Want a daily email of lesson plans that span all subjects and age groups?
Learn more

What really happened during the Salem Witch Trials - Brian A. Pavlac

  • 2,654,178 Views
  • 13,080 Questions Answered
  • TEDEd Animation

Let’s Begin…

You’ve been accused of a crime you did not commit. It’s impossible to prove your innocence. If you insist that you’re innocent anyway, you’ll likely be found guilty and executed. But if you confess, apologize, and implicate others, you’ll go free. This was the choice facing those accused of witchcraft in Salem, Massachusetts in the 17th century. How did this happen? Brian A. Pavlac investigates.

Create and share a new lesson based on this one.

About TED-Ed Animations

TED-Ed Animations feature the words and ideas of educators brought to life by professional animators. Are you an educator or animator interested in creating a TED-Ed Animation? Nominate yourself here »

Meet The Creators

  • Educator Brian A. Pavlac
  • Director Silvia Prieto
  • Narrator Susan Zimmerman
  • Storyboard Artist David Hernández
  • Animator Esteban Jaime, Jorge Moyano, Mario Carrascal
  • Compositor Jorge Moyano
  • Art Director David Hernández
  • Sound Designer Stephen LaRosa
  • Music Stephen LaRosa
  • Director of Production Gerta Xhelo
  • Editorial Producer Alex Rosenthal
  • Producer Bethany Cutmore-Scott
  • Associate Editorial Producer Elizabeth Cox
  • Script Editor Iseult Gillespie
  • Fact-Checker Eden Girma
  • See more
Additional Resources for you to Explore
In the year 1692, the worst witch hunt in American history broke out in Salem, a town in the Massachusetts colony. The Puritan colonists put on trial neighbors whom they imagined were working with the Devil to cause harm. Brian A. Pavlac relates what happened in this hunt to punish imaginary witches.

Salem was just one small, brief persecution at the end of the period from the fifteenth to the eighteenth century when Christians actively hunted witches. In Europe and the American colonies during this time, tens of thousands of people suffered from a panic-stricken pursuit of alleged devil-worshipping witches. Unfortunately, no decent historical evidence exists for magic and the supernatural, whether for harm or for good. The history of Salem shows the grim consequences of family, neighbors, church, and government mistakenly persecuting people for a crime they could not possibly have committed.

Instead of actual proof, fearful authorities in Salem relied on unsubstantiated accusations, rumor, innuendo, torture, and, most tragically, “spectral evidence.” The last allowed a gaggle of girls in open court to make up ghostly attacks, which they blamed on the accused. As a result, jurors and judges condemned nineteen men and women to be hanged by strangulation (there were no executions by burning at Salem), one man to be pressed to death for refusing to plead guilty or not guilty, and two dogs to be shot. Imprisonment also led to deaths and illnesses for many others. A few years after this panic collapsed, the embarrassed government actually paid compensation to survivors and families of the dead.

Of course, issues of witchcraft are not just events from the past. Many people today still believe in witches, demons, and the Devil, although their beliefs rarely align with those at Salem or from the time of the witch hunts. In some places in the world today, people continue to be accused and persecuted as witches, although these actions are not usually defined as “hunts” since the government is not involved. That distinction, however, is surely of little consolation for the victims.

A brief overview of witch hunting based on a German incident is available with this TED-Ed video, “Ugly History: Witch Hunts” . More information about how historians are trying to understand the general problem of the witch
hunts can be found at this website. It also offers links to many online sources on Salem.

For a short, readable book on the Witch Hunts, try Brian A. Pavlac, Witch Hunts in the Western World: Persecution and Punishment from the Inquisition through the Salem Witch Trials (Greenwood 2009 or
Bison Books
2010).

Customize This Lesson

Create and share a new lesson based on this one.

About TED-Ed Animations

TED-Ed Animations feature the words and ideas of educators brought to life by professional animators. Are you an educator or animator interested in creating a TED-Ed Animation? Nominate yourself here »

Meet The Creators

  • Educator Brian A. Pavlac
  • Director Silvia Prieto
  • Narrator Susan Zimmerman
  • Storyboard Artist David Hernández
  • Animator Esteban Jaime, Jorge Moyano, Mario Carrascal
  • Compositor Jorge Moyano
  • Art Director David Hernández
  • Sound Designer Stephen LaRosa
  • Music Stephen LaRosa
  • Director of Production Gerta Xhelo
  • Editorial Producer Alex Rosenthal
  • Producer Bethany Cutmore-Scott
  • Associate Editorial Producer Elizabeth Cox
  • Script Editor Iseult Gillespie
  • Fact-Checker Eden Girma
  • See more