Based on historical records of colonial Salem, several innocent people are accused of witchcraft and hanged before the hysteria ceases.
In 1692 the Salem town council removes Bilge (E. E. Clive) from his office for drunkenness. Dr. John Harding (Harvey Stephens) gives Barbara Clarke (Claudette Colbert) a bonnet, but Martha Harding (Gale Sondergaard) warns her not to wear it. Black Tituba (Madame Sul-Te-Wan) tells girls about Satan and predicts a man coming into Barbara's life. Barbara delivers candles to Elder Goode (Edward Ellis) and Jeremiah (Halliwell Hobbes). Barbara meets fugitive rebel Roger Coverman (Fred McMurray) from Virginia. In church Rev. Parris (Ivan F. Simpson) preaches against fancy bonnets. Bilge tells elders he saw the devil. Miles Corbin (Sterling Holloway) tells Barbara they should marry; but she chases him away and invites Roger for dinner. Unlike the Puritans, Roger and Barbara like to laugh and dance. They hide in the woods, and he kisses her.
At a house-raising John brings Barbara, and Martha learns she was in the forest. Ann Goode (Bonita Granville) reads to girls about witches, and Barbara makes a puppet for little Mercy Cheeves (Babs Nelson). Tituba finds Ann's book and gives it to Elder Goode, who spanks Ann. Abigail Goode (Beulah Bondi) trades her coat for Tituba's potion. The bell summons people, and Morse announces that witchcraft is spreading. A storm sends people running home. Abigail drinks the potion, and Dr. John is called to Ann, who raves. John finds nothing physically wrong. Ann accuses the slave Tituba, who is arrested. Jeremiah tells Roger that Barbara tried to defend Tituba. Elder Goode says that Tituba bewitched his wife Abigail with a potion. To save herself Tituba confesses and accuses several people. Aunt Ellen (Louise Dresser) and John warn Barbara not to defend them. Then Ellen tells Barbara that her mother was burned as a witch, and Martha knows. Roger wants to take Barbara away and leaves to arrange passage. Timothy Clarke (Benny Bartlett) sees Barbara with a man; she denies it and makes him promise not to tell. Roger and Jeremiah find a ship captain (J. Farrell MacDonald); but Roger is arrested, and Jeremiah is killed.
In Salem several are arrested, and Abigail accuses Rebecca Nurse (Lucy Beaumont). When Barbara defends her, Abigail accuses Barbara. Timothy testifies he saw Barbara with someone she said was no man. Roger escapes from jail and is hunted with dogs to the swamp. In Salem fifteen have been hanged, and John visits Barbara. In her trial Timothy is questioned, and Barbara says she was with a man she cannot betray. Mercy is brought in with the puppet Barbara gave her, and Barbara comforts her. John defends Barbara, but Martha says Barbara's mother was a witch. Roger returns, and Timothy answers the door. Roger stops the hanging of Barbara. Ann cries and asks forgiveness. In the final scenes the elders ask a judge to abolish crimes for witchcraft, and the gallows tree is destroyed.
This drama depicts actual events from a time of religious hysteria, which resembles the current Nazi hunting of Jews. Why are people so eager to execute people when emotions rage since errors committed during such frenzies cannot be corrected? In this case the delusions were so obvious that they repented when reason regained control.