In the late 17th century in Salem, Andover, and surrounding towns, deep paranoia and fear existed among the colonists. Anyone at any moment could be accused of consorting with or being a witch. Even the most respected and reputable citizens held in good standing, the devout and religiously dedicated, along with more contrary and divergent persons, could be “cried out,” jailed, brought to trial and judged according to testimony of neighbors and relations.
Like a bolt from the sky, a charge made against someone could be immediate and unpredictable and devastating. Families were ruined, friendships and civility were destroyed, and 20 “witches” were killed in Salem alone.
Old slights, disagreements over possessions, land and woodlots, suspicious behavior, old feuds, jealousy, spite, conflicts over inheritance, rumor, reports from afar especially about commingling with Indians were some of the bases for accusation and persecution.