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Sarah Good - What Happened Next . . .

court trials witchcraft massachusetts

By late August some colonists were dismayed by the gruesome hangings taking place in their communities. Many began to wonder if innocent people were dying and there was growing opposition to the trials. On October 8, 1692 Thomas Brattle, a successful, wealthy Boston merchant wrote a widely distributed public letter stating that the chief judge in the trials, William Stoughton, had been overzealous and unwise in his prosecutions.

Brattle called the spectral evidence and supposed ceremonies that witches participated in with the devil mere concoctions of imagination and fantasy. A considerable number of other Massachusetts ministers also spoke out against the witch trials. Having grown skeptical, Massachusetts governor William Phips, who had commissioned the court on May 27 to begin the trials, dissolved the witchcraft court on October 29.

Phips also began to release those still held in jail, including children accused of witchcraft—Abigail and Dorothy Faulkner, Abigail and Stephen Johnson, and Sarah Carrier—all aged from eight to thirteen years. Even those who were in jail after confessing to witchcraft were released. Amazingly, the witnesses who had been afflicted by the released witches suffered no further harm. Although a few charges continued to be made they slowed to a trickle with most dismissed.

In December the Massachusetts General Court passed a new law that better defined precisely what infractions would have to occur for a person to be convicted of being an agent of evil or a wicked spirit. For example, anyone who raised a dead person from the grave or used part of a dead person's body in a ritual of witchcraft could be condemned to death. If anyone used witchcraft-like spells to destroy another's property, they could be imprisoned. The court heard more cases in early 1693 but dismissed nearly all of them.

In Salem, Reverend Parris continued to be involved in community disputes. In July 1697 Parris left Salem for Stowe, Massachusetts. The new reverend, Joseph Green, took immediate action to restore harmony among Salem's residents.


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