Date of Award


Document Type

Honors Thesis

Degree Name

Bachelor of Arts



Advisor/Committee Chair

Maeve Kane


As defined as one of the darkest moments in American history, the Salem Witch Trials serves as a haunting reminder of the human capacity of fear and manipulation over a community of people that led to mass hysteria and injustice. Through the mist of mass hysteria and chaos, the Court of Oyer and Terminer was established to maintain social control of the community and prosecute the accused through coerced confessions. Over a hundred and fifty people were accused of witchery and over one-third of the accused confessed to the crime. This paper dives into a deep analysis of primary and secondary sources to discuss the use of confessions within the Salem Witch Trials. Looking into the tactics used to gain forced confessions from the accused, the role the institution of slavery had on the use of confessions of evidence within the trials, and the extreme methods of punishment the court conducted against the accused who refused to confess to being a witch, provides a remarkable understanding of how confessions initiated the continuation of the trials so the court could have social control over the Salem community. This thesis will argue that the Court of Oyer and Terminer used confessions as a tactic to take social control over the community by using the fear of the devil to establish a continuous loop of confessions for future legal proceedings. The accused out of fear of their fate if they did not submit an admission of guilt, confessed to stay alive. For the enslaved women accused of witchcraft, each woman took care in answering the magistrate’s questions in the right way to help them make it through the trials alive and keep them free from being sentenced to the gallows. To maintain social control of the community, the Court of Oyer and Terminer took extreme measures against those who would not confess, killing or punishing any of the accused who defied the court.

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

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