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EP333: Lavagirl: Why She Quit Childhood Acting and The Salem Witch Trials and the American Puritans

Our American Stories / Lee Habeeb
The Truth Network Radio
June 2, 2022 3:00 am

EP333: Lavagirl: Why She Quit Childhood Acting and The Salem Witch Trials and the American Puritans

Our American Stories / Lee Habeeb

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June 2, 2022 3:00 am

On this episode of Our American Stories, actress Taylor Dooley shares the story of when she played the role of Lavagirl and how now 15 years later, she has returned to acting to play the same role in the Netflix Film We Can Be Heroes. Dr. Stephen Nichols, president of Reformation Bible College, chief academic officer for Ligonier Ministries tells us the story of the Puritans and the Salem Witch Trials.

Support the show (https://www.ouramericanstories.com/donate)

 

Time Codes:

00:00 - Lavagirl: Why She Quit Childhood Acting

25:00 - The Salem Witch Trials and the American Puritans

See omnystudio.com/listener for privacy information.

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Lee Habeeb

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Light. Comfy. Good to go to. This is Lee Habib and this is Our American Stories. And we tell stories about everything here on this show, from the arts to sports and from business to history and everything in between. Including your stories.

Send them to OurAmericanStories.com. They're some of our favorites. And now we bring you the story of Taylor Dooley. She's an actress most known for her role as Lavagirl in The Adventures of Sharkboy and Lavagirl, the 2005 film.

She has returned to acting today in the Netflix film We Can Be Heroes. Here's Taylor with her story. I was just a little girl with a big dream when I was probably 10. Yeah, I was about 10 when I caught kind of the acting bug a little bit.

I had been through a few modeling classes and was modeling and having fun. My dad saw this thing to be able to take some acting classes and thought, hey, maybe you might like that as well. So I did absolutely fell in love with it to my parents dismay. They they didn't they didn't know anything about the acting world or anything about it, nor wanted me really to be into it much.

But once their daughter fell in love with it, they kind of just really pushed me through that. We were living in Arizona at the time and my mom was crazy enough and wonderful enough to start driving me back and forth to auditions for commercials and such. So we were driving like eight hours a day to come to California to go on an audition just to drive back home, which was absolutely insane. And then my agency suggested that I should go on theatrical auditions for TV shows, movies. So they kind of switched me over to there. And that's when one of my very first auditions was The Adventures of Sharkboy and Lavagirl.

I ended up booking that, which was such a special, special thing. And that became kind of the catapulting thing that took my career over a little bit, which is absolutely amazing. And I feel super, super blessed for the growing up in the business is kind of very crazy. And I think that people don't touch on it as much.

We kind of hear about it a little bit in the news and with people who grow up in the business, you kind of the media, I think, shies away a little bit from that. Growing up in and around with everybody around the same age as I was hanging out with everyone from Nickelodeon and Disney and all those shows and all those fun things after Sharkboy and Lavagirl came out. It was so much fun. And I had such an interesting childhood getting able to meet all these fun people. But my parents the entire time had this thought that it just was a hard childhood. They thought that I should be able to be a kid and not be working. And so that's kind of when people find me nowadays on Instagram.

Everyone's like, where did you go after Sharkboy and Lavagirl? I kind of vanished a little bit from the entertainment industry. And it was because my parents had the want to take me out and make me live a normal, regular life. When you're a child actor, you have usually I mean, even as an adult, you have a manager and an agent usually. And when you're a kid, they don't they don't really talk to you. They talk to your parents. So I didn't really understand or know much of the business aspect of anything. It just was my parents handling everything.

So they behind the scenes knew of a lot of stuff that I didn't know that was going on, which is why I had in my brain more license to be angry at them when they did pull me out because I didn't know all the business and stuff that came from it. But my parents just felt like it just didn't feel like you could have an authentic childhood if you were busy being a little adult at 10, 11, 12. Even you know, even as a teenager, because when you're a kid, you just usually have to worry about kid things. But when you're in the business, you start worrying about things like, you know, how many auditions did you have before you got a call back? Or how many times you, you know, you've booked something, all your friends are working and you're not working, but you're only 14. Most people aren't working at your age. So there's so many rejections that happen before you get one.

