witchcraft paper

Mike Hicks 11-3-19HIS 6700 The Salem Witch Trials: Afflicted Accusers The Salem Witch Trials are a popular topic in history, and have been studied and debated by historians for decades. There are many different interpretations amongst historians regarding the origins, causes, verdicts, and executions that were made during the trials. However, a common trend that historians agree upon are accusations made against women and men by both men and other women resulting in several individuals being tried, convicted, jailed, and even killed. This paper will be an investigation about how men and women played a major role as accusers during the trials based on the accounts of many different historians. In the initial stages of the trials women were the accusers. As time progressed, men became the primary accusers.The trials lasted over one year, and what lead to such hysteria is what historian Emerson Baker calls the “Afflicted”. The afflicted were the very first people to make accusations of witchcraft towards other people. Baker describes the afflicted as individuals in “categories of mental illness, physical ailment, group hysteria, and outright fakery.” Weather or not the afflicted were faking or had something truly wrong with them, Baker, along with historian for Elaine Breslaw, have come to the same conclusion that the first afflicted were “a group of adolescent girls in a small town who began to show symptoms of subtle twitches to violent jerkings and contortions of the body and verbal outbursts.” Following these incidents, other individuals began to show very similar symptoms. In a small colonial town where everyone is in close proximity, paranoia was high and answers were wanted. Eventually, six more girls became afflicted and began accusing people of witchcraft. One of those six girls was Mary Warren. Warren accused her bosses John and Elizabeth Proctor. “She claimed that the couple had tortured and tricked her into touching a book she knew had to be the devils.” The Proctors would be arrested and tried, but Baker does not tell weather or not the Proctors were convicted of witchcraft (Bernard Rosenthal confirms that they were never convicted). Warren, along with the other afflicted girls would go on to accuse both men and women of witchcraft. However, Baker only details further accusations of other women from Warren. There was now a full fledged witch-hunt in the colony, and Warren became a very active accuser. Shortly after her accusations against the Proctors, she accused several more women of witchcraft due to what Baker describes as “fits she was having”. One woman in particular was Abigail Soames. Soames was brought to trial and for the first time, the touch test would be used. During the trial, Warren would have a fit whenever Soames would make eye contact. The Judges Ordered Soames to grab her by the hand, and Warrens fit ceased. When Warren was asked to touch Soames in a reverse experiment, Warren broke out into another fit. Thus, the touch test was invented, and it would later incriminate several other women in other trials. One thing that Baker brings to light is a common trend amongst the afflicted, the validity of Warrens accusations, and what he believes caused the outbreak beginning with the afflicted girls. “More than half of Salems unmarried girls between the ages of sixteen and twenty-four had lost their fathers and some were orphans.” He suggests that in Warrens case, she either made a false accusation in order to avoid or put an end to the physical and or verbal abuse by the Proctors, she had a mental illness, or the accusations were fraudulent. He leaves the reader to makes their own conclusion, but makes many speculations regarding the outbreak. “Some may have suffered a wide range of psychological disorders. Others may have been victims of conversion disorder-a mass hysteria that resulted from the grim circumstances confronted by citizens of Salem village and New England in 1962.” In any society, there will always be individuals who suffer from some type of mental illness. At the time there might not have been much scientific research or awareness regarding mental health, so the accusers and judges had nothing to go by. However, mental illness does not rule out the fact thatsome of these accusations were willful acts of deception. Historian Frances Hill gives an example of this deception with the confession of Ann Putnam. Putnam was one of the original six girls to become afflicted. She ended up accusing 70 year old Rebecca Nurse of witchcraft, who was eventually convicted and hanged. As previously stated, this was a false accusation, and Putnam later confessed she lied about it at the age of twenty four. “I have been instrumental, with others, though ignorantly and unwittingly, to bring upon myself the guilt of innocent blood. I did not do it out of anger, malice, or ill-will to any person, for I had no such thing against one of them; but what I did was ignorantly, being deluded by satan.” Baker also makes the argument that the witch-hunt itself was not only a result of the paranoia sparked by the afflicted, but also a result of accused witches being a threat to the well being of the colony, more specifically a threat to the power and authority of others. This became relevant in the case of reverend George Burroughs, who was accused of witchcraft, and was put to death by hanging. “There were a multitude of factors that brought him under suspicion, and many of those surrounded his spiritually and commitment to Puritanism.” The Salem Massachusetts bay colony government was strictly puritan, and was intolerant of any other form of Christianity, as it was seen as dangerous to the puritan way. Most of the accused witches had ties to quakers or another sects of the religion. “George Burroughs was not a quaker, but he was under suspicion of being a baptist.” This was because he refused to take communion during a church service, and did not have his children baptized. Eventually Burroughs would be tried, found guilty, and executed. “The accusation and execution of reverend Burroughs is symbolic of a rebellion against existing authorities in the colony attempting to be quelled.”According to historian Bernard Rosenthal, the very first men to make accusations of witchcraft were William Allen and John Hughes. William Allen accused Sarah Good of “using a specter on him, not allowing him to move, and she came in a form of an unusual light. John Hughes stated in his accusation that “he saw Sarah Good come into his home in the shape