In February 1692, two daughters of the Reverend Samuel Parris and le of their friends are diagnosed by a Salem, Massachusetts, physician as victims of witchcraft. Under questioning, the girls accuse certain women of being witches. The town magistrates proceed against the accused on February 29 not of the year, accusations multiply: 140 are accused, 107 of them women. The royal governor of Massachusetts, Sir William Phips, establishes a special court to try more than 70 of the cases. Of 26 individuals convicted, 19 are executed.
The Salem witchcraft epidemic, though extreme, was hardly unique. Witches had been tried before 1692 in Massachusetts as well as Connecticut and, even more frequently, throughout Europe. Who stood accused in all of these places? “Witches” were usually poor, elderly women (sometimes men) who quarreled with their neighbors and were generally disruptive, disagreeable social misfits.