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The Salem Witch Trials and the American Puritans

Our American Stories / Lee Habeeb
The Truth Network Radio
September 27, 2022 3:01 am

The Salem Witch Trials and the American Puritans

Our American Stories / Lee Habeeb

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September 27, 2022 3:01 am

On this episode of Our American Stories, early on, a hush descended over 1692-1693 Salem Witch Trials for generations. 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 (e.g., the Pilgrims) and the city of Salem itself.

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Cultural history Puritans, the passion of Christ is here to tell the story of the Puritans in the Salem witch trials Stephen Mickle was we look over American history, probably one of the groups that is miss understood the most is the New England Puritans. Most of what Americans know about these New England Puritans.

We have read in high school and 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 that 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 still the hero of the story. Hawthorne's book is one who actually subverts the community and subverts the sort of framed narrative that governed that Puritan community and we find Miller's play the crucible and Miller wrote this in 1953. It was a very gossamer veiled criticism of McCarthyism purges in the red scare of the 1950s send this people were in that euro.

Speaking of the witchhunt that was going on in McCarthyism.

So Arthur Miller turned his attention back to that original witchhunt back in Salem so the result of 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 HL 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 Puritans themselves were essentially legislated into existence.

This was under the reign of Queen Elizabeth and her active uniformity from 1558 intended to bring conformity to the religious culture of Great Britain. This was in the wake of the Reformation 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 will there was a group that dissented into work 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 believe the gospel, and they also believed in 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 nonconformists were criticized they were given a name of derision, so they were called Puritans, not a name they gave themselves with the name enemies gave they were seen as holier than thou people while we fast-forward to King James I, and he did not like Puritans at all was the King James who quipped I shall make them conform or I will carry them out of my land.

Well, he could make them conform and so eventually the Puritans left the first group was the pilgrim's sister group landed 20 they came on the Mayflower. This group formed the Plymouth colony of the more properly Puritans came in 1630. They set sail on the Arbella when they landed in the New World. They formed the Massachusetts Bay colony was really during that decade of the 1630s there was a great migration of Puritans New World almost each week a new boat would arrive with Dr. there and it would bring in a whole fresh group Puritans of Puritans of New England formed the government, they carved a society in what was, as they call it the howling wilderness of New England, and even after just six years of being there. They found that the college first college in the New World 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 established Harvard but they were very much for literacy for their children. They loved learning all learning these Puritans had a very substantial what we would call today a classical education Puritans were very industrious people. They had a incredibly impressive work ethic and within that first generation establishing towns trade networks and establishing all sorts of institutions and churches and schools and colleges. There is, they carved out community in this society for them. 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 short of European context and also look at the context of some of the ideas that really were behind the Puritans so we go back to Europe. We see that witch trials go 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 1570s or 1580s on, into the 1630s or 1640s is 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 and estimates to about 50,000 people to operand estimates of 100,000 were executed as as witches across Europe pretty much every single nation had a law on the books against witchcraft and was also an offense that was a capital offense. So one was found guilty they were punishable by death. So we have that context in your and you been listening to Dr. Stephen Nichols we come back more on the Salem witch trials and the American Puritans here on our American story, this is Tori, and Jenny went to one OMG podcasts we have such a special episode brought to you by near attack ODT we recorded at at iHeartRadio type event windows handout. Did you know that near attack ODT were magic pants 75 mg can help migraine sufferers still such an exciting event like Wingo tango.

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This was also considered a capital offense with a lot of that is context.

Now we can talk about the trials themselves 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 at the trials that 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, daughter of the minister, and a niece of minister and they had these episodes of of what you would just call severe offense convulsions they be writhing on the ground they be making strange sounds. They were examined by a medical doctor in there seem to be no medical reason or at least as they could. That time discern a medical reason and so they look 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 to Chewbacca and these young girls accused her of witchcraft and alongside to to bother work to women in the town.

One was a widow and and from what we can understand was essentially sort of a homeless beggar and the other was also sort of in that category is as one. One historian I referred to these ladies name Sarah good and Sarah Osborne. He called them social misfits. But as he looked at to Chewbacca and Sarah good and Sarah Osborne.

They said these were witches and they had put these girls under a spell. Well course, they were question to Chewbacca 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 infects witchcraft and now we sort of see how things begin to spread within this town.

There were trials and in the event 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 the others started turning on each other and turning in each other.

These trials went on a 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 and of those 200 people.

20 of them were executed. So all that 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 it at particular times. The first execution came in July 19, 1692 and then another group was executed on August 19, 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 happened in these trials was that if someone actually confessed to being a witch and would repent, will they would be released and so the ones who maintain their innocence because they were 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 and a key figure in all of this was increase Mather increase Mather's 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 in during the time of the witch trials 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 of course is the husband of the poet and registry Simon Bradstreet was installed as a governor again in 1692 and as governor he actually put a stop to the trial seat was very pleased with what was going on was not aligned with it and so he just sort of hit the pause button want to keep anymore trials from happening. Well, eventually increase Mather comes back new governor was put into place and the tribunal was set.

Trials commence from the very beginning, increase Mather and other ministers across Boston across Massachusetts caution Salem to be cautious as they looked at evidence as they made decisions to not be ration their judgment and to weigh the evidence as you would in any court case and increasingly that was set aside in the trials there at Salem focused on what was called spectral evidence, so maybe someone was testifying that they'd seen one of these persons that was accused go off into the woods and practice witchcraft and also during the trial, it would just sort of point to the person say look, there's a witch above the person well of course you can 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 in Cary about the law and away that was a biblical and reject this notion of spectral evidence in so thankfully that brought these Salem witch trials to a really crucial story here is the story of Samuel Sewall, Samuel Soules's 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 seven 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 Sewall just felt the weight of that verse and he realized that what he had done a back in 1692, 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. While he repented any published book that he just simply called his apology and spread it widely Sewall vendors committed himself to calling a day for fasting for the entire colony of Massachusetts for what it happened at Salem. He worked almost tirelessly for reparations and for restitution of the accused is also fascinating that a few years after this.

In 1703 Samuel soul wrote a book against slavery and he called for its abolition. So Soules one of those figures who often just gets associated with the Salem witch trials and the need to sort 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. You don't see much recovery of Puritanism after that. And so here we have this time. 67 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 is easy for us to sort of just look back on these folks and sort of dismiss them and judge them know her quite frankly being wrong but I think we also owe it to them took to look at the full context of the Salem witch trials, and when we do. Again, we do see a fascinating a 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 Hagler. Special thanks to Dr. Stephen Nichols who is the president of the Reformation Bible college, and the chief academic officer for Ligonier ministries complicated and rich history of America. As always told here on our American story is just around the corner and all material family-friendly modern outside and enjoy conversation overhaul the pendulum to make your home phone lunch, not fabulous Ashley.com today need life insurance but have diabetes, high blood pressure or on anxiety meds. If you're a 50-year-old male even Porky or with type II diabetes oh million dollars of life insurance may only cost you about 200 bucks a month for affordable term life insurance called term provider and speak with Big Blue and 800-700-6898 800-700-6898 or visit Big Blue.com.

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