Could the Salem Witch Trials really have been caused by some rotten bread? What is your perception of the innocents who were killed, they were probably burned at a stake right? When you first think about the Salem Witch Trials you’re probably thinking about magic and witches burning at a stake but I’m here to tell you that you’ve got it all wrong. I’m here to let you know that the image you have of their deaths in your head right now is more than likely much more horrific than the actual facts and that to be honest there was more than likely no actual magic involved at all and it can be explained by hysteria due to disease from a bad harvesting season. This would explain why the trials were so short lived in Salem even though the idea of witches continued to spread.
Besides that to break it all down for you let’s start with what we know for sure. The Salem Witch Trials lasted from June 1692 – May 1693 where 200 people were accused but only 25 died. Nineteen died by hanging like Bridget Bishop who was the first person to be tried and executed, Four died in prison due to inhumane conditions, but the most gruesome death was the one of Giles Corey after he and his wife Martha Corey were accused and he refused to enter a plea of guilty or not guilty. He was crushed under heavy stones in an effort to force him to plead guilty, this ended up being the only example of a sanction like this in American history. He sadly died three days after his torture, there were no burnings at any stakes that we know of.
Now to address why all of this started (and no it wasn’t witchcraft) the theory goes that the Salem Witch Trials happened due to widespread St. Anthony’s fire which can be contracted from rye – induced ergotism. Which could have easily happened as rye bread was a main part of their diet, “Ergotism forms in rye after a severe winter and a damp spring” and it is a fungal disease these were also the conditions that historians claim were present during the time of the Trials. Due to lack of medical knowledge the spots on the rye plants from ergot could have been thought to be the product of overexposure from the sun. St. Anthony’s fire caused severe convulsions, muscle spasms, the sensation of crawling under the skin, and delusions. These symptoms can account for the actions of the accused and the delusions of the accused. Since this was something that they’ve never seen and the village doctors were religious they attributed the symptoms to be witchcraft; and everyone went also with it scared because of the lack of knowledge. According to this theory the sudden end of the Salem Witch Trials was because simply put they had run out of ergot contaminated rye.
Daija Baynes – Fenwick High School – DMSF Class of 2027