The Letter of Apology from the Salem Witch Trial Jury

Thu, 10/30/2014 - 07:11
Submitted by Carlin Ross

I've often wondered about the aftermath of the Salem witch trials.  Whether they were all tripping out off fungused grain or swept up in sexual repression, there had to be a moment when they second guessed murdering all these young women on superstitious bs. Puritans were always rapt with guilt and shame so how could they not have a pang of regret?

Below is a letter of apology from the jury who ruled in the Salem witch's chilling:


The Jury's Apology

Some that had been of several juries have given forth a paper, signed with our own hands in these words. We whose names are underwritten, being in the year 1692 called to serve as jurors in court in Salem, on trial of many who were by some suspected guilty of doing acts of witchcraft upon the bodies of sundry persons.

We confess that we ourselves were not capable to understand, nor able to withstand the mysterious delusions of the powers of darkness and prince of the air, but were for want of knowledge in ourselves and better information from others, prevailed with to take up with such evidence against the accused as on further consideration and better information, we justly fear was insufficient for the touching the lives of any, Deuteronomy 17.6, whereby we fear we have been instrumental with others, though ignorantly and unwittingly, to bring upon ourselves and this people of the Lord, the guilt of innocent blood, which sin the Lord saith in Scripture, he would not pardon, 2 Kings 24.4, that is we suppose in regard of His temporal judgments. We do, therefore, hereby signify to all in general (and to the surviving sufferers in especial) our deep sense of and sorrow for our errors in acting on such evidence to the condemning of any person.

And do hereby declare that we justly fear that we were sadly deluded and mistaken, for which we are much disquieted and distressed in our minds, and do therefore humbly beg forgiveness, first of God for Christ's sake for this our error. And pray that God would not impute the guilt of it to ourselves nor others. And we also pray that we may be considered candidly and aright by the living sufferers as being then under the power of a strong and general delusion, utterly unacquainted with and not experienced in matters of that nature.

We do heartily ask forgiveness of you all, whom we have justly offended and do declare, according to our present minds, we would none of us do such things again on such grounds for the whole world, praying you to accept of this in way of satisfaction for our offense, and that you would bless the inheritance of the Lord that He may be entreated for the land.

Foreman, Thomas Fisk Thomas Perly, Senior

William Fiske John Peabody

John Batcheler Thomas Perkins

Thomas Fisk, Junior Samuel Sather

John Dane Andrew Elliott

Joseph Evelith Henry Herrick, Senior

From THE PENGUIN BOOK OF WITCHES edited and with an introduction by Katherine Howe. Reprinted by arrangement with Penguin Books, a member of Penguin Group (USA) LLC, A Penguin Random House Company. Introduction and selection copyright © Katherine Howe, 2014.

Editor in Chief & Keeper of All Things Betty Dodson

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Thu, 10/30/2014 - 11:58

In our own minds we are all heroes. When we read about wars or tragedies especially long ago, we are always the good guys. But Milgram's experiments in the 60s prove that most of us are all too likely to have been part of the mob, part of the law-abiding crowds that burnt the books and threw the stones on Kristallnacht, and we most likely would have thanked our lucky stars they had come for our neighbours and not for us.

We would most likely have been part of the mob calling for the burning of the witches, locking up the foreigners, banning travel to Africa lest the plague be brought home. And when the dust settles and we realise what has actually happened, genocide, millions of deaths that could have been prevented, there will be letters written, apologies given.
But the dead will still be dead.

Yesterday Nicholas Winton was honoured by the Czech Republic for his work setting up the kindertransport that saved the lives of more than 600 Jewish children as the nazis walked into Czechoslavakia. He was only 29 at the time yet managed to accomplish so much at a time when older, more powerful people were busy looking in the opposite direction

When I first read this post, I wondered who would we consider to be the modern witches. My first thoughts and prayers were for the very brave people risking their lives in the fight against ebola who come home and run the very real danger of being shunned (or worse) for their efforts.

Witches, wizards, and collective evil

Fri, 10/31/2014 - 16:31

Of the nineteen accused witches hanged in Salem in 1692, six were men: George Burroughs, John Willard, George Jacobs Sr, John Proctor, Wilmott Redd, and Samuel Wardwell. One in three victims were men. I didn't realize this until I looked it up, and I doubt that most people know it. (A seventh man was 'pressed to death' when he refused to enter a plea).

It's difficult to say which of us would be enthusiastic participants in collective evil, but almost certainly not a majority. Hitler and the Nazi Party never got a majority vote in a free election if I remember correctly. What does seem to be true is that when such evil is the express policy of the powerful, it is very difficult for the average person to take a public stand against it. Partly that's due to the threat of dire punishment for dissenting; partly it's because when the powerful control the flow of information, the public are not allowed access to the facts but are fed only propaganda. American public opinion against our aggression in Vietnam gradually shifted as we were shown graphic footage and photographs of the killing and destruction we were inflicting. When shown what we were actually up to, the public would no longer stand for it. This is one reason why press coverage of subsequent American wars has been so tightly censored by the Pentagon. No more photos of the children we burned or the villages we destroyed are allowed; the policy makers aren't willing to risk another popular rebellion. And if powerful elites are so fearful that the average person will oppose their evil designs if shown the truth, it speaks well for the basic decency of the majority.

Witches & angels

Sat, 11/01/2014 - 04:06

It is interesting to think that so many of the Salem "witches" were men. It's a word like angels that has become very gendered over the years despite being totally neutral originally.

It's always a bit of a bun-fight at year end nativity plays with little girls competing for the best angel wings and boys holding back for the shepherd roles. One year, we gave all of the angels swords and spears which created uproar amongst the parents.
Rather sadly, Hitler was first elected in a fair and free election. The nazis were hugely popular in the 1930s elections in Germany, won the majority vote (by a large margin) and then proceeded to remove the trappings of democracy.

