A Brief History
On August 19, 1612, three women from Samlesbury in Lancashire, England were put on trial for witchcraft. Just yesterday History and Headlines featured an article about another Lancashire witch trial. In this article, we present to you the Samlesbury witch trials and also discuss a case of five witches who were executed on the same date in Salem, Massachusetts but in 1692.
Accused by a 14-year old girl of practicing witchcraft, three women in Samlesbury were brought to trial. They were accused of cannibalism and of having murdered a child and were charged with “maleficium,” harm by means of witchcraft. Fortunately they were acquitted, something of a wonder in those days of ignorance and paranoia. Another 11 people caught up in this round of witch hunting were not so lucky and hanged, 10 in Lancaster and one in York.
The witch hunts in Lancashire are believed by historians to be a result of the Protestant vs. Catholic religious power struggle prevalent at the time; the witch trials being used by Protestants as a tool to reign in Catholics.
Meanwhile, 80 years later to the day in Salem, Massachusetts, four men and one woman were hanged as witches, one of whom was a minister.
There would have been six executions, but a pregnant woman, Elizabeth Proctor, was allowed to give birth to her baby first. For some unknown reason, she was never executed. History and Headlines Note: Back then there was both a Salem Village and a Salem Town, both of which were involved in the witch trials. A total of 20 convicted witches were executed in Salem, 19 were hanged and one was pressed to death.
As with the Lancashire witch hunts, many historians believe that the Salem witch hunt was religiously motivated. In Salem, for example, there was conflict between adherents to the Church of England and those with Puritan and Calvinist tendencies.
Today, it is not uncommon for politicians to use the criminal justice system to create scapegoats and to sacrifice innocent people for political reasons in much the same manner that some people used to be accused of witchcraft and executed. Luckily, today’s victims of witch hunts are not hanged, but modern-day practices are just as evil. Question for students (and subscribers): What “witch hunts” are you aware of? Please let us know in the comments section below this article.
For another interesting event that occurred on August 19, please see the History and Headlines article: “The 6 Most Versatile Aircraft of all Time.”
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For more information, please see…
Almond, Philip C. The Lancashire Witches: A Chronicle of Sorcery and Death on Pendle Hill. I.B. Tauris, 2012.
Roach, Marilynne K. Six Women of Salem: The Untold Story of the Accused and Their Accusers in the Salem Witch Trials. Da Capo Press, 2013.