What were the Salem witch trials?

Question from Richard Bridges

The Salem witch trials began in 1692 when two young girls in Salem, Massachusetts, began having fits. A doctor blamed supernatural causes, and when other girls began experiencing similar symptoms a group of local women were accused of bewitching them. The women were put on trial and jailed, and soon hysteria spread throughout the community of Salm. This lead to hundreds more accusations of witchcraft.

A special Court of Oyer and Terminer was established, and 20 ‘witches’ were executed over the following months. Eventually Increase Mather, the president of Harvard, denounced the use of spectral evidence, and the court was dissolved in October 1692, although trials continued until May 1693.

Answered by Jo Stass for Brain Dump in How It Works issue 112

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