of a bright lighted grey cat.” A man by the name of John Cole, accused a woman named Sarah Cole, of “tormenting his wife by causing her to see strange sights, and struck him on the head and almost beat the breath out of his body.” Rosenthal also chronicles an incident in which Bray Wilkins accused a man named John Willard of witchcraft. He stated that “Willard asked him and his neighbors to pray for him since people were accusing him of witchcraft. Wilkins admitted that he did not pray for him and as a result of not praying for him, Willard was causing serious pain in his stomach.” Rosenthal claims that men eventually became the main ones to throw out accusations of witchcraft. He argues that the theme in these accusations involved seeing the ones that they accused in the form of a ghost or an animal. Men also claimed, that woman came to their homes and changed into these figures with the intent to harm them. Each person who made these allegations have their own unique story, no matter how outlandish the claim. Some men said that they saw people transforming to hideous shapes and creatures, while others suggested that the ghosts threatened to do harm if they did not cooperate with them. Humphrey Clark stated that he was “quite frightened when he saw the apparition of Sarah Wilds because she shook his bed during the night. When he awoke from the shake, he saw Wilds and jumped right into the corner.” Thomas Boarman accused Rachel Clinton of witchcraft when he claimed to see her in the form of cat. Boarman stated that “after following the cat, he saw a great circle. The cat vanished, but when thinking about the cat, he thought it resembled Rachel Clinton.” John Westgate accused Alice Parker of witchcraft because he saw her turn herself into a black pig. He stated that “the pig came running towards him with an open mouth, in an attempt to devour him.” Benjamin Gould claimed that Giles Corey and his wife, Martha Corey, came into his home at night and pinched him. Stephen Bittford accused Rebecca Nurse and Elizabeth Procter of causing him extreme distress because they had “caused a pain in his neck that would not allow him to move.” Jarvis Ring proclaimed that Susannah Martin came into his home while he was sleeping and tortured him by biting him.”In addition to the accusations men made against women casting spells on them, they also accused women of afflicting their animals. John Kimball accused Susannah Martin of bewitching his cattle. He stated that “the curse led to the death of an ox and several of his cattle. John Rogers also made a claim that Martha Carrier had caused his cows to become ill and not produce milk.” Thomas Bailey accused John Rogers of afflicting his mare. He claimed that Rogers frightened his mare by “projecting strange noises even though Rogers was nowhere in sight. Isaac Cummings claimed that after a confrontation with Elizabeth Howe’s husband about using a mare, Howe cursed one of Cummings horses causing it to fall over dead.” Historian Mary Beth Norton speaks on the accusers, accused, and the confessions of some of the accused in her work, but she also takes a different angle in her research. Throughout her book, she talks about how warfare with native Americans negatively affected the lives of the people of Salem. As a result of war, the Wabanaki native American tribe would ruthlessly attack English settlements, killing and dismembering their victims. Stories were also told by former Wabanaki prisoners that they “would strip their victims, burn them, cut their flesh, and then eventually kill them.” She argues that settlers of the Salem colony saw this as work of the devil, and associated anything native American related with devil worship. Norton also speaks on reverend George Burroughs. “Burroughs worked with the Indians in his daily life, and since Indians were seen as devil worshippers, it meant that Burroughs was working with the devil.” This, along with Burroughs’ suspicion of not being a true Puritan minister are what contributed to his execution. Reading these different cases and revisiting Emerson Bakers arguments regarding false accusations, mental health, and threat to religious authority, one can make their own conclusion. However, it’s pretty safe to say that a vast majority of these cases were false accusations, and the accused had to have some ties to a religious sect of Christianity other than puritan.In addition to normal men accusing people of witchcraft, there were prominent men who also played roles in the accusations of individuals. Historians Paul Boyer and Stephen Nissenbaum argue that popular puritan reverend Samuel Parris was a major contributor to the witchcraft hysteria. They claim that Parris exploited the young afflicted girls, forcing them to claim that “witches” were causing them harm. “Parris convinced the community that there were witches in the community. By doing so, several people began to attend his church and Parris was able to earn some revenue.” Weather this is true or not, it is believable considering the fact that Parris’ daughter Elizabeth and his niece Abigail Williams were members of the original six afflicted girls. Boyer and Nissenbaum also mention Thomas Putnam Jr. of the wealthy Putnam family. Thomas Putnam Sr. amassed a large fortune and had many acres of land. However, he fell on difficult times and had to sell a vast majority of his land and assets. Unfortunately after his death, his debts would fall on his son Thomas Putnam Jr., forcing him to sell off his inherited land became a pauper. These unfortunate events caused him to believe that witchcraft was the root of his problems. Putnam went on to accuse Bridget Bishop, Rebecca Nurse, John Procter, Sarah Wilds, Susannah Martin, and Martha Corey who were all wrongfully convicted and executed. Nissenbaum and Boyer suggest that the Putnam family was very supportive of Rev. Parris during the trials and tried to help him maintain his position of Salem Village’s minister. According to Francis Hill, “Mather’s myth of the ‘afflicted’ girls, [who became] strongly involved in sorcery and magic,” were led by Tituba and John Indian through a witching circle.4 Since he was a participant, Mather’s description of the “circle” would greatly influence later historians who would write about the trials.Analysis of the claims, ages, status, geography, and accusations (who, when, and how many they accused) of these men provides a clearer idea of the fundamental role that these men played in the affair.7

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