During the 1600s, the Puritans established Salem in Massachusetts, and it was divided into two regions: the fishing port region in Salem Town and the farmlands region in Salem Village. In 1692, a trouble began, when the Reverend’s daughter and niece experienced convulsions or spasms. One of the doctors in the village said that the girls’ sickness was a result of witchcraft. The Reverend’s daughter and niece agreed and named slaves and beggars. The Puritan leaders of Salem put them into trial, thus, beginning the Salem Witch Trials (Fradin & Fradin 22-24). Based on the event surrounding the Salem Witch Trials, it may be deduced that the insular Puritanical mindset brought about the unjust Salem Witch Trials. Therefore, Puritanical texts will be reviewed in order to get a sense of Puritan beliefs and concepts and their effect on the Salem Witch Trials.
The insular puritancial mindset
Puritanism encouraged discrimination due to race and ethnicity and led to ethnic cleansing. William Bradford, one of the founders of Salem in the Massachusetts colony, described the land they colonized as, “hideous and desolate wilderness full of wild beasts and wild men” (Merchant, 98). Therefore, after the pilgrims settled in Salem, Bradford along with other founders sought to transform Salem into a livable and civilized community according to their standards. “Bradford, Winthrop, and their followers set about transforming the eastern forest and its attendant evils into a New World garden” (Merchant 98). Part of the pilgrim founders’ plan of transforming and developing Salem may have led to the people’s aversion toward slaves and beggars (Merchant 99). Therefore, Bradford’s view of Salem may have influenced the continuation of the Salem Witch Trials, as the founders may have used the trial as a means to “cleanse” Salem. They did it by driving away and executing those who did not fall under their ideal vision of a developed and civilized community. The Salem Witch Trials almost seemed like the founding fathers’ instrument for ethnic cleansing at Salem, since the trial provided them with the opportunity to select outcasts and those who chose not to follow the Puritan faith. Bradford even expressed his delight for the death of Native Americans who previously lived in the British colonies. According to Bradford, “It pleased God to visit these Indians with a great sickness and such a mortality that of a thousand, above nine and a half hundred of them died” (Mann 85).
Puritanism necessitated stern control and unreasonable discipline. As a result, when some people defied Puritan beliefs and practices, they were accused of being involved in witchcraft. The Salem Witch Trials were the Puritan’s response to their diminishing control over the people. Thus, the Puritans sought to establish a society they could control. A group of people who followed Puritan beliefs and practices, the founders of Salem, could not accept the existence of other people in the community who did not believe in Puritanism. “The events of Salem can be viewed as the result of an unstable environment, composed of political uncertainty, threats of war, and the fear of change that generated an atmosphere of fear within the community. Those fear found its focal point in the witch hunts and trials” (Wilson 61). Furthermore, the Salem Witch Trials were warnings for people who were planning to follow dissenters and a means to eliminate the threats to the political community in Salem. The trials were instruments to put the people in their place, so to speak.
Puritanism imposed moral codes wrongfully by instilling fear among its followers. “Fear of the devil was instilled through the sermons of the church leaders and parish preacher… the sermons of Cotton Mather were filled with warnings of the power of the devil and the existence of evil in the world, an evil that was a direct threat to the Puritan vision of a holy utopian in the new world” (Wilson 61). Moreover, according to Puritanism, women could be easily deceived by the devil. “According to Puritan beliefs, women were unable to resist the devil and therefore were certain that the devil walked the earth and, in particular, Massachusetts” (Wilson 62) . Thus, when girls in Salem showed signs of being possessed or inflicted with unknown conditions that could not be determined by doctors, the preachers considered it as a work of the devil. Puritanism instilled great fear and even paranoia among people. As a result, the girls’ feared people who were adherents of a different faith. Moreover, they were blamed for the unexplainable conditions they experienced.
Although the intensions and foundations of Puritanism may be considered as important concepts that guide ethics and morality, the application of Puritan beliefs and practices resulted into negative outcomes. The Puritans, who were struggling to gain control over their community, observed racial discrimination, because they could not identify themselves with outsiders. Moreover, Puritanism encouraged stern discipline, so when their society was challenged, they resorted to violence to maintain control over the community. The people’s extreme fear of the devil also led them to make assumptions about the unexplained circumstances that befell the girls of Salem. Overall, Puritan beliefs were insular, thus, led to the unjust Salem Witch Trials.