Yes. That as a kid, it's really hard to swallow that because you're not usually dealing with that amount of rejection as you know, as an adult, you go on work interviews and you are prepared for that mentally and emotionally. But as a kid, you don't, you can't separate the, why didn't I get the, you're kind of, you're selling yourself as an actor a little bit, you know, and it hurts when you don't get things consistently for a while. I also twofold had something else going on where I kind of grew really early.

And in the business that they want older kids that look younger, not younger kids that look older. And so I had a lot of people want to book me for auditions right after Sharkboy and Lavagirl. And then I got so old looking that they would, they were like, well, she doesn't look 14. And I was 14 at the time.

I'm like, but I am 14. So my parents were just looking around and just seeing all how all this rejection was like devastating my confidence in who I was. And I was such a, my parents always describe me to myself. They'll tell me that I was like a really self-confident, super outgoing.

They would say I was like a little spark plug and a few years in the business. And it was really, I was getting depressed and I was getting sad because when you love something that much, I couldn't understand why I wasn't working when some of my friends were or things weren't happening for me. And it just was really devastating to who I was. So my parents didn't like that and they were really worried about what that would look like and translate to into adulthood or young adulthood.

Just having that self-doubt. And so they wanted to put me in high school to just take a break from it and not worry about it and to be a normal kid so that I could come back as an adult and be able to handle the rejection and everything that comes with being an actor. At the time, I didn't agree with them. And I think I, my mom put me in high school and I remember crying in the front office telling her that she did not love me because she was making me stop acting and go to school like a normal teenager. And I remember just being such a wreck in the front office of this high school. Like if you leave me here, I promise you, you just hate me.

You must hate me. I was so upset with her. And you're listening to Taylor Dooley tell the story of her experience in Hollywood as a child. By the way, everything she's saying applies to grownups, too. It's a tough, tough life. It is a life filled with rejection. And by the way, her parents, luckily for her, saw the change in her life, the depression, from a spark plug to a depressed teenager. And so the family interceded, intervened, and protected their daughter.

And when they come back, more with Taylor Dooley, her story, here on Our American Stories. Soon millions will make Medicare coverage decisions for next year. And UnitedHealthcare can help you feel confident about your choices. For those eligible, Medicare annual enrollment runs from October 15th through December 7th. If you're working past age 65, you might be able to delay Medicare enrollment depending on your employer coverage.

It can seem confusing, but it doesn't have to be. Visit UHCmedicarehealthplans.com to learn more. UnitedHealthcare, helping people live healthier lives. I know everything there is to know about running a coffee shop. But for small business insurance, I need my State Farm agent. They make sure my business stays piping hot.

And I stay cool and confident. See, they're small business owners too, so they know how to help you best. State Farm is in your corner and on it. Like a good neighbor, State Farm is there.

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Purchase All-Free Clear Mega Packs today and conquer any laundry load for all fabric types. And we return to our American stories and the story of Taylor Dooley. She played Lava Girl in the adventures of Sharkboy and Lava Girl, but her parents decided that the acting business was not a good environment for a 14-year-old girl. So they took her out and put her in regular high school. Taylor was upset at first, but now more than 15 years later, she has a different perspective.

Back to Taylor. And hindsight, it ended up being the best thing to ever happen to me because I got to kind of live not such a sheltered life and do some of my other life goals before I was able to get back into acting now. So I'm thankful that they did that because I definitely learned a lot about myself. And I had a few years, I think, after leaving the industry that I kind of got really upset and mad at God for a while because I would say to him, Why did you put something so deep on my heart? Like, why do I love this so much, but yet I can't do it? Like, my friends are working and I'm not.

Why is that? And I realized throughout the years that it was just because I had already always prayed and wanted an adult career and to be an adult actor because I never really wanted to do the kid fluff stuff. I was always so much older than my age acting.

I was like 13 and I used to tell everyone I wanted to be like Natalie Portman. I was always very, I just wanted a very serious adult career, which doesn't happen when you're a kid usually. So it kind of was, I think, God's way of answering my prayer in a roundabout way.

