Witchcraft Hysteria in Puritan New England

Witchcraft Hysteria in Puritan New England

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Witchcraft Hysteria in Puritan New England


In 1692, the problems following Massachusetts’s change from Puritan Utopia to royal colony had an unusual increase in the witchcraft hysteria at Salem Village (now the town of Danvers). Although the belief in witchcraft had started a huge problem in Salem, almost 300 New Englanders (mostly lower class, middle-aged, marginal women – spinsters or widows) had been accused as witches, and more than thirty had been hanged.

With this issue in Salem all superiority in its scope and intensity. The general colony’s way of life was experiencing some problems. These problems lead the community to believe that the devil was at work in the village.

A few teenage girls became inlet listeners to voodoo stories told by Tituba, a West Indian slave, and began acting strangely. For no reason at all they started shouting, barking, groveling and twitching. The town doctor had come to the conclusion that they had been bewitched. When the girls were told this, they pointed to Tituba and two older white women as the offenders. The criminals were captured with a panic as word spread that the devil was in their presence. As the three women were being asked questions the possessed girls rolled on the floor in convulsive fits. Tituba shocked everyone when she confessed to the charge but also told that many others in the colony were practicing the devils work.

All this hysteria in the town started causing many problems. The crazed girls began pointing fingers at many residents, including several of the most respected people of the community. Within months, the jail in Salem was over its capacity with townspeople that were accused of performing witchcraft. Seeing how the townspeople believed everything the girls were saying shows how gullible the community is. Ten months later, nineteen people had been hanged, stubborn Giles Corey who refused to plea Guilty or not Guilty was pressed to death by heavy stones, and more than 100 others jailed.

Accusations spread wider and went way beyond the borders of Salem. This worried colonial leaders and they decided that the witch – hunts were out of control. The jury had about seen enough when the girls accused Samuel Willard, the pastor of Boston’s First Church and president of Harvard College, of practicing witchcraft. The governor disbanded the special court and ordered the remaining suspects released when he was stunned that his own wife was accused of worshiping the devil.

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The ridiculous event was finally over a year later. Nothing like this ever happened in the colonies again.

Why did the witchcraft hysteria at Salem happen? Some say that this whole incident was nothing but an act of being immature and having a wild imagination. Although the adults were who pressed all the charges and provided most of the testimony. Many were convinced that long – festering local feuds and property arguments may have made an impact in the prosecutions. One of the leaders of the young girls, was twelve – year – old Ann Putnam, whose older male kinfolk pressed many of the complaints. The Putnam’s were landowners whose power was fading, might have used witches as a psychic weapon to regain their reputation.

Many historians noticed that most of the people who were accused of being witches were women. Many of the women that were accused didn’t hold normal female jobs. Instead, were involved in business transactions outside the home, others did not attend church. Most were middle – aged or older beyond child – bearing age, and without sons or brothers. They inherited property and lived as independent women.

There is little doubt that the witchcraft crises reflected the social dynamics of the Salem community. Late in 1692, as the problems in Salem slowly ended, several of the afflicted girls were traveling through nearby Ipswich when they came upon an old women sitting on a bridge. “A Witch!” they screamed and began to act possessed. The people of Ipswich were not impressed. People that passed by didn’t show any interest in the dramatic girls. The girls picked themselves up and continued on their way when they were unable to generate either sympathy or curiosity.

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