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Craig Martin, descendant of Susannah Martin
"When anyone is wrongly accused... to set the record straight is an appropriate measure"
 real 28k

Tuesday, 29 May, 2001, 15:25 GMT 16:25 UK
Battle to clear Salem 'witches'
trial
Hysteria when the girls began dabbling in fortune-telling
Descendants of five women hanged for witchcraft during the notorious Salem witch trials in the 17th century want to clear their ancestors' names.

Twenty men and women were hanged or crushed to death during the witch fever, fuelled by the isolation of colonial Massachusetts, a deep belief in the supernatural, and political feuds.

salem
The girls' mysterious physical symptoms were treated as evidence of witchcraft
In 1957, some of the accused were cleared but descendants of Bridget Bishop, Alice Parker, Margaret Scott, Wilmot Redd and Susannah Martin also want them exonerated.

"After 309 years, they deserve the ink," said Paula Keene, a Salem public school teacher and amateur historian. "If it were me, I'd want my name written into the law."

The witch hysteria began when four young girls, including the daughter of the town's minister, the Rev Samuel Parris, began dabbling in fortune-telling games.

200 jailed

When the girls started showing mysterious physical symptoms, the town doctor concluded they were "bewitched". Then the girls began naming people they suspected of inflicting their symptoms.

The accusations spread to more prominent citizens, including Salem Village's former minister, George Burroughs, who was named by the girls as the master of all Massachusetts witches and leader of the Salem Coven.

By the end of May 1692, 200 people were jailed under charges of witchcraft.

Political feuds

The first to be tried was Bridget Bishop, who had successfully fended off witchcraft accusations a dozen years earlier.

When workmen repairing her home discovered "poppets" - dolls stuck with pins or missing heads - on the walls, her fate was sealed, and she was hanged in June 1692.

After Bishop, the pace of executions quickened. In July, five women, including Susannah Martin, were hanged. They were followed in August by five more.

The trials ended in May 1693, when Governor William Phips pardoned all remaining witch suspects.

The trials were probably driven as much by political feuds as fear.

Frances Hill, author of A Delusion of Satan: The Full Story of the Salem Witch Trials, said: "It's absolutely obvious that those who were being hanged were the enemies of the grown-ups or the girls who were doing the naming.

"The only people in all of this who were innocent were the people who were hanged."

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