You just never know when you're in it and it feels emotional when you're in it. And now that I'm on the other side of it, I'm thankful that I didn't work through those years and that my parents pulled me out and I was able to take that break because it allowed me to, as I said, it allowed me to kind of grow as my own person and heal from some of the wounds that I feel like as a child actor I got from the rejection and all that stuff and to be able to just kind of have a basis of who I am. And it also helped shepherd kind of more of a faith. I've always, my family has always been, I kind of grew up, my parents found God when I was young-ish. I think I was like five or six when we started going to church, my parents started learning a little bit more about God. I am originally from Michigan. My whole family, my parents had never left Michigan until we moved for my brother's health. And my brother was a twin, born insanely prematurely. He was born three and a half months early, but we ended up losing one of the twins, one of my brothers. But my brother was a miracle baby.

My other brother who did make it, his name's Andrew, he made it and his lungs were just severely underdeveloped and the cold from Michigan was really hard on his lungs. So we needed to move someplace warm. So my parents found Arizona, which is insanely warm.

So it worked out perfectly. And my brother who could barely walk because his lungs were so horrible. I think we moved when he was four and I was six. And by the time we moved to Arizona, we were there like two weeks and he was already being able to swim and dive in the pool. His lungs had just developed so much better and the warmth, which was such a blessing in and of itself. But that's my brother is kind of how my parents found God because with the tragedy of the twins and not knowing my brother was in the NICU for over 100 days, because when he was born, he was born just over a pound.

He was just the tiniest little thing. They kind of through that experience and losing my other brother and trying to worry about whether my brother Andrew was going to live, they found God and found their faith and kind of kept it through all those years. And they really were what showed me what faith kind of looked like but was kind of crazy is that we were kind of all learning to do it together. My parents where they called themselves baby Christians at the time because they didn't really know anything about it. So they just we all kind of were learning together as a family, which I think made it so much closer for all of us.

We were always very close. So I kind of was always grown up knowing about that, but I kind of really took my faith is my own as I was able to step out of the business and kind of be a teenager away from everything. And when you're kind of that age of angsty wanting to know like what this world is about. It was nice to be able to be away from the industry and being away from that to be able to kind of cultivate my own faith in my own identity as to who I am because when you're in the business at such a young age, it's like such a sheltered people kind of tell you who you are because it's like an oxymoron you have to grow up so quickly and be a little adult at like 11 years old, but then you they also tell you who you are. It's like as a kid, it's really hard to muddle through what's what and so it was nice to be able to take a step back and then when I went to high school, I didn't I tried theater for a little bit and I loved it, but it just didn't feel like there was like always this cattiness because I was an actress that the end because I used to work that I felt like it's some of my theater that the people in theater were so catty with me about that and I didn't I didn't want to deal with all of that.

So I was like, yeah, I'll quit that and not do that because I just didn't have the time or want to do that. So I instead found my own group of friends which I still have to this day from high school and was able to in the very beginning they were I got made fun of because I was lava girl and it was usually in an endearing way. People would call me lava girl. It was like they were ribbing me. But, you know, in high school, everyone likes to make fun of everybody. And at the same time, Taylor Lautner, who played Sharkboy was going to high school with me. So people would make fun of us because Sharkboy and lava girl went to the same high school knew that people were just ribbing us when they all, you know, love the movie. So it just rolled right off my back and I was able to make friends that like I said, I still have this day and then all that space and time from the acting world allowed me to be able to make friends and people with people who kind of had no idea who I was in a certain way because sometimes some of the people when they were older didn't necessarily watch Sharkboy and Lava Girl. Actually, when I met my husband, funny enough, he people used to call me Lava Girl and he had no idea because my husband's 10 years older than I am.

He had no idea what a Lava Girl was. So he thought it was some really weird nickname from high school. And finally one day he was like, why do people call you that?

And I had to break. I was like, I'm an actor. I was a child actor and I was this character Lava Girl. He had absolutely no idea for like the first I think like five months that I knew him, which was nice.

It was nice to just be, you know, a normal human being. I went to college, graduated college, met my husband, which all of which would have never happened, and had two beautiful, amazing, wonderful kids and was able to kind of somewhat live a normal life until Robert Rodriguez called me in 2019 because we shot in the fall of 2019 for the new movie We Can Be Heroes. I had just had my daughter and she was two or three months old when I got a phone call from Robert telling me that he was wanting to bring back Sharkboy and Lava Girl for this new film and that we'd have a daughter and all this really fun, exciting stuff about this new movie and was asking if I'd be willing to come back and play Lava Girl again after all these years. And it had been 15 years since Lava Girl first appeared in my life.

