Religious Hysteria

In response to Sherwood’s post (, I firmly agree that there exists a linkage between the Puritan witch trials and The Great Awakening.  However, I do not believe this relationship is one of causation.  I find my thoughts to closely resemble those of Amelia (  I think that the characteristics of New England, including a strict, religious society with a relatively dense population, played a major role in both instances.  However, I fail to see how witch trials themselves caused religious revival decades later.

I would also like to comment on other features that I found interesting from the readings.  Taylor rebuked the notion that the colonies developed as a place of religious freedom and claimed that generally colonists “wanted their own denomination to dominate” (339).  In addition to colonists not idealizing religious freedom from the start, elite Virginians also “dreaded ‘freedom of speech'” (356) as late as the 1740s.  The lack of support for these principles shockingly contrasted the ideals on which the policymakers (including many elite Virginians) founded the United States later that century.

Norton highlighted secular disputes as a leading cause for witch accusation in the colonies.  She did a nice job of explaining that witchcraft provided a logical and widely accepted explanation for misfortunes in colonial society, so ill-fortuned people considered supernatural altercation by an enemy a very viable possibility.

Reis noted the influencing factors and prejudices that led to women consisting of the most accused and convicted witches.  She mentioned that women’s perceived mental and physical weaknesses allowed Satan to more effectively target and corrupt women than men.

Woodward’s article about witch hunting in New England prior to 1692 and Denis’s article about native peoples’ witch hunts fascinated me the most, as they offered new and educating perspectives.  I lacked knowledge of New England’s witch hunts prior to that of Salem, and found the varying aspects particularly interesting.  Exploring other witch hunts illuminated features regarding the processes of accusation and conviction in colonial witch hunts that I did not know about by solely studying Salem’s witch trials.  For example, I did not know about Bulkeley creating new standards for evidence in witch craft trials in Connecticut.  It was interesting to note his standards from the early 1660s when considering the evidence used to convict witches nearly thirty years later in Salem. Denis compared and contrasted witch persecutions in colonial societies with those of the native peoples.  Native religions consisted of more supernatural beliefs, and the sudden devastation brought on by European colonization led many native peoples to attribute the misfortunes to witchcraft.  Descriptions of witch hunts by native peoples struck me as surprisingly similar to those of colonial Europeans.  Although Denis did note that gender did not play a factor in native witch persecutions.

Overall, I felt the readings gave a very solid overview of religious chaos in colonial America.  Taylor coherently illuminated the causes and results of The Great Awakening, and the collection of authors provided numerous interesting insights on witch persecutions.