Saturday, September 10, 2011

On the Salem Witch Trials

In the American Lit class I'm currently taking, we had to go to the University of Virginia's Electronic Library's files on the Salem Witch Trials and read through the files. After choosing a case we were supposed to discuss how the legal documents reflected Puritan Ideology. 

This had to be done in 280-350 words. 

I've added some of my own editorializing to the version posted here. 

Of course. 

Case: Sarah Bibber

In Salem, Massachusetts in 1692 those accused of witchcraft were screwed from the first accusation.  There was zero hope for them. The Puritans didn't need actual evidence to try and convict their peers--they simply needed to claim they'd 'seen' or 'heard' the accused do something un-Puritan, and they were convicted.

Reading over the few transcripts there are from Sarah Bibber's 'trial' --a term used loosely when discussing the witch trials, I noticed many of them followed the same accusations. Almost word for word.

"Shee would call him, very bad names, And would have strange fitts when she was crost, and a woman of an unruly turbulent spirit." (John Porter and Lydia Porter vs. Sarah Bibber)

"Very much given to speak bad words and would call her husband bad names & was a woman of a very turbulent unruly spirit." (Jospeh Fowler vs. Sarah Bibber)

"I did observe her to be a woman of an unruly turbulent spirit, And would often
fall into strange fitts: when anything crost her humor." (Richard Walker vs. Sarah Bibber)

Let me just say this. 

It's a damn good thing I wasn't alive during Puritan Massachusetts. I'd have been the first one tried and convicted. 

The trial documents reflect on two known traits of the Puritan way of life. A belief that a woman was supposed to be demure and quiet (no turbulent, unruly spirits allowed there), and the requirement that women honor their husbands (Oh, yeah, that's me. Let me get right on that bandwagon)-- I've really never read much about Puritan wives calling their husbands 'bad names', without them being tied in some way to the witch trials of Salem.

I bet dear Sarah felt great, and was more than justified in calling her DFH bad names, and those other old Puritan biddies who turned her in for it were probably just jealous. You know they were probably thinking the same thing.

In Puritan Massachusetts, God-- and the people who either thought they were worthy enough to speak for him-- was law. The Bible put in black and white the ways the world was supposed to be, and anyone not falling into line with the 'Good Book' was sinning and sinners needed to be punished.

The Puritans just preferred to drown them, burn them, or crush them with rocks.  

In my young adult novel I actually did research on the Salem Witch Trials specifically for their acts of torture-- I mean execution. The crazy dude who inflicts pain on people really enjoyed their ideas as well as those from the Spanish Inquisition.  

Isn't it truly amazing how many people were tortured and killed in history--all in the name of "God"? 


Works Cited:  The Salem witchcraft papers, Volume 1 : verbatim transcripts of the legal documents of the Salem witchcraft outbreak of 1692 / edited by Paul Boyer and Stephen Nissenbaum.
Electronic Text Center, University of Virginia Library

1 comment:

  1. Nice post. I'm a descendant of a couple of the Salem Witches. (Sarah Good & Rebecca Nurse)