So I was totally gung ho for it. I was able to go right back to work a few months later. I got my butt into shape after being pregnant.

So I had a few months to get back in shape and was in the fall filming We Can Be Heroes with Robert getting to be Lava Girl again with my crazy pink hair. And they were so sweet to let my entire family come to Austin, Texas to film. So I had my kids with me and it was just such a wonderful kind of reintroduction back into the business. And to me, just such a beautiful way that I felt like God was telling me that after all these years, I did the right thing by stepping away.

My parents actually, who made me and did the right thing by making me step away because I was able to come back into the business from a new perspective as a mother, as an adult, as a wife, as an adult woman to be able to make more decisions and know who I am now. After all of these years, it was just such a beautiful thing and I told Robert this, but I have such special feelings for Lava Girl because she started my career twice now. She is light. That's her character. That's like her superpower is that she's not just that she's lava. If you've seen the first movie, it's all about the fact that she discovers that she is light. And it's just to me, such a beautiful kind of symbolism in everything to be able to come back as Lava Girl all these years later, who's just light. And I just kind of feel like that's what I'd love to be in this world if I can just would like to spread love and light. And wouldn't we all special thanks to Robbie and to Faith for producing and putting together that beautiful piece. Go to Netflix, We Can Be Heroes is the movie and you get to see Lava Girl 15 years later.

The story of Lava Girl, the story of Taylor Dooley here on Our American Stories. Soon millions will make Medicare coverage decisions for next year and UnitedHealthcare can help you feel confident about your choices. For those eligible, Medicare annual enrollment runs from October 15th through December 7th. If you're working past age 65, you might be able to delay Medicare enrollment depending on your employer coverage.

It can seem confusing, but it doesn't have to be. Visit UHCMedicareHealthPlans.com to learn more. UnitedHealthcare, helping people live healthier lives. I know everything there is to know about running a coffee shop, but for small business insurance, I need my State Farm agent. They make sure my business stays piping hot and I stay cool and confident. See, they're small business owners, too, so they know how to help you best. State Farm is in your corner and on it. Like a good neighbor, State Farm is there.

Call your local State Farm agent for a quote today. Doing household chores can already be time consuming and tedious, and there's nothing more daunting than facing piles and piles of laundry that need to be done. I mean, that can be overwhelming for anyone. So if you want to get those larger laundry loads done right and get back to your life, try all free clear mega packs. All free clear mega packs are bigger packs with two times the cleaning ingredients compared to a regular pack so that you can tackle any laundry load without the worry. All free clear mega packs are also 100 percent free of perfumes and dyes, and they're gentle on skin, which is great for any family's sensitive skin needs, which my family, we definitely have sensitive skin. So the next time the whole family gets home from long vacation or you get the kids back from summer camp or whatever the situation is that's caused this big pile of dirty clothes, just know that all free clear mega packs, they have your back.

Purchase all free clear mega packs today and conquer any laundry load for all fabric types. And we continue with our American stories and up next, well, a little piece of American history. Historical truths often emerge with time. Early on, a hush descended over the 1692 to 1693 Salem witch trials. Then came playwright Arthur Miller, who made off with the story, or at least his version of it. Since 1953, the crucible has become the culturally accepted storyline that has come to define American Puritans. Dr. Stephen Nichols is president of Reformation Bible College, chief academic officer of Ligonier Ministries, and is the author of Jesus Made in America, a cultural history from the Puritans to the Passion of the Christ. He's here to tell the story of the Puritans and the Salem witch trials.

Here's Stephen Nichols. Well, as we look over American history, probably one of the groups that is misunderstood the most is the New England Puritans. Most of what Americans know about these New England Puritans, we have read in high school in two books. The first is Nathaniel Hawthorne's classic text, The Scarlet Letter, and then there is Arthur Miller's play, The Crucible. Neither of these books paint a very flattering portrait of the Puritans. The Scarlet Letter portrays the Puritans as a bunch of hypocrites, as self-righteous, as mean-spirited people who are just full of gloom and doom. Though you show no modesty in your apparel, yet you have a chance still to repent your sins. The hero of the story in Hawthorne's book is one who actually subverts the community and subverts the sort of framed narrative that governed that Puritan community.

