I admit that American history isn’t my favorite bits of history. Imagine my surprise when I found a paper I had written for one of my American history classes and thought of it fondly. It was possibly one of my favorite papers and projects.
The point of the project was to identify factors that lead up to the Salem Witch Trials as well as the Witch Hysteria of New England around the same time. There are dozens of reasons for it, depending on what historian, sociologist, economist, theologian, etc, that you decide to listen to…
Occasionally, I think outside the box. It was one of the reasons I really liked college. My sometimes less popular or not-so-mainstream ideas had a place in academia as a student. They probably wouldn’t fly as a professor, but I know that and prefer to write serial killer novels than teach classes or plan lessons anyway.
I got bonus points on my Witch Trials of New England paper, because I didn’t just stick to the socio-economic causes. I came up with one extra cause that my professor appreciated… The Devil Came to New England.
I didn’t mean in the form of witches, but in the form of accusers, witnesses, and the general public. And to some degree, those that sat in judgement. See, aside from Puritans, most colonists didn’t give a toss about religion, they were simply too busy for it and even among the educated, illiteracy kept many from being able to read a Bible. I even went so far as to compare the Witch Trials of Colonial America to the Satanic Panic of the 1980s and 1990s.
Both were mostly cases of mass hysteria, predominately orchestrated by members of strict religious communities. Witnesses and accusers mostly lied through their teeth in both situations. Salem’s Witch Trials became famous because the religious leader, Samuel Parrish was convinced that witches were to blame for the poor living conditions in New England and Massachusetts. And he was determined to use the accusations to bolster his position as religious leader.
It is important to note, there are two Salem’s involved in them; Salem Town and Salem Village. Sister hamlets that were equal in most things, except wealth and that economic divide played at least some part in the hysteria. It didn’t help that Samuel Parris was not well liked by people in Salem Village, specifically a very large, very wealthy land owning family called the Putnam family. Salem Town wanted independence from Salem Village, which for the most part Salem Village was okay with because almost everyone was a member of the Putnam family in Salem Village.
It is my belief, that the Devil that beleaguered Salem was Samuel Parris. Parris was like most puritan ministers, a Fire & Brimstone kind of guy. The dissatisfaction with Parris started among the core Putnam family almost as soon as he was appointed. The longer he preached, the more problems with the extended Putnam family he created. And while the witch craft accusations didn’t start with Parris’ daughter, they weren’t that severe until Parris’ daughter fell ill and it was decided that she had been bewitched. After Becky Parris was found to be bewitched, the Salem Witch Trials entered the feverish state we are now taught about in school.
Not surprisingly, several historians have noted that the accusers often inherited the property of those that were put to death for witch craft (they were hanged, not burned at the stake). Which is why most scholars agree that there was some economic factor in the Salem Witch Trials.
Why do I blame Samuel Parris, who was just a preacher? Parris knew he was not popular in Salem Village and encouraged the higher ups in Salem Town to put him into the position of being the Reverend at the church in Salem Village. Also, Parris went about the work of ferreting out suspected witches very gleefully, never once showing true remorse about those that died and were later found to be innocent, and never attempting to stop the trials, he actually encouraged them, claiming the Devil had Come to Salem (he actually wrote a pamphlet about it and handed it out), and that he needed more help from the people of Salem to root out the witches that lived among them. Furthermore, when one of the witnesses admitted to fabricating their testimony, Parris decided they were a witch as well and put them on trial. It didn’t pay to recant statements made in the Salem Witch Trials. Worse, Parris applauded the accusers, even after finding out they were lying, he pardoned them by saying they had lied with the best of intentions… He was a piece of work.