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What we know today as the Salem witch trials occurred 332 years ago, mostly over a brief seven-month period, in and around Salem Village. The number of Puritan settlers living across the entire region at the time numbered only a few thousand at most.  Over the course of this crisis, approximately 200 people were accused of witchcraft, and at least 25 people died because of those accusations—19 convicted and executed, one tortured to death, and at least five more died in jail awaiting trial.


Over the broad scope of history, stretching around the globe, there have been thousands of similar tragedies that have been largely forgotten, particularly more than three decades after they have happened. Yet, our interest in the witch crisis in Salem only seems to grow with each passing decade.


Why is that?


Is it because it involves sensational accusations of witchcraft? Is it because literally millions of us living in the United States today can trace our heritage back to the people involved?


I assume it’s a bit of both of those things…and more.


In many ways, the Salem witch crisis is an ideal microhistory. It’s a compelling, engaging, tragic, horrific story that sheds important light on a timeless human experience. The Salem witch trials are a nearly perfect example of how our fears can overtake all rationality and drive us to do the most horrific things. That isn’t to say that our late-seventeenth-century forefathers didn’t believe wholeheartedly in witchcraft and the power of the devil—they most certainly did. But almost as quickly as the hysteria blew up, it died down completely once cooler heads prevailed. A community had collectively allowed its fear and emotion get the best of it, with devastating results.


Why do you think the Salem witch trials remains such a compelling topic for so many of us today? Let me know in the comments.

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