Catherine Brekus explains how it all started.
There were almost 200 people who were accused of witchcraft in Salem. And when it was all said and done, there were 20 people who were executed.
The crisis began in the household of Samuel Parris. Samuel was the minister of the village church, and he had been preaching sermons that sounded apocalyptic, in which he was a kind of Jesus figure who was being persecuted by the people who opposed him. And his daughter and his niece started behaving oddly. They were supposedly crawling around underneath tables, speaking in odd voices. His daughter was nine, and his niece was 12. And so he brought in a doctor to examine his children, and the doctor said he couldn’t find any medical cause, and he thought that they were bewitched. And this is how it started.
This is one of the moments where, if Samuel Parris had said, “I think there’s a medical cause” or “we can deal with this at home”, the entire crisis would have stayed very localised. But instead, he became convinced that his children had been bewitched. And then a prominent man in the community, Thomas Putnam, who was one of Samuel Parris’ very close supporters, his daughter and his wife and his servant girl all claimed that they also had been afflicted and that there were witches who were tormenting them. So it started very small, in two households, and then it began to spread through the rest of the community.