by Amanda Alley, dramaturg
The Crucible revolves around an infamous historical event. But how did it all begin?
The Puritans settled in the Massachusetts Bay Colony to create a unified community. However, in the years leading up to the witch trials, all was not well in Salem. There were several social, political, and religious tensions that grew to provide kindling to the fire that became the Salem Witch Hunt.
In 1684, the Massachusetts Bay Colony Charter was revoked after colonists broke several of its statutes, specifically those dealing with the separation of church and state. This meant that the colonists were no longer free to govern themselves, and a royally appointed government was established. The colonists, angry over the change, overthrew this government in 1689. Unfortunately, this left them with a dysfunctional court system.
Socially, the town was split into two sectors: those who supported Reverend Samuel Parris, and those who thought he should be replaced. Those who disagreed with Parris and his followers were typically the more affluent farmers who lived to the west. Later, we would see a similar correlation in the witch trials. The farmers in the west were often accused, while the Parris supporters to the east frequently made the accusations.
In addition to village rivalries, relations with the Indians increased the strain on Salem’s inhabitants. The threat the Indians posed was real and spiritual. Thomas and Ann Putnam’s servant Mercy Lewis was orphaned when Indians attacked the town of Falmouth in Maine, and the people of Salem remembered such events vividly. Indians were also viewed as devil worshippers, which threatened the safety of villagers’ souls as well as their bodies.
All of these tensions fed the spark that would ignite the Salem Witch Trials.