One of the problems with the idea of collective evil is that it creeps up on us with small steps, small infringements of people's rights and humanity and eats away at our own humanity by making people "other". If we were more able to stand firm in our beliefs early on, less lazy, timid, or apathetic maybe there would be less horror.

It's why I'm always both impressed and grateful to hear the stories of people who have put themselves forward, to make a difference around the world, Malala Yousafzai, Kailish Satyarthi, Diana Nammi etc and of course all of those remarkable people volunteering around the world, most especially with ebola

Witches, angels, and Nazi popularity

Sat, 11/01/2014 - 14:45

Apparently, NLH, the men hanged at Salem were accused of 'wizardry', which was what witchcraft was called when practiced by men. I knew that men weren't immune from the hysteria but I had no idea that the 'judges' were almost as ready to accuse and hang men as they were women.

Since Germany had a parliamentary, multi-party system the Nazis never had an absolute popular majority (over 50% of the vote) even in the areas where they were most powerful. In March 1933 they won 33% of the German popular vote, which was the largest total of the competing parties and brought them to power. Even so, two-thirds of Germans did not vote for them. Then, as you said, Hitler proceeded to dismantle democracy. You make an excellent point about how evil and totalitarianism can creep up on us in increments. Some would see troubling signs of this in the US, with fear of terrorism (obviously a real concern) being used to manipulate public opinion in order to 'justify' a sweeping erosion of American rights. It's always struck me that when the US reports casualties it tends to emphasize only the American ones. It's as if the lives of non-Westerners don't even count as human. How else can we explain the readiness of the government to keep killing countless innocent people overseas with bombs and drones, then shrug it off as, in effect, a mildly unfortunate consequence of waging war? It's clear that the lives of non-Western civilians, including the children, just don't matter to the policy makers, and this has to be because their lives are seen as inconsequential. We de-humanize them. They can't vote, after all, and they're not a source of potential profits. They're also anonymous; we virtually never see their faces or hear about their grieving families. They're 'other', and so they have no intrinsic value to those who make the decisions. But the example of the Vietnam war tells me that the average person does care about the consequences of our government's actions, when they are shown the truth.

I agree with your examples of people making a difference around the world. Despite the dreadful things that still happen, ideas that would once have been met with incredulity, such as women's rights and universal human rights, have taken root around the world and they are here to stay. There is still horrific oppression, but today, most people around the world know that oppression is wrong. Like Malala, they know that there are alternatives. This is the knowledge that will, in time, change the world.

Politics & Pessimism

Sun, 11/02/2014 - 08:40


I agree that our ideas of majorities are very much based around two party politics in the UK and US.

The recent coalition with the Conservative and Liberal parties in the UK is having very mixed results for the parties involved. Though at the moment the Conservatives are being pulled towards the xenophobic, anti-immigration right by a tiny minority party, much like the Republicans seem to be pulled to an anti-women extreme.

The astonishing thing is how very popular the Nazis were, with their political seats jumping from 12 to 230 in just 4 years to 1932. And this was at a time when voter turn out was high. Nowadays in the UK aside from the recent Scottish referendum, voter turn out is so low as to call into question the validity of any of the recent elections.

Interestingly, Germany still has more multi-party style politics with coalitions and hence political compromise much more likely but now underpinned with a strong written constitution laid out after the second world war.

As always, I'm less confident than you that things are improving around the world. For every step forward in one area, we seem to be taking a couple backwards elsewhere.

Pessimism and optimism, short and long-term

Sun, 11/02/2014 - 15:46


Multi-party forms of democratic government have the advantage of allowing minority points of view to have a meaningful voice in Parliament, but they have the disadvantage of giving disproportionate power to relatively small but very forceful and vocal groups. In the US, the 'religious right' and other extremists were welcomed into the Republican Party by political strategists greedy for more votes. It's been a mixed blessing for them at best, as the Republican manipulators now have to struggle with how to persuade Latinos, people of color, and women that their party doesn't despise them when it clearly does despise them. It sounds as if the Tories are facing a somewhat similar dilemma?

We know that the Nazis took full advantage of the Depression and the Treaty of Versailles to whip up their various hatreds. They made such rapid progress partly because there was such desperation to find somebody who could turn the ruined economy around. Even with the relative popularity of the NSDAP, only a small percentage of Germans joined the SS or were otherwise hard-core Nazis. It should be a lesson for all time that such a relatively small group of hateful fanatics was able to persuade and intimidate and bully their way into such horrifyingly destructive power. The same thing could happen anywhere---we must always remember this.

I'm honestly not hopeful for great progressive changes in the short term. In a way, this is itself an encouraging sign. Malala Yousafzai was nearly murdered by hateful reactionaries because those reactionaries are terrified of the changes they can see coming. It's exactly like the murders of civil rights workers in the American South in the 1960s. The reactionaries can slow the changes, can set them back time and again, but not forever. For a century or two (or even longer), the anti-progressives will have the upper hand. They're better armed and they have 'tradition' and traditional power and prejudices on their side. But once the ideal of human rights has been released into the world, it can't be un-released. It's too compelling a goal, too close to what our better natures know they want and need. So while I agree that many things will get worse before they get better, progress will continue; we just have to think in terms of centuries rather than decades. And we could be pleasantly surprised. When I was younger I couldn't imagine that we'd have a black US president for another fifty years, nor majority acceptance of gay and lesbian relationships. Sometimes the power of positive social change can't be held back, like a cork exploding from a shaken bottle of champagne. There will be many setbacks and tragedies, but in the long run there is much hope.

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