, and all of them began to backtrack on their earlier “confidence” in the existence of witches. Cotton Mather went so far as to write an entire book in which his part in the affair was completely airbrushed out.
His original letter to the authorities urging the execution of witches was thought destroyed but was discovered more than 200 years later, which is the only reason that we know the truth about his role in the affair.
Meanwhile, the colony’s authorities were quietly pressured to provide restitution to the people accused of witchcraft who were still alive, but none of them were ever forced to resign or apologize for their actions.
As the wider world began to discover what had happened in Massachusetts during the nine-month period, it became seen as a shameful event caused by mass hysteria and fueled by primitive fears.
And despite the unshakeable and utter certainty that Cotton Mather and the Salem authorities had shown during the witchcraft “pandemic,” the victims in Salem were amongst the last people ever convicted (or executed) anywhere on the planet for witchcraft.
In short order, such things as “witchcraft” were seen to belong to an earlier, more superstitious age, and courts of law required a far higher standard of proof when it came to producing evidence. Certainly, “spectral evidence” was forever prohibited.
It is widely believed that the Bill of Rights of the American Constitution, written in 1792, was partly a direct result of the Salem Witch Trials.
Story 1A – 2019-2020
In December 2019, a handful of people appeared in the hospitals of Wuhan, China, with symptoms of a rapidly advancing and severe type of pneumonia. Local doctors isolated a virus from some of the patients and declared that this virus was what was causing the rapid onset of pneumonia.
The virus’s sequence was then uploaded to a database belonging to the World Health Organization, which is run by “Doctor” Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, who is not a medical doctor and has never treated a patient for any illness.
Within six weeks, the WHO declared a global pandemic despite limited evidence that the virus was overly dangerous.
All around the world, authorities began manufacturing tests to determine the presence of the virus. But these tests were besieged with problems, including contamination during the manufacturing process, over-reliance on the uploaded genetic sequence instead of examining the virus directly, and a lack of standards on how they should be processed, leading to hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of misdiagnosed “cases.”
Due to hysteria, the entirety of standard evidentiary proofs for what constituted an infection was abandoned by public health authorities. Previously, viral illnesses could only be confirmed by both the person showing specific symptoms and two positive tests.
Likewise, all previous strategies for combating infectious diseases were discarded. Despite a 2005 agreement signed by every country on earth not to impose nationwide lockdowns, nearly every country did so in 2020.
Other harsh measures that had never been recommended before such as the use of face masks by healthy people, copious use of “disinfectants” and forcing people to remain one or more meters apart from their loved ones were also put into effect with no discussion or debate.
Within months, billions of people who were showing no symptoms whatsoever were locked away and deprived of their rights. Even countries with robust health systems and very few sick people were declared to be full of “infected” virus carriers.
When a few world leaders such as John Magafuli (Tanzania) and Alexander Lukashenko (Belarus) questioned the existence of the virus, they were immediately attacked and threatened with sanctions, being cut off from the global banking system, and even an armed invasion.
Other leaders like Anders Tegnell (Sweden), Luis Lacalle Pou (Uruguay), and Daniel Ortega (Nicaragua) who acknowledged the virus but felt that the reaction to it was overblown were likewise attacked and vilified.
At this point, literally anything and everything is being blamed on the virus. There are currently over 78 “official” symptoms associated with the virus ranging from diarrhea to baldness.
So far, at least one thousand people worldwide have been directly killed by the police for violating pandemic restrictions, and millions of people have been fined, arrested, and/or involuntarily locked up in quarantine facilities for disobeying restrictions.
The United Nations estimates that at least one million children will never go to school again, at least 1.5 million additional people will die of tuberculosis, at least 3 million additional people will die from malaria, and some 110 million additional people will sink into severe poverty, all directly as a result of pandemic hysteria.
Despite cratering the global economy causing the collective suffering of billions of people, the planet’s leading authorities continue to treat this one single virus as the number one threat to humankind.
Story 2b – 2021 and Beyond
Only time will tell…
5 thoughts on “The Salem Witch Trials: 2020 Edition”
Tedros Ghebreyesus is not a medic, but he is a biologist. I wonder how would medicine look today in absence of biologists.
Quite a stretch there, Sparky!