And then we find Miller's play, The Crucible. I want to open myself. I want the light of God.

I want the sweet love of Jesus. I danced for the devil. I saw him. I wrote in his book. I go back to Jesus.

I kiss his hand. I saw Sarah Goode with the devil. I saw Goode Osborne with the devil.

I saw Bridget Bishop with the devil. Arthur Miller wrote this in 1953. It was a very gossamer veiled criticism of McCarthyism and the purges and the Red Scare of the 1950s and as people were in that era speaking of the witch hunt that was going on in McCarthyism. So Arthur Miller turned his attention back to that original witch hunt back in Salem. So the result of coming to know the Puritans through The Crucible, through The Scarlet Letter, is that the Puritans have come to most Americans with a bad reputation. To be puritanical is certainly not a compliment.

It was H.L. Mencken back in the 1920s who said that anyone who thinks that somewhere, someone might just be having a good time, that's a Puritan. So what are we to make of all this? And more importantly, what are we to make of the New England Puritans? First, who were they? The New England Puritans came from Old England. The Puritans themselves were essentially legislated into existence. This was under the reign of Queen Elizabeth and her act of uniformity from 1558. It intended to bring conformity to the religious culture of Great Britain. This was in the wake of the Reformation. There was a great divide between Catholicism and Protestantism.

England, Elizabeth needed a united country to withstand Spain and Britain's enemies, and so she enacted the act of uniformity. Well, there was a group that dissented, and they were technically called non-conformists because they would not conform to the Church of England. One of the things they stressed was the nature of the Church. They believed that the Church should consist of not simply those who were baptized, but those who also believed the gospel. And they also believed in an idea that we call visible sainthood.

That is to say that the Church should be made up of professing Christians who, well, who act like Christians. And so immediately this group, these non-conformists, were criticized. They were given a name of derision, and so they were called Puritans.

Not a name they gave themselves, but a name that their enemies gave to them. They were seen as holier-than-thou people. Well, we fast forward to King James I, and he did not like the Puritans at all. It was King James who quipped, I shall make them conform, or I will harry them out of my land.

Well, he couldn't make them conform, and so eventually the Puritans left. The first group was the Pilgrims. This is the group that landed in 1620. They came on the Mayflower, and this group formed the Plymouth Colony. The more properly Puritans came in 1630. They set sail on the Arbella, and when they landed in the New World, they formed the Massachusetts Bay Colony. It was really during that decade of the 1630s that there was a great migration of Puritans to the New World. Almost each week, a new boat would arrive, and it would dock there, and it would bring in a whole fresh group of Puritans. Now, the Puritans in New England formed a government.

They carved a society in what was, as they called it, the Howling Wilderness of New England. And even after just six years of being there, they founded a college. The first college in the New World.

Of course, this is Harvard. And so we can take a look at this first generation of Puritans, and we can see what they were truly about. One of the things that we see is that they loved learning. Not only did they establish Harvard, but they were very much for literacy for their children, and they loved learning, all learning. These Puritans had a very substantial, what we would call today a classical education. The Puritans were very industrious people.

They had an incredibly impressive work ethic. And within that first generation, establishing towns and trade networks and establishing all sorts of institutions and churches and schools and colleges there as they carved out this community and this society for them in New England. Well, this brings us, of course, to that subject of Arthur Miller's play, The Crucible, and that subject is the Salem Witch Trials. These witch trials occurred from 1692 to 1693.

