One of the theories out there for the cause of the Witch Trial is that economic jealousy motivates the poor to accuse the rich. This seems very contradictory to what is said in books on The Witch trials. For example, here is quote from The Crucible spoken by Marry Warren, one of the accusers, on Sarah Good, who was a suspected witch:

Mary Warren, like one awakened to a marvelous secret in-sight: So many time, Mr. Proctor, she come to this very door, beggin’ bread and a cup of cider - and mark this: whenever I turned her away empty, she mumbled.

Obviously, Sarah Good is pretty poor. And this is the case for most of the accused.

So does the theory still stand?

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    Although the point is valid, I think citing a work of fiction detracts from the quality of the question. – Semaphore Dec 4 '14 at 5:06
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    There is a sentence in THE SALEM WITCH TRIAL A LEGAL HISTORY BY PETER CHARLES that proves that THE CRUCIBLE is based on real history record. – user11355 Dec 4 '14 at 12:26
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    @user11355 Yelling doesn't change the fact that the Crucible is dramatic fiction in a historical setting. I very much doubt your mysterious "a sentence" can prove otherwise. – Semaphore Dec 4 '14 at 12:50
  • The main suspects were types similar to witches. – Tyler Durden Aug 12 '15 at 14:48

It's quite simple: people would accuse anyone they didn't like. False accusations of horrible crimes that are very difficult to disprove (heresy is another one, and these days it's sexual abuse of children mainly) has always been a great way to get rid of people.

In the USSR, much later, this took the form of accusing people of being Mensheviks or Trokskyists. The accusation, especially in the days of Stalin's terror, but going on for decades after, was just about enough to guarantee at least a life sentence in the gulag for the accused, and often a death sentence.

The Salem witch trials were little different.

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    Mr. Wenting's point is valid - friends of mine have done the research. I wish that I could support Mr. Wenting with citations, but I've only discussed the research, not read the sources. Note also that accusations of witchcraft in England derive from different motivations (I think Keith Thomas is the best source) and I believe that accusations of witchcraft in continental Europe follow a different pattern. Whited's law applies ("It isn't that simple...") – MCW Aug 12 '15 at 15:32

Most of the executed people at the Salem Witch trials were women. There were only six men (out of 19).

Most of the accused, at least initially, were poor, or social outcasts. Sarah Good was a beggar. Sarah Osborne had remarried an indentured servant. Tituba was a slave from the Caribbean who told strange, "witch" stories to young girls.

Many of the accusers were upper middle class girls. Some of them, at least, appear to have been going through the onset of "menses" or other "pubescent" activities, and perhaps projected their latent, repressed, sexuality, on the unfortunate women mentioned earlier. Essentially, a number of women were charged, not with "witchcraft," per se, but of "corrupting" these young girls. So were at least two men, John Proctor (who seduced Abigail Williams), and George Jacobs Jr. (accused by his daughter in law and granddaughter).

And there were a number of economic quarrels about boundaries of farms, etc., that led to various accusations. The statement, "jealously motivated the poor to accuse the rich" isn't really true. What was true was that once the process got under way, some of the original (upper middle class) accusing girls turned around and made accusations against others that were slightly wealthier, instead of just "poor people."

The executions took place from June to September 1692. Of the six men (five hanged, one "pressed" to death), four were killed in August, and two in September, after the executions of women had begun. (And women were mostly accused earlier.) On a "time-weighted" basis, women suffered more than 13/19 of the opprobrium, after allowing for the fact that they were indicted, and executed earlier "on average."

  • Most of the executed people at the Salem Witch trials were women. There were only six men (out of 19). Wrong. 6/19 is "almost half". With just a very little bit of variance. – o0'. Aug 12 '15 at 10:13
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    @Lohoris - It is also most. You may think the number is being looked at wrong (and you may have a good point), but his statement is not incorrect. – T.E.D. Aug 12 '15 at 14:01
  • @T.E.D. it is not literally incorrect, but in this context, how it is phrased, it is. – o0'. Aug 12 '15 at 14:09
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    @Lohoris: Actually, there was another factor. "Most" of the original accused were women. Several men were added late in the process to bring their number to six. So on a "time weighted" basis, "most" people were women. – Tom Au Aug 12 '15 at 14:17
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    @Lohoris: Added last paragraph. – Tom Au Aug 12 '15 at 14:36

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