The Salem Witch Trials
Witch hunts were nothing new. In the early modern period, between 1400 to 1782, around 40,000 to 60,000 people were killed due to suspicion of practicing witchcraft.
They arose primarily in Europe and were especially devastating in some parts of the Holy Roman Empire. But none of those events were as historically famous as what happened in Salem in the 1600s.
In 1692, two young girls in colonial Massachusetts began suffering from fits of violent contortions and loud outbursts. A local physician diagnosed the symptoms as bewitchment.
As other girls started showing similar signs, mass hysteria broke out, with many claiming to be possessed by the devil. Based on the fictitious evidence of the young girls, the trials of the men and women implicated began.
Over 200 people were eventually accused. By the end of these trials in early 1693, 19 people had been sentenced to death. The colony eventually admitted they were wrong and compensated the families of those convicted.
Interestingly, scientific research conducted in 1976 established that the fungus “ergot” was responsible for the toxicity that led to the symptoms the young girls experienced.