Have you ever gossiped with friends about someone? One person tells a story about someone and that story seems to grow, whether or not it’s true. Sometimes people are treated unkindly because others believe a story about them.
In 1692, in Salem, Massachusetts, young girls suddenly developed odd symptoms. They had seizures, hid under chairs, talked in gibberish, and ran fevers. They accused several women in their town of being witches. Soon, others were accused and the courtrooms filled with people believed to be witches. Almost 150 people were accused of being witches and 20 were killed.
Questions and Answers
Question: Why would the girls make up such awful stories?
Answer: Researchers aren’t sure exactly why the Salem Witch Trials occurred. They wonder if the girls were merely bored or felt pressure to make up stories. One theory says that a fungus developed in the wheat that was harvested that year. This fungus, ergot, can cause seizures, odd behavior, or delusions (seeing and hearing things that aren’t there). Eating contaminated bread might have caused the girls’ symptoms, but we don’t know for sure.
Researchers think that peoples’ fears, strict religious beliefs, and difficult lives made them superstitious and quick to believe the girls’ accusations. At the time, many people in the village were fighting. Farmers fought with town people over money. New settlers didn’t share the original colonists’ religious views. These bad feelings probably also made people quick to believe gossip about their neighbors.
Visit Discovery Education to learn more about the Salem Witch Trials.
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