I had so much fun last week looking at the global history of 1863 that I wanted to try a different year. So I moved from the 19th century to the 17th century, to a time before the United States was a country. I’m going to look at 1692, the year of the Salem witch trials.

General knowledge about the Salem witch trials is culturally pervasive in the United States. Because the basics of the story are so well known, most Americans recognize it. But there is a lot of information presented in television and movies about that time that is either exaggerated or false. If you want to know the whole story there are plenty of well-researched books and articles available by respected historians.

Here’s an example of something I didn’t know from my popular culture training about the trials. I had no idea that the time period from the first accusations to the final executions of 20 people spanned less than one year. The more you know…

Examination of a witch, 1853 by Tompkins Harrison Matteson (1813–1884) at the Peabody Essex Museum. Photo via Wikimedia Commons.

So what else happened in 1692?

There is always fighting

  • Members of the Clan MacDonald in Scotland were killed in the Massacre of Glencoe by the rival Clan Campbell for delaying the signing of an oath of allegiance to the king of England, William III (William of Orange). This was 15 years before the 1707 Act of Union that merged Scotland and England into Great Britain, which is a whole other story.
  • In Barbados, a planned slave revolt is discovered. Severe reprisals are taken against the slaves believed to be part of the rebellion. A series of laws designed to stop future rebellions were passed immediately after the courts martial and the reprisals.
  • The year 1692 was about halfway through the Nine-Years’ War (1688-1697) between an expansionist France and a coalition of European countries known as the Grand Alliance.

After the Massacre of Glencoe , 1889 by Peter Graham (1836 – 18 October 1921) at the National Gallery of Victoria. Photo via Wikimedia Commons.


  • An earthquake and subsequent landslide and tsunami destroy the capital of Jamaica with thousands of deaths and injuries in the immediate aftermath. Thousands more died in the following months due to disease.
  • The strongest earthquake in the northern part of Western Europe happened in Belgium during this year. Estimates put the magnitude of the earthquake at about 6. The effects were also felt in eastern England, France, and in Germany.

Other stuff

  • At a riot in Mexico City an angry mob torches government buildings and loots nearby shops. The riot is blamed on grain shortages and rising grain prices, but riots like this are generally caused by multiple grievances, rather than just one. In this case, many believed that the government was hoarding the grain to increase the price, which is why they went after the government buildings.
  • Famine in France, partly due to the cost of fighting the Nine-Years’ War, killed up to 2 million people in 1692-1693.

I would love to hear why you think most of us don’t know about the other items listed here, but that the Salem witch trials are such a huge hit in popular culture.