Salem Witch Trials the Entirety Term Paper

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As the Puritan leadership took the stand that their decisions were made directly from the scripture (indeed there was an absolute marriage of Church and State within these communities) any challenge to their processes (such as a newcomer objecting to the financial controls placed upon them) could be then perceived as evidence of a person who is not in alignment with God. Newcomers were more likely to propose challenges to the status quo, thus risking the leadership's stature within the community. As everyone within the community was expected to produce and demonstrate their purity through labor and production, this level of economic control had the benefit of insuring that individuals would contribute to the overall prosperity of the community. People who did not work, who took up occupations considered to be in alignment with evil. Women who took up occupations more commonly associated with men (such as Bridget Bishop who was an innkeeper), taking up opposing religious standards (as happened with George Burroughs who believed in a greater level of free will), and criminal occupations (such as Giles Corey who had committed murder). People who opposed the trials, who spoke out against the establishment or in support of the accused could easily be interpreted as being in support of the witches and, thus by extension, witches themselves (Lindley 17).

The problem, however, for the Puritans was that where the purported presence of witches in limited numbers was initially successful in not only captivating the minds of the community, but keeping people from successfully challenging the leadership of the communities. Once the anti-witch hysteria went into full gear, no one was safe - more than twenty people had been executed as witches (including a minister), another half-dozen died in jail, and only seven people accused did not face either fate (Institute for the Advanced Study of the Humanities, n pag). As evidence of manufactured accusations started surfacing, Cotton Mather (who oversaw the very last of the trials that his father, Increase Mather, had essentially started) eventually redefined the nature of witchcraft as requiring physical rather than spectral evidence (which essentially dried up the entire process (Wendell, 278). Over the course of 1962, particularly from March to September, a cascading series of accusations by "victims" and the accused led to a total of fifty two arrests and trials - accusations became so rampant that the leadership of the community came into question itself of being satanically motivated for allowing the community to have such a massive number of executions for a crime that could not be conclusively proven (Hill, 189). Finally, while Mather's family had benefited directly from the effect of accusation and justification of the witch-hunts and trials, he came to realize that his continued significance was increasingly at risk as the hysteria had weakened the community's unity and false-accusations became prevalent (Hill, 192).

The witch-trials allowed for people opposed to the status quo, people in opposition to the political, religious, or economic structures, and those whose behavior placed them in the periphery of society to be branded as witches-based entirely upon the very nature of their opposition to the status quo - if you weren't with them, you were against them. Women, dissidents, and social outcasts alike were painted as witches and this allowed for the assertion of absolute cultural, religious financial and political power within the New England elite.


Ehrenreich, Barbara. For Her Own Good: 150 Years of the Experts' Advice to Women. Anchor, 1989.

Hall, David. Witch-Hunting in Seventeenth-Century New England: A Documentary History 1638-1693, Second Edition. Duke University Press, 2005.

Hill, Frances. A Delusion of Satan: The Full Story of the Salem Witch Trials. Da Capo Press, 2002.

Institute for the Advanced Study of the Humanities. Salem Witch Trials: Documentary Archive and Transcription Project. Online. Internet. Avail: Acc 5 Nov, 2007.

Laplante, Eve. American Jezebel: The Uncommon Life of Anne Hutchinson, the Woman Who Defied the Puritans. HarperOne, 2004.

Lindley, Susan. "You Have Stept Out of Your Place": A History of Women and Religion in America. Westminster John Knox Press, 1996.

Reis, Elizabeth. Damned Women: Sinners and Witches in Puritan New England. Cornell University Press, 1999.

Wendell, Barrett. Cotton Mather: The Puritan Priest. New York: Dodd, Mead & Company, 1891.

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