Could there come a time
when you won't be able to
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need to preserve
have discovered that the first people to inhabit
Massachusetts arrived over 10,000 years ago.
These Paleo-Indians are the ancestors of the
Native Americans of today. They lived in small
nomadic bands that followed herds of large animals.
The Paleo-Indian period was followed by the
Archaic period and the Woodland period. During
the Archaic and Woodland periods, Native Americans
shifted from hunting large game to hunting smaller
game, increasing their dependency on fishing
and eventually learning to cultivate corn, beans,
and squash. The natives of this period invented
useful tools and devices, such as ceramics,
canoes, textiles, baskets, and wigwams, and
developed a social system based on close ties
between religion, family, clan, and nature.
the time of early European colonization attempts,
there were over 30,000 Native Americans in Massachusetts
living amongst a variety of tribes belonging
to the Algonquin language group. Some of the
most well known tribes were the Wampanoag, Pennacook,
Mahican, Pocumtuck, Nipmuck, and the Massachusett
(for whom the state was named). Unfortunately,
the Europeans would bring with them diseases
for which the Native Americans had no immunity
against, resulting in large, deadly epidemics.
The first such epidemic hit the coastal region
of Massachusetts between 1616 and 1617. The
Native population continued to suffer from disease
and warfare throughout the remainder of the
17th century. Nearly ninety percent of the Native
population was killed during this period.
first documented exploration of Massachusetts
was conducted by John Cabot. In 1497 and 1498,
Cabot sailed through Massachusetts's waters in
search of a route to Asia. Before Cabot's exploration,
a legend tells of Leif Ericson and other Norse
explorers reaching the area in the year 1000,
but there is no documented proof to support such
tales. After Cabot's voyage, other explorers passed
through in search of a passage to the east. In
1602, Bartholomew Gosnold explored the Massachusetts
coastline and named Cape Cod after the plethora
of fish that schooled there. In 1614, John Smith
traveled through the area and wrote A Description
of New England, in which he mused over the beautiful
coastline. Smith's work, augmented by William
Wood's New England Prospect, helped stir colonization
interests in England.
and other colonists
Refugees in search
of a place to enjoy religious freedom founded
Massachusetts. The colonization efforts of the
Pilgrims and the Puritans were voluntary movements
of religious separatists in pursuit of a place
they could live their lives according to their
own beliefs without any disruption from outsiders.
Pilgrims were English Separatists who broke away
from the Church of England in the early 17th century.
Most of these Separatists were poorly educated
farmers without social or political standing.
William Brewster and the Reverend Richard Clifton
led one of the Separatist congregations in the
village of Scrooby in Nottinghamshire. These separatists
immigrated to Amsterdam in 1608 to escape harassment.
The following year, they moved to Leyden, Holland
and set up a community where they enjoyed religious
freedom for almost twelve years. A well-known
separatist, William Bradford, organized and led
the Pilgrim immigration to America. Although the
separatists were not persecuted in their Leyden
home, Bradford saw it necessary to create a Pilgrim
colony in the New World in order to keep the movement
alive. In Leyden, they began to assimilate into
the larger society losing touch with their religion.
By the time Bradford acquired land and organized
passage to America, only 35 Pilgrims still wanted
to make the voyage. (The term "Pilgrim" was first
used by William Bradford to describe the separatists
who were leaving Leyden.) The small party left
Holland and stopped in England where more separatists
would join them, increasing their group to 75
people. Other non-Pilgrim Englishmen, called Strangers,
joined the voyage as well, departing for America
on the legendary Mayflower on September 16, 1620,
with about 102 passengers, less than half of them
a 65-day voyage, the group arrived in America.
Two people died on the journey, and two people
were born. The colonists were granted territory
in Virginia, but they anchored in Provincetown
on November 21. That day 41 men signed the Mayflower
Compact to establish a temporary government. The
Compact became the governmental basis of the Plymouth
Colony. John Carver was elected as the first governor,
and Stephen Hopkins as the assistant governor.
After weeks of searching for a suitable settlement
area, they finally landed at Plymouth on December
26, 1620. Nearly half of these settlers would
die over the first winter, while the remaining
settlers survived with the help of local Native
Puritans arrived in Salem in 1630, with a royal
charter that granted them governmental powers
over the colonies and served as the foundation
of the government of the Massachusetts Bay Colony.
Colonization spread throughout the region, and
by 1640, there were 16,000, mostly Puritan, settlers
in Massachusetts. The Puritan's mission was to
establish a godly society based on church membership
and worship that was purified from the corruption
of the Church of England. The religion of the
Puritans came to be known as Congregationalism.
Life in Puritan New England was extremely difficult,
as frontier life required everyone to work long,
hard days. Leisure time was nearly non-existent,
amusement was frowned upon, laws prohibited stylish
dress, and crimes were punished harshly. Church
attendance was absolutely mandatory and anyone
who opposed the church was unwelcome in the community.
