In January of 1692, when two young girls who were having fits and convulsions and were screaming uncontrollably, were brought to a local doctor in Salem Town, Doctor William Griggs, the catastrophe of the Salem witch hunt began. The doctor diagnosed the illness to be bewitchment and soon, similar symptoms were noticed in many such young girls. Many maids, slaves and, homeless women were accused by the girls who claimed to be bewitched.
Rumors about the Devil's influence on people and their possession began in 14th century Europe and spread to colonial New England.
Witchcraft was believed to the supernatural power gained by offering one's loyalty to the Devil. The situation faced added problems due to the after-effects of a British-French war in the American colonies in 1689, which raised distaste towards immigrants or foreigners, a recent smallpox epidemic, and long-standing rivalry between the affluent community and the menial workers of Salem town.
The Salem witch trials began in the spring of 1692. As the hysteria spread, over 150 men and women were killed, the first one being Bridget Bishop. The accused were tortured until they either confessed or died from the wounds they sustained. By September 1692, even children were being taken for trial and subsequently killed. The situation worsened as the people accused started naming others who they thought were involved in witchcraft and soon the newly appointed governor of Massachusetts, William Phips, ordered the establishment of a special Court of Oyer (to hear) and Terminer (to decide) on witchcraft cases for Suffolk, Essex, and Middlesex counties.
The people who refused to attend their trials were pressed to death with stones. The absurdity of the situation was proven when two dogs were also executed for being practitioners of witchcraft. The courts counted any marks on the body or the appearance of the accused in the victim's dream while the accused was in another location as evidence of supernatural powers. The idea of such trials being held at high judiciary levels seems ridiculous in modern times.
The Salem witch hunt was called to an end when the governor's wife was accused of practicing witchcraft and he ordered an end to the trials. The conclusive reasoning for the Salem witch trial was a combination of church politics and family feuds, with a mix of children falling ill due to bacteria present in wheat, rye, and corn at the time.