Cotton Mather and the Salem Witch Trials of 1692

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Cotton Mather and the Salem Witch Trials

The Salem Witch Trials of 1692 took place in the Puritan community of Salem, Massachusetts. Cotton Mather, a clergyman in Salem, emerged throughout the course of the trials as a pillar of support and, ultimately, as a witch-hunter. However, his motives at the beginning of the trials were driven by his Puritanical reasoning which holds a strong belief in Biblical Law. Cotton Mather used his Puritanical faith to find reasoning in God that allowed the Salem Witch Trials to occur.

Puritanism spawned from a reform group of the Church of England in the mid-sixteenth century. Puritans felt the need to make the Church of England pure from the corrupt influences of the Roman Empire.1 In their New England colony, including Salem, they held the Bible to be the foundation of their legal system, while also including some of the common laws of England. The Bible was the basis of the legal system because God, in Scripture, told people how to live. Since man was born with original sin and could, therefore, inadvertently make laws that went against Scripture, the Puritans looked to God, through his words, to decide the righteous course of action.2 They followed this not only in their legal system, but also in their everyday lives. Everyone in the community of Salem attended church, and the church was the pillar of the community in every aspect of life. They did not hold the Bible open to interpretation, and they tried to live humble lives in servitude to the Lord. The Puritan ideals in Salem left the town wide open to the crisis that ensued in sixteen ninety-two. Anything that strayed from the ordinary, from the direct following of God's Word, could be seen as coming from the Devil, since it was as ...

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Inc. 1960), 96.

4 Levin, What Happened in Salem?, 97.

5 Levin, What Happened in Salem?, 98.

6 Brian P. Levack, Witchcraft in Colonial America, vol. 8 of Articles on Witchcraft,

Magic and Demonology (New York : Garland Publishing, Inc. 1992), 281.

7 Levin, What Happened in Salem?, 101.

8 Levin, What Happened in Salem?, 102.

9 Levin, What Happened in Salem?, 103.

10 Bernard Rosenthal, Salem Story : Reading the Witch Trials of 1692 (New York :

Cambridge University Press 1993), 135.

11 Levack, Witchcraft in Colonial America, 286.

12 Rosenthal, Salem Story, 147.

13 Rosenthal, Salem Story, 145.

14 Rosenthal, Salem Story, 202.

15 Christina Larner, Witchcraft and Religion : The Politics of Popular Belief (Basil

Blackwell Inc. 1987), 80.

16 McClendon, "Puritan Jurisprudence."

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