Most witch hunts happened in 17th-century New England.
During the 1692-93 witch panics in and around Salem, Mass., 14 women and five men were executed by colonial authorities. Because these events often show up in American plays, films and works of art such as Arthur Miller’s “The Crucible,” it should come as no surprise that these “witch hunts” are the most well-known to the American public. This might be the reason that National Geographic, when explaining the historical foundation of the term, exclusively refers to the Salem incidents and why an Oxford University Press advertisement points to these trials as “the greatest witchhunt of all time.”
From a European perspective, however, the events in Salem were a relatively peripheral episode in the history of witch persecutions. In fact, scholars estimate that from the 15th through the 18th centuries, about 60,000 Europeans were executed for allegedly being witches.
One of thousands of examples occurred in the parish of Mora, Sweden, about 23 years before the Salem events, when 16 individuals were beheaded and burned at the stake. The sentencing, by a royal commission of inquiry, was primarily based on testimony from hundreds of local children. The New England theologian Cotton Mather mentions the “horrible outrage” committed “at Mohra in Sweedland” by “the Devils by the help of Witches” in several of his works, a fact that most likely played an important role in shaping the events in Salem.