Now, to understand these, we need to sort of take a step back and look at a broader sort of European context, and also look at the context of some of the ideas that really were behind the Puritans. So when we go back to Europe, we see that witch trials go, of course, back into the Middle Ages. But in the wake of the Reformation and the Roman Catholic Church's establishment of the Inquisition, there was an intense time of witch trials. This went from about the 1570s or 1580s on into the 1630s or 1640s. It's estimated by historians that tens of thousands of witch trials occurred over these decades and that many were executed. The numbers range anywhere from lower end estimates to about 50,000 people to upper end estimates of 100,000 were executed as witches. Across Europe, pretty much every single nation had a law on the books against witchcraft, and it was also an offense that was a capital offense. So if one was found guilty, they were punishable by death. So we have that context in Europe. And you've been listening to Dr. Stephen Nichols when we come back more on the Salem witch trials and the American Puritans here on Our American Stories. You might be able to delay Medicare enrollment depending on your employer coverage.

It can seem confusing, but it doesn't have to be. Visit UHCMedicareHealthPlans.com to learn more. UnitedHealthcare, helping people live healthier lives. I know everything there is to know about running a coffee shop, but for small business insurance, I need my State Farm agent. They make sure my business stays piping hot and I stay cool and confident. See, they're small business owners too, so they know how to help you best. State Farm is in your corner and on it. Like a good neighbor, State Farm is there.

Call your local State Farm agent for a quote today. Doing household chores can already be time consuming and tedious, and there's nothing more daunting than facing piles and piles of laundry that need to be done. I mean, that can be overwhelming for anyone. So if you want to get those larger laundry loads done right and get back to your life, try all free clear mega packs. All free clear mega packs are bigger packs with two times the cleaning ingredients compared to a regular pack so that you can tackle any laundry load without the worry. All free clear mega packs are also 100% free of perfumes and dyes and they're gentle on skin, which is great for any family's sensitive skin needs, which my family, we definitely have sensitive skin. So the next time the whole family gets home from long vacation or you get the kids back from summer camp or whatever the situation is that's caused this big pile of dirty clothes, just know that all free clear mega packs, they have your back.

Purchase all free clear mega packs today and conquer any laundry load for all fabric types. And we continue with our American stories and we just heard Stephen Nichols talk about the European witch trials that executed an estimated 50 to 100,000 people all over Europe. Let's return to Dr. Nichols, who will pick up the story from there. As you come to the New England Puritans, the different colonies, the Massachusetts colony also had laws on the books against witchcraft and as with their European counterparts, this was also considered a capital offense. With a lot of that as context, now we can talk about the trials themselves. I think the first thing we have to say is these were wrong. The judges of the trial were wrong. The townsfolk who accused these folks of witchcraft. This whole episode of the Salem witch trials is not something we want to make an excuse for or certainly not something we want to say is inconsequential. It was very consequential and it was wrong. But having said that, I think it's always important for us to actually take a look at what happened and to try to do as much justice as we can to the event itself.

So we look now at the trials. Everything seemed to start in the winter of 1692 and it was started with two young girls. One was just nine years old and the other was 11 years old.

One was the daughter of the minister there in the village of Salem and now these days the village of Salem is Danvers, Massachusetts. But the daughter of the minister and a niece of the minister and they had these episodes of what you would just call severe offense, convulsions. They'd be writhing on the ground.

They'd be making strange sounds. They were examined by the medical doctor and there seemed to be no medical reason or at least as they could at that time discern a medical reason. And so they looked for another explanation and very quickly the fingers all started pointing to a slave that was in the home. This was a Caribbean slave from Barbados. Her name was Tituba and these young girls accused her of witchcraft and alongside of Tituba there were two women in the town. One was a widow and from what we can understand was essentially sort of a homeless beggar and the other was also sort of in that category as one historian referred to these ladies named Sarah Goode and Sarah Osborne.

He called them social misfits. But as they looked at Tituba and Sarah Goode and Sarah Osborne they said these were witches and they had put these girls under a spell. Well of course they were questioned. Tituba actually confessed that she was a witch, that the devil had come to her, that the devil had seduced her and that she did practice in fact witchcraft.

And now we sort of see how things begin to spread within this town. There were trials and the event just sort of snowballed out of control. People if they would question the testimony of these girls they would then be accused of witchcraft and they would be arrested and brought into trial and then others just started turning on each other and turning in each other. These trials went on from 1692 through 1693. Over the course of these trials probably somewhere in the neighborhood of about 200 people were at one time or another arrested. And of those 200 people 20 of them were executed. So all but 20 were released but there were in fact 20 that were killed. They were hanged all except for the instance of one and they were sort of hanged at particular times. The first execution came in July 19 of 1692 and then another group was executed on August 19 of 1692 and then again on September 22. Of those that were killed there were 14 women but among them were in fact six men. And often what had happened in these trials was that if someone actually confessed to being a witch and would repent well they would be released. And so the ones who maintained their innocence because they weren't witches and they cared about their reputation and their name meant a great deal to them so they would maintain their innocence it was those in the case of the 20 of them that were executed during these trials.

