Salem Witch Trials

Salem Witch Trials - AMERICAN LITERATURE Puritan Literature...

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AMERICAN LITERATURE Puritan Literature and the Salem Witch Trials Introduction Between the months of June to September of 1692, the infamous witch trials in Salem, Massachusetts resulted in the deaths of twenty men and women as a result of witchcraft charges. Hundreds of others faced accusations and dozens were jailed for months during the progress of the trials. There are an infinite number of explanations for the hysteria that overtook the Puritan population of Salem. For example, a combination of economics, religious temperaments, personal rivalries, and precocious imaginations added to the furor (Hoffer, Weisman). Significantly, a book published by Cotton Mathers in 1689, “Memorable Providences Relating to Witchcraft and Possessions” also contributed to instigating the events (Silverman). Witch Stories During February of 1692, a young Salem woman named Betty Parris became “strangely” ill. Her symptoms included wildly running around, diving under furniture, contorting in pain, and complaining of fever (Hoffer, Reis, Weisman). At this time, the Puritan writer Cotton Mather had already published what was a popular and widely read book, "Memorable Providences." Mather’s narrative described an incident of witchcraft in Boston, and Betty Parris' behavior was quickly interpreted in the contexts of Mather’s account of the Boston “witch” (Silverman). While Mather introduced a narrative of witchcraft into the Puritan consciousness, the talk of witchcraft escalated when other local girls, including eleven-year-old Ann Putnam, seventeen-year- old Mercy Lewis, and Mary Walcott, began to demonstrate similar symptoms of unusual behavior (Reis). A doctor was called to examine the girls, and he suggested that the girls' problems might
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have a “supernatural origin.” In many ways, the doctor’s inability to diagnose the medical nature of the problems increased the widespread acceptance that witches were involved. From there, the controversy took over and the Puritan imagination embraced the descriptions that Mather had described in his account of witches in Massachusetts. Meanwhile, the number of girls affected continued to increase and a local West Indian slave
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This note was uploaded on 04/07/2008 for the course HIST INTRO US taught by Professor Christian during the Spring '08 term at NYU.

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Salem Witch Trials - AMERICAN LITERATURE Puritan Literature...

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