This scene opened by the illness of two girls, a daughter and niece of Mr. Parvis, the minister of Salem, who fell under an affliction similar to that of the Goodwins. Their mouths were stopped, their throats choked, their limbs racked, thorns were stuck into their flesh, and pins were ejected from their stomachs. An Indian and his wife, servants of the family, endeavouring, by some spell of their own, to discover by whom the fatal charm had been imposed on their master's children, drew themselves under suspicion, and were hanged. The judges and juries persevered, encouraged by the discovery of these poor Indians' guilt, and hoping they might thus expel from the colony the authors of such practices. They acted, says Mather, the historian, under a conscientious wish to do justly ; but the cases of witchcraft and possession increased as if they were transmitted by contagion, and the same sort of spectral evidence being received which had occasioned the condemnation of the Indian woman, Titu, became generally fatal. The afflicted persons failed not to see the spectres, as they were termed, of the persons by whom they were tormented. Against this species of evidence no alibi could be offered, because it was admitted, as we have said elsewhere, that the real persons of the accused were not there present; and every thing rested upon the assumption that the afflicted persons were telling the truth, since their evidence could not be redargued. These spectres were generally represented as offering their victims a book, on signing which they would be freed from their torments. Sometimes the devil appeared in person, and added his own eloquence to move the afflicted persons to consent.
At first, as seems natural enough, the poor and miserable alone were involved; but presently, when such evidence was admitted as incontrovertible, the afflicted began to see the spectral appearances of persons of higher condition, and of irreproachable lives, some of whom were arrested, some made their escape, while several were executed. The more that suffered, the greater became the number of afflicted persons, and the wider and the more numerous were the denunciations against supposed witches. The accused were of all ages. A child of five years old was indicted by some of the afflicted, who imagined they saw this juvenile wizard active in tormenting them, and appealed to the mark of little teeth on their bodies, where they stated it had bitten them. A poor dog was also hanged, as having been alleged to be busy in this infernal persecution. These gross insults on common reason occasioned a revulsion in public feeling, but not till many lives had been sacrificed. By this means nineteen men and women were executed, besides a stout-hearted man, named Cory, who refused to plead, and was therefore pressed to death, according to the old law. On this horrible occasion a circumstance took place disgusting to humanity, which must yet be told, to show how superstition can steel the heart of a man against the misery of his fellow creature. The dying man, in the mortal agony, thrust out his tongue, which the Sheriff crammed with his cane back again into his mouth ! Eight persons were condemned, besides those who had actually suffered; and no less than two hundred were in prison and under examination.
Men began then to ask, whether the devil might not artfully deceive the afflicted into the accusation of good and innocent individuals, by presenting witches and fiends in the resemblance of blameless persons, as engaged in the tormenting of their diseased countryfolk. This argument was by no means inconsistent with the belief in witchcraft, and was the more readily listened to on that account. Besides, men found, that no rank or condition could save them from the danger of this horrible accusation, if they continued to encourage the witnesses in such an unlimited course as had hitherto been granted to them. Influenced by these reflections, the settlers awoke as from a dream, and the voice of the public, which had so lately demanded vengeance on all who were suspected of sorcery, began now, on the other hand, to lament the effusion of blood, under the strong suspicion that part of it at least had been innocently and unjustly sacrificed. In Mather's own language, which we use as that of a man deeply convinced of the reality of the crime, " experience showed that the more were apprehended, the more were still afflicted by Satan, and the number of confessions increasing, did but increase the number of the accused, and the execution of some made way to the apprehension of others. For still the afflicted complained of being tormented by new objects, as the former were removed, so that some of those that were concerned grew amazed at the number and condition of those that were accused, and feared that Satan, by his wiles, had enwrapped innocent persons under the imputation of that crime •, and at last, as was evidently seen, there must be a stop put, or the generation of the kingdom of God would fall under condemnation." *
* Mather's Magnalia, book vi. chap. IxxxiL The zealous author, however, regrets the general jail-delivery on the score of sorcery, and thinks, had the times been calm, the case might have required a farther investigation, and that, on the whole, the matter was ended too abruptly. But, the temper of the times considered, he admits candidly, that it is better to act moderately in matters capital, and to let the guilty escape than run the risk of destroying the innocent.
The prosecutions were, therefore, suddenly stopped, the prisoners dismissed, the condemned pardoned, and even those who had confessed, the number of whom was very extraordinary, were pardoned, amongst others; and the author we have just quoted thus records the result:—" When this prosecution ceased, the Lord so chained up Satan that the afflicted grew presently well. The accused were generally quiet, and for five years there was no such molestation among us."