Religion and Witches

In a recent post Amgaither continued the debate on this blog about whether the witch trials and evangelical great awakening have a cause and effect relation. She believed that the two events did not have a cause and effect relationship which I believe to be incorrect. She makes the point that both the Great Awakening and the witch trials happened in the same place merely because the conditions there were ripe for both of these events. But I believe there is more to it than that, and that the witch trials and the evangelical preaching of the time period both had more influence over other because they were going on around the same time period.

I found the most interesting of the witchcraft articles to be the one written by Elizabeth Reis because I felt like it dealt with the relationship between the witch trial and the Great Awakening very well. Reis mentioned at one point that “Ministers spoke of the devil’s proximity in their weekly sermons and they articulated the notion that his presence was ubiquitous.” I think this is an accurate way to describe how the Great Awakening helped the witch craze to reach even greater heights. People lived in fear of the devil and his control because much of the Great Awakening dealt with the devil and how he was out to get people. Pastors and religious leaders were trying to scare people into becoming better Christians. Although this did lead to more devout religious practices in many cases it also led to a heightened “awareness” of the devil. Taylor mentioned that how ministers tried to “shock their listeners” and it worked. It shocked them so much they began seeing the devil where it didn’t really exist.

In chapter 15 Taylor discusses in great detail the evangelical awakening that occurred early in the 18th century. This time of religious renewal, marked by a fire and brimstone type of preaching, was called the Great Awakening. The effect that the Great Awakening had on the witch craze wasn’t a one way street. It was more of a cycle in which as the heightened fear of the devil grew people began to see witches everywhere, which in turn led to more fear of the devil. Taylor did a good job of using quotes from people in this time period to show how intense the sermons were at that time. People were legitimately very scared of hell and so it influenced their every day activities. I think without each other the Great Awakening and the witch craze would not have been as important as they were.

Religion Against Society: The Relationship Between the Witch Trials and the Great Awakening

Religion in the early colonial era took on many forms. Although different, the beliefs caused a surge of membership and support from the colonists. New institutions were built and people showed up by the thousands to be mesmerized by the speeches of various preachers. Unfortunately, only a few decades before this time, witch trials in northern communities erupted. The correlation between these two has been in debate in previous blog posts.

In Amgaither’s post, she explains that she does not believe that these two events have a cause and effect relationship. Instead, she writes that both were caused by the small town structure and powerful religious prowess in the areas. I agree and disagree with her post. I do believe that the factors stated above did have monumental effects on the emotional proliferation as well as the intemperate actions of the colonists during the witch trials and the Great Awakening. But I also think there was also cause effect driving the scenarios.

During the witch trials of the late 1600s, hysteria broke out as people wrongly accused others of being controlled by the devil. Innocent people were put to death without the rightful use of jurisdiction and the accusers clung to their religious beliefs to determine the victims’ fates. This phenomenon is extremely similar to the beliefs of followers of the evangelical revivals years later. Taylor explains that they believed “that no worldly authority could legitimately obstruct religious choice” (354). Much like the accusers of the witch trials, evangelical converts believed that they should always obey their religious values before that of society. This connection is far too substantial to not be a direct cause of the all-righteous view of religion.

Moving to another issue, I find it interesting that beliefs during this period of religious escalation caused extreme paranoia and conviction. In the witch trials, people were convinced every variation of behavior was controlled by the devil. During the Awakenings, people chose their religious faction and disagreed with choices and the societal standards of others in society. Although these people found god to reach an ethical understanding of life, their actions caused a mass amount of turmoil in the early stages of the colonies. I would like to hear other people’s opinions on either of these two issues I have discussed.


The Relationship Between Witch Trials and the Great Awakening

In Sherwood’s post, he argues that the rise of evangelicalism in the Northeast is linked to the witch-hunts in the same region several decades earlier. For the most part, agree with this assertion; however, my views are slightly different in some aspects.

Although the witch trials and Great Awakening were two similar events in the same region, I do not see them as having a cause-and-effect relationship.  Certainly, they shared contributing factors that the South also lacked: mainly small, tight-knit communities and strong religious beliefs.  These qualities allowed the witch-hunt to flourish in the same way they allowed the rise of evangelicalism.  The close communities allowed for both witch accusations and new preaching styles to spread quickly to different families and parishes.  Likewise, the strict standards of the Puritan faith created an extremely God-fearing civilization; in fact, their culture of discipline, hard work, and high morals is based around their religious beliefs.  Their fear of God goes hand-in-hand with a fear of the devil.  When the devil supposedly manifests himself in their neighbors, the people are terrified and act senselessly.  Similarly, a primary reason for the success of evangelicalism was the fear that a person would not obtain salvation and spend eternity in hell.

