The Salem Witch Trials of 1692
The Salem Witch Trials are a defining example of intolerance and injustice in American history.
This extraordinary series of events that began in 1692 led to the deaths of 25 innocent women, men and children. The crisis in Salem, Massachusetts took place partly because the community lived under an ominous cloud of suspicion. A remarkable set of conflicts and tensions converged, sparking fear and setting the stage for the most widespread and lethal outbreak of witchcraft accusations in North America.
Centuries after this storied crisis, the personal tragedies and grievous wrongs of the witch trials continue to provoke reflection, reckoning and a search for meaning. Today, the city of Salem attracts more than 1 million tourists per year, many of whom are seeking to learn more about these events. The Peabody Essex Museum (PEM) holds one of the world’s most important collections of objects and architecture related to the Salem Witch Trials. From 1980 to 2023, PEM’s Phillips Library was the temporary repository of the state’s Supreme Judicial Court collection of witch trial documents. These legal records, which were returned to the Judicial Archives following the expansion and modernization of the Massachusetts State Archives facility, are available to researchers around the world on our website thanks to a comprehensive digitization project. Through exhibitions, research, publishing and public programming, PEM is committed to telling the story of the Salem Witch Trials in ways that honor the victims and amplify the teachings of wrongful persecution that remain relevant to today.
The Salem Witch Trials Walk
This self-guided audio tour takes you inside the galleries and outside the museum to learn more about the infamous events of 1692. PEM curators and experts share a behind-the-scenes perspective of some of the most compelling stories in Salem in this one-hour tour. Included with museum admission.
History and Origins of the Salem Witch Trials
English colonial settlers arrived in 1626 at Naumkeag, a traditional Native American fishing site, to establish a Massachusetts Bay Colony outpost. Most were Puritans who sought to “purify” the Church of England from Roman Catholic religious practices and build a utopian society. The settlers renamed the place Salem, after Jerusalem, meaning “city of peace.”
Over successive decades, waves of colonists arrived, changing the power dynamics in governance, land ownership and religion. By the 1670s, tensions between rural Salem Village (now Danvers) and the prosperous Salem Town flared. Arguments multiplied when Salem Village formed its own church and appointed a controversial minister. Changes to the colony’s charter and leadership, skirmishes with French colonists and their Indigenous allies, a smallpox epidemic and extreme weather all heightened concerns.
In January 1692, several young girls in Salem Village reported that unseen agents or forces were afflicting them. The minister suspected witchcraft. In the 17th century, a witch was understood as a person who agreed to serve the devil in opposition to the Christian church. On February 29, four men and four girls traveled to Salem Town to make complaints against three women. The next day, interrogations began.
Notable Figures of the Witch Trials: The Accused and the Accusers
Frequently Asked Questions about the Salem Witch Trials
The Salem Witch Trials are a defining example of intolerance and injustice in American history. Centuries later, the witch trials continue to capture the public imagination.
Explore the FAQs below to learn more about the tragic events of 1692.
The Salem Witch Trials 1692
Opens July 6, 2024
The Salem Witch Trials: Restoring Justice
September 2 to November 26, 2023
The Salem Witch Trials: Reckoning and Reclaiming
September 18, 2021 to March 20, 2022
The Salem Witch Trials 1692 (2020 Exhibition)
November 21, 2020 to March 14, 2021
PEMcast 24: A Fresh Lens on the Salem Witch Trials
25 min listen
PEMcast 32: Restoring Justice after the Salem Witch Trials
24 Min Listen
Halloween is over, but the witches are still marching
10 Min Read
John Ward House
Built in 1685-1699
0.1 miles from PEM