get to know the important differences between the two
When discussing the events leading up to the Salem Witch Trials, it is important to make the distinction between Salem Village and Salem Town. Two areas separated not only by distance but also by the differences between their people.
Although there are many factors at play, there seems to be a correlation between who the Salem accusers were and where they lived. Social status determines many things, like what school you go to, or what car you drive; but in Salem, it determined who lived and who died.
Located on the east side, Salem Town was a coastal region bordered by the Atlantic Ocean. The town had a thriving harbor that brought tremendous wealth to the area.
By the late 17th century, Salem Town was widely recognized as a successful port, as well as one of the most important centers for trade between Europe and the New World. Commerce, shipbuilding, and fishing were all activities that took place in this part of Salem.
Naturally, the prosperity of the town was incredibly appealing to the upper classes. Soon, most of the area was populated by wealthy families and savvy merchants. Among these rich families were the Porters, whose patriarch was John Porter, a rich English merchant.
Salem Village, on the other hand, was a poor rural community with scattered farms and houses. Although its population consisted mostly of impoverished farmers, a handful of affluent families resided here as well. Out of the few prosperous families that lived in the village, the Putnams seemed to be the most powerful.
Life in this part of Salem was strenuous. Although they would work very long hours, money was still scarce. Men would work in the fields, while women would tend to the children and the home. Outdoor work was extremely important since the village depended on the success of their crops to survive.
While the town was experiencing exponential economic growth, the economy in the village stayed relatively stagnant. This infuriated the farmers as they often failed to see the fruits of their labor. Not only did the villagers envy the townspeople's opulence, but they also grew resentful of their power. The town had complete economic control over the village. Except for growing the crops, every other aspect was handled by the merchants; from setting the prices for their crops to determining the amount of taxes they needed to pay.
To loosen up this chokehold, the village knew they needed to cut ties with the town. And this started by petitioning to build their own Puritan church. After several years of denials, the petition was finally granted in 1672, under the condition that the town church would still rule over the new congregation. This created some friction between the merchants since many of them believed that the farmers should not be allowed any form of independence.
The Porters were especially vocal about their opposition since the village having a bit of freedom could potentially lead to them losing power over Salem. The conflicts within the village, however, continued to escalate, even after they were granted their own church. They now had to choose their own minister but were in disagreement as to who should take on the role, as well as who should have the authority to appoint or dismiss a congregation leader.
Tensions were so high within the church that ministers would often step down shortly after being appointed. The minister’s wage was afforded through taxes that the villagers paid. This meant that they could force a minister to resign by simply not paying the taxes that went to their salary. The villagers often did this when they became unhappy with the current church leader. Not only were the people within the village arguing over matters of the church, but they were also quarreling over different social, political and economic issues, making life in Salem Village extremely difficult.
According to Paul Boyer and Stephen Nissenbaum, the motivations behind the Salem Witch Trials were mostly economic. In their book, Salem Possessed: The Social Origins of Witchcraft, the authors proposed an economic stress theory. Their theory argues that the pre-existing conflicts between the merchants of the town and the villagers were what set off the incessant witch hunt.
Evidently, not only was there a separation between the village and the town, the village itself was being driven apart by opposing forces. Apparently, not everyone in the village disliked that the town had power over them and many wanted to keep their relationship intact. These were the people that defended the Porters and supported Salem’s traditional ways. On the other hand, the Putnams along with reverend Samuel Parris, wanted the village to be autonomous and many villagers approved of their ideas.
In Salem Possessed, the authors identified a pattern of sorts within the witchcraft accusations. According to this book, the majority of the accusers were Putnam supporters, while the majority of the accused had previously sided with the Porters.
The economic stress theory sustains that people incriminated others in order to settle personal differences and push their agenda. By accusing someone with ties to the town of witchcraft, the village could subtly remove the threats to their independence.
Although it is hard to believe that anyone would do something so heinous over differences of opinion, these were times where power was most important and many would stop at nothing to get it.
There is, however, a possibility that this pattern is purely coincidental and the accusers had entirely other reasons for pointing fingers. This is only one of the many explanations proposed to illustrate what led to the witch trials and why they escalated to the level they did.
It seems like the Salem Witch Trials were the tragic culmination of the clash between religion, politics, tradition, climate and social issues; all of which have been believed to be the culprit for the gruesome trials. Each of these elements comes together like a puzzle piece, creating a much larger and intricate picture. And it was precisely this fusion of conflicts that cemented this time as one of the most complex and macabre in American history.