In summary, small towns and a strict religion are two reasons that both the Great Awakening and the witch-hunts flourished in the Northeast instead of the south.  Although I agree that it may be a contributing factor, I do not believe that these commonalities prove that the paranoia of the witch trials caused the Great Awakening.  In my opinion, these similarities are characteristic of the New England society, and the two events are merely the effects of that social environment.

The Great Awakening: Evangelical Revivalism

Chris Masone
History 141

In his recent blog post, Sherwood says “In the colonies, the advent of evangelical Christendom can be plausibly linked to heightened paranoia regarding witches on the grounds of their common “experimental” nature.” He argues there is a correlation between evangelical religious revival and the increasing number of witchcraft accusations specifically in fairly isolated New England colonies in Massachusetts and Connecticut. Although I will put this argument in a slightly different context, I absolutely agree with him.

Taylor describes in Chapter 15, that it was difficult for New England colonies to find priests in the 1700’s because the only way to become ordained was to sail to England and seek out a bishop. Costly and time-consuming, I assume that many priests either lacked the funding or didn’t want to risk the long journey. The lack of priests may have contributed to the decline in full church membership of colonists and also to the rise of rationalism and evangelicalism that Sherwood mentions.

With the Great Awakening, energetic ministers wanted to revive full memberships in their congregations by preaching emotional, soul-searching sermons. Their shock-and-awe mentality, mainly describing both the greatness of heaven and the perpetual agony of hell, targeted the colonists’ emotions and virtually forced them to abandon rational thought. This zealous phase was short-lived as Davis describes on page 346, with the waves of suicides of those colonists who were stuck in limbo between salvation in “new birth” and misery in unknowing their ultimate fates.

Davis juxtaposes perhaps the most shocking suicide of Joseph Hawley, uncle to the evangelical preacher Reverend Jonathan Edwards, with the fervent Anglican minister George Whitefield. Unfortunately, besides his own word Davis cites no evidence that Joseph Hawley committed suicide out of despair in his search for salvation, this evidence would have truly illustrated the damaging effects of evangelical hysterics on the colonists.

Davis seems to argue that George Whitefield was single-mindedly focused on his career and perhaps too fixated on his reputation rather than the message. Having befriended many influential figures such as Ben Franklin who helped spread his message through newspapers, Whitefield toured controversially across the east coast and seemed to have kindled evangelical revivalism very quickly, possibly with little regard to the consequences of widespread emotional preaching. Davis concludes that this revival “accelerated a religious dialectic that pulled seekers and their congregations between the spiritual hunger to transcend world and the social longing for respect in it.” (Davis 362)

I think that the emotional hysterics and zealousness of the Great Awakening and the controversy that surrounded it proves Sherwood’s point. The shocking amount of suicides during this time of Whitefield’s controversy and spiritual panic illustrates a direct causation of emotional instability (as seen in the witchcraft accusations that Sherwood argues) as a result from the rise of evangelical Christendom in the New English colonies.

Taylor, Chapter 15 / Norton, “Witchcraft”: A Supernatural Inclination

Sherwood Callaway
HIS 141, Blog Post 4

In the colonies, the advent of evangelical Christendom can be plausibly linked to heightened paranoia regarding witches on the grounds of their common “experimental” nature.

Taylor juxtaposes evangelicalism with its conservative counterpart, rationalism. He describes the former as “cultivating a spontaneous, direct, and individual religious experience” (343). Plainly, evangelicalism embraced superstition to an almost unprecedented level, arguably rivaling the mystic spirituality of Medieval Christendom. Furthermore, evangelical Christians were extremely emotionally invested in their worship. Rationalism, on the other hand, “held that God created the natural universe and thereafter never interfered with its laws” (344). Rationalists “found guidance” in understanding the methods of science and order (344). They condemned evangelicals as “enthusiastic,” or fanatical—and not entirely without fair reason.

I have little evidence to support the following claim, but I found the prospect much too intriguing to ignore: Could the “experimental” nature of evangelicalism have contributed to the rationalization of witchcraft in colonial New England? I believe so.

Consider a few hