| America First|
|by Lawton B. Evans|
|Collection of one hundred action-packed stories, covering the range of American history, from the first visit of Leif the Lucky to the exploits of Sergeant York in World War I. In relating the long, thrilling story of the trials and triumphs of the pioneers and patriots, the author aims to gratify the love of children for the dramatic and picturesque, to satisfy them with stories that are true, and to make them familiar with the great characters in the history of their own country. Ages 8-12 |
THE SALEM WITCHES
IN olden times nearly everybody believed in witches. These witches were supposed to have sold their souls to the
devil, and to have received from him power to ride through the air on
broom-  sticks. With "the evil eye," they could make people ill, they could destroy cattle by mysterious diseases,
they could blight the crops, and do other impossible and dreadful things. They were supposed to have meetings
at night, when the devil came and they received the witches' sacrament. Consequently, everybody was afraid of
a witch, and nobody wanted to be called one.
The witches were blamed for everything that went wrong. If children fell suddenly ill, if a horse became lame,
if a house burned clown, if the butter would not churn, if the cart stuck in the mud, the explanation always
was, "A witch did it.
Generally, women, or old men, or ugly, deformed persons were accused of being witches; but sometimes suspicion
fastened upon younger persons, and even upon those in high authority. To test whether a person was a witch or
not, pins were stuck into the body to find a place where it did not hurt. These were spots where the devil's
hands had touched the witch. Another test was by water. The supposed witch was thrown into the water; if she
sank and was drowned, she was innocent; if she floated, she was assuredly a witch and must be burned.
The belief in witchcraft and in the punishing
 of witches was nowhere stronger than in Salem, Massachusetts. The least suspicious circumstance was sufficient
for an accusation. A young girl, thirteen years of age, accused a laundress of having stolen linen from the
family. The mother of the laundress rebuked the girl severely for this false charge. The girl became
immediately bewitched, or said she was, which amounted to the same thing. Others in her family began to act
strangely. Some grew deaf, then dumb, then blind. They barked like dogs and purred like cats if anybody came
The town went wild with excitement over the bewitched family. The poor mother of the laundress, who was
nothing but a harmless and illiterate old woman, and who had tried to defend her daughter from the charge of
stealing linen, was accused of being a witch. She was tried, convicted, and executed.
Shortly afterwards, the child of the minister, nine years old, and his niece, twelve years old, began to act
queerly and to suffer great pains. There was nothing the matter with them that a little medicine would not
have cured, but they chose to think themselves bewitched. A half-breed Indian woman, a servant in the house,
was also accused, and, being whipped, she tried to secure
 her release by confessing that she was really a witch. Of course she was not, but the poor creature would say
anything to save herself from torture. The two children were the two most conspicuous figures in the village;
they had "fits" and everybody came to the house to see them. They were generally accommodating to all
An epidemic of witches now broke out in the village. Any one who desired notoriety, or who wished to wreak
vengeance upon another, would fall down in a fit and cry out, "Witch! Witch!" The excited town folk would set
upon the poor accused one, throw him in prison, and often string him up on the gallows.
An old farmer, who did not believe in witches, cured his Indian servant by a good beating. "I'll flog the
witch out of you," he cried; and before long the Indian was perfectly well. But this brought down the people's
wrath upon the old farmer. They said, "He is a witch himself, for he rebukes the disease in others." And
forthwith the farmer and his wife found themselves in the common jail.
So it went, until nineteen persons were put to death on the accusation of being witches. One poor old man, who
stoutly maintained that nobody was a witch, was pressed to death between two doors!
 One hundred and fifty people were thrown into prison; so many indeed that the jail was full to overflowing.
Two hundred and more were accused and left outside the jail for lack of room. It seemed as though everybody in
Salem, sooner or later, would have to stand trial for being a witch.
At last, when they began to accuse persons of high rank, such as one of the Judges, the wife of the Governor,
and the wife of the minister himself, it brought the people to their senses. Suddenly it occurred to them what
fools they had been. Then the jails were opened, and the poor people inside were set free, and allowed to go
about their business. The children who pretended they were under a spell were punished; and soon there was
nobody under accusation.
Since then, no one has really believed in witches. There never was, nor ever can be, such evil beings, and the
people in Salem would have been spared much folly and misery if they had known it. In Salem, there stands to
this day one of the old houses, and it is pointed out as "The Witch House."
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