In the mid-1650s, some Quakers preached against
the Puritan way of life, resulting in their banishment
and the threat of death if they returned. These
threats were substantiated, as one Quaker woman,
Mary Dyer, found out when she was hanged for returning
in 1660. Other banished dissenters left to found
cities and colonies elsewhere. Thomas Hooker left
the Puritans and founded Hartford, Connecticut
while Ann Hutchinson founded Portsmouth, Rhode
Island. Roger Williams who was exiled for preaching
the separation of church and state later founded
The Witchcraft Craze and the Salem Witch Trials
for practicing witchcraft was not unique to colonial
Massachusetts. During the 15th century, witchcraft
was taken very seriously in Europe. This was due
in part to a number of books circulating at the
time. In 1490, The Hammer of Witches, a
book written by two German Dominicans, defined
witches and explained how to punish them. During
the Elizabethan reign in England, strict laws
against witchcraft were passed, which resulted
in a number of witchcraft-related executions.
When James VI of Scotland took the throne, he
extended these strict anti-witchcraft policies.
He wrote a book, Demonology, which addressed
witchcraft and other dark arts. His book being
widely read, added to the heightened hostilities
towards those suspected of practicing witchcraft.
In 1681, Joseph Glanville published A Full
and Plain Evidence Concerning Witches and Apparitions.
Like Demonology, this book reached a widespread
audience. These books and policies set the stage
for the execution of witches, including the Salem
the 16th through 19th centuries, before and after
the Salem Witch Trials, there were documented
cases of witch executions in Europe. Between 1610
and 1840, it is estimated that over 20,000 accused
witches were burned at the stake in Germany. Between
three and five thousand witches were executed
in 16th and 17th century Scotland. England also
witnessed the accusation and execution of witches
prior the Salem Witch Trials. In 1664, Amy Duny
and Rose Cullender were found guilty of practicing
witchcraft and were executed. The anti-witchcraft
sentiment that had been growing in England and
Europe undoubtedly had an impact on the Puritans
in America. Fear of witchcraft can be seen in
the Puritan laws: "If any man or woman be a witch,
that is, hath or consulteth with a familiar spirit,
they shall be put to death."1 There
were also instances of witch executions in New
England prior to the Witch Trials of 1692. In
1647, Alse Young was hanged in Hartford, and in
1648, Margaret Jones was hanged in Charleston;
both accused of being witches. Scattered cases
continued throughout the colonies. Ann Hibbins
was accused of being a witch by her neighbors
and was hanged in 1656, and in 1662, the Greensmiths,
husband and wife, were executed in Hartford. It
bears to proof that suspicion and punishment for
witchcraft existed long before the 1692 epidemic.
These earlier cases convinced the people of Massachusetts
that witches did exist.
witch craze and subsequent Salem Witch Trials
began with the strange behavior and seizures of
a group of girls. At the Reverend Samuel Paris'
home in Salem Village, their slave, Tituba, entertained
a gathering of his daughter and friends. The children
took interest in the magic performed by Tituba
and supposedly became afflicted by it. The girls
later began to have fits and convulsions. They
became known as the "afflicted children," and
the town folk believed their behavior to be caused
by witchcraft. Tituba was arrested, along with
four other women, Sarah Good, Sarah Osburn, Martha
Corey, and Rebecca Nurse. Tituba was released
after she incriminated Good and Osburn, and all
four women were executed based solely on testimony
from the accusing girls. The testimonies were
very convincing and dramatic, and the girls went
into convulsions during the trial. This trial
sparked a witch craze that spread throughout the
town. During the spring and summer of 1692, 150
people were arrested and awaited trial. Thirteen
women and seven men were hanged, and one man was
pressed (stones were placed on his chest until
his chest finally collapsed). The accused were
hanged outside of Salem in a place that came to
be known as Gallows Hill. After realizing the
severity of the witch craze and the number of
people involved, Governor Phips discharged the
remaining men and women being held in jail. Some
historians believe that Governor Phips allowed
the witch craze to reach such an extent in order
to earn the support of the people of Salem. Regardless
of whether Phips let the event carry on for political
reasons or not, the witch trials finally came
to an end.
this day there has never been an episode like
this in American history and the incident will
likely stand out as an interesting and poignant
example of the implications of mass hysteria.
The cause of this frenzied occurrence has yet
to be fully explained, but a multitude of theories
exist. In the 19th century, historians believed
that the girls faked the convulsions and falsely
accused the so-called witches as part of a government
conspiracy to take the property of the accused.
This posed an interesting theory but has since
been debunked. Other theories include the belief
that the girls may have been affected from a reaction
to a fungus called ergot, which could have caused
them to experience convulsions and hallucinations.
However, the witch craze was most likely a combination
of events, culminating into an episode of mass
hysteria. Puritans lived their lives according
to a strict faith and a constant fear of Native
American attacks. The devil was a part of Puritan
theology, and many believed that the Native Americans
worshiped the devil. War hysteria set the stage
for a larger degree of hysteria and explains,
at least in part, how an isolated case of "possession"
turned into an extensive witch-hunt.
1 Albert Bushnell Hart, Commonwealth
History of Massachusetts, Volume II (New York:
Russell & Russell, 1966).
of Historical Reviews
© 2006 Rickie Lazzerini,
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University of California, Santa Barbara
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