Well how did all this come to an end? A key figure in all of this was Increase Mather. Increase Mather is probably of what we might call Puritan nobility.

He's both of the Mather family and of the Cotton family. He was in fact during the time of the witch trials he was president of Harvard. As the trials were beginning he was back in old England petitioning the king to get a new charter for the colony. And actually it was during this time that Simon Bradstreet, that of course is the husband of the poet Anne Bradstreet, Simon Bradstreet was installed as a governor again in 1692. And as governor he actually put a stop to the trials.

He was not very pleased with what was going on, was not aligned with it and so he just sort of hit the pause button on it to keep any more trials from happening. Well eventually Increase Mather comes back, a new governor is put into place and the tribunal is set and the trials commence. From the very beginning Increase Mather and other ministers across Boston and across Massachusetts cautioned Salem to be cautious as they looked at evidence, as they made decisions, to not be rash in their judgment and to weigh the evidence as you would in any court case. And increasingly that was set aside and the trials there at Salem focused on what was called spectral evidence. So maybe someone was testifying that they had seen one of these persons that was accused go off into the woods and practice witchcraft. And then all of a sudden during the trial they would just sort of point to the person and say, look there's a witch above the person.

Well of course you can't verify that, right? And so that's the spectral evidence. And it was on a lot of those kinds of evidences that the judges, nine of them in total, overseeing Salem would make their decisions. Well when Increase Mather heard about this he just wanted to put an end to this and stressed in no uncertain terms that this was not biblical. And that these folks, these judges needed to conduct themselves and carry about the law in a way that was biblical and reject this notion of spectral evidence. And so thankfully that brought these Salem witch trials to an end. A really crucial story here is the story of Samuel Sewell.

Samuel Sewell was one of the nine judges and he sat on the court, was part of the Salem witch trials. But later he was convicted of this. He repented of what he had done. In his own testimony to how he came to this realization he says that he was reading a biblical text. He was reading Matthew chapter 12 verse 7. And that text tells us, if you know what this means, I will have mercy and not sacrifice. You would not have condemned the guiltless. And Samuel Sewell just felt the weight of that verse and he realized that what he had done back in 1692 and 93 was that he had condemned the guiltless.

That there were those that were executed that were not witches. And when he realized that he had relied on bad evidence in making that decision, well he repented. And he published a book that he just simply called His Apology and spread it widely. Sewell then just committed himself to calling a day for fasting for the entire colony of Massachusetts for what had happened at Salem.

He worked almost tirelessly for reparations and for restitution of the accused. It's also fascinating that a few years after this, in 1703, Samuel Sewell wrote a book against slavery and he called for its abolition. Sewell is one of those figures who often just gets associated with the Salem witch trials and then he just sort of gets written off as one of those bad guys in the pages of history. But there's little doubt that the Salem witch trials was a difficult moment for Puritanism in New England and you don't see much recovery of Puritanism after that. And so here we have this time period of 60, 70 years of the New England Puritans. And it's easy for us, you know, I think we read Hawthorne again, Scarlet Letter, we read Miller, The Crucible, it's easy for us to sort of just look back on these folks and sort of dismiss them and judge them, you know, for quite frankly being wrong. But I think we also owe it to them to look at the full context of the Salem witch trials and when we do, again, we just see a fascinating bunch of folks who were very pivotal, very integral to the founding of what would become America. And very much a part of the American story, these American Puritans. And a great job as always to Greg Hengler and a special thanks to Dr. Stephen Nichols, who is the president of the Reformation Bible College and the chief academic officer for Ligonier Ministries. The complicated and rich history of America as always told here on Our American Stories.
Whisper: medium.en / 2023-02-16 08:48:12 / 2023-02-16 09:04:59 / 17

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