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Salem Witch Trials

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1876 illustration of the courtroom; the central figure is usually identified as Mary Walcott

The Salem Witch Trials were a series of county court trials which accused people of being witches. The Salem Witch Trials involved two kinds of trials. First, court hearings were held before local magistrates; then trials were held in county court. The Witch Trials were held in Essex, Suffolk and Middlesex Counties of colonial Massachusetts, between February 1692 and May 1693.

During the Trials, over 150 people were arrested and put in jail after being accused of practicing witchcraft. Even more people were accused, but were never formally charged by the authorities. Twenty-nine people were convicted (or found guilty) of witchcraft, which was a capital felony. Nineteen of these people - fourteen women and five men - were hanged. Giles Corey, a man who refused to enter a plea, was crushed to death under heavy stones to try to force him to confess or plead. At least five more of the accused died in prison.

Despite being generally known as the "Salem" witch trials, the preliminary (or first) hearings in 1692 were held in different towns across the province: Salem Village, Ipswich, Andover, and Salem Town, Massachusetts. The best-known trials were held by the Court of Oyer and Terminer in 1692 in Salem Town. All twenty-six people who went to trial before this court were convicted. There were also four sessions of the Superior Court of Judicature in 1693, held in Salem Town, Ipswich, Boston, and Charlestown. Thirty-one accused witches were tried in these courts, but only three were convicted.