Today, we will look at Smithsonian Channel’s America’s Hidden Stories: Salem’s Secrets. This documentary takes a different look at what happened in Salem. The historians use technology and new documents to retell Salem’s story.
The Salem Witch Trials began in 1692, with the hanging of five witches. People traveled from all over to see the witches hanging. There is a huge panic over witchcraft. It began with three young women having severe fits in bed. The people believed that they were being attacked by demons. This belief kicked off the beginning of the Salem Witch Trials.
The Court takes immediate action to protect the town from Witchcraft. They put the witches on trial and the guilty are hanged. The episode kicks off with the hanging of John Proctor. He was the first man accused of being a witch. In the community, he was a strong Puritan and was on good terms with everyone in town. Proctor protested his innocence to the very end. Suddenly, the town goes silent and the trials are stopped. Records of the trial are covered up and disappeared.
The governor of the Massachusetts colony at the time banned publications about the witch trials. Books about the trials were burned. The officials were trying to bury the evidence that innocents were killed. Vital information is still missing to this day in regards to the trial. A group of historians comes together to discusses new documents that have come to light about the Salem Witch Trials. They are trying to solve the mystery of the trial. Most of all they hope to find the long-lost hanging site.
The historians speak about preserving the hanging site as a memorial to the lives lost. One of the historians is a direct descendant of John Proctor. One book about the trials escapes the burnings and it was published in London. It gave more details about the trials and gives the location of the potential graves of the supposed witches. Will this book help solve the mystery location of the hanging site? Will the remains of the witches be found nearby this hanging site?
Despite the fact it was illegal to publish anything about the Salem Witch Trials there are still documents and records available. The historians explore the life and accusations of John Proctor. They turn to the records written by Reverend Parris. The Parris home was where the witch crisis took off. In January 1692, the girls in the Parris household start acting strangely. They convulse violently. They scream. The Reverend believes that his girls were bewitched.
The accusations start centering around a slave woman named Tituba. She admits to being the Devil’s agent. This confession touches off additional accusations. Traditionally, witches were women and lower class. John Proctor was upper-middle class, married, and had 16 children. The team tries to solve the mystery as to why John Proctor was accused. They discuss Proctor’s wealth and success. It becomes clear that wealth and success will not protect anyone. The Proctors watch the events in Salem nervously.
Parris finds an alley in the Putnam family. Sarah Good and Sarah Osborne are eventually accused of witchcraft. They were poor and unimportant in the town. They were the typical people accused of witchcraft. Then suddenly Rebecca Nurse is drawn into the accusations. Was she a witch? Or did the Putnam’s want to get rid of a rival? Continue to watch the documentary to find out.
This is a surprising look at the Salem Witch Trials. I never really thought it was covered up for generations after the trials happened. This documentary was the first time I heard about a government cover-up in regards to Salem. I would show this in a history classroom as well as an English classroom if the classroom is reading Arthur Miller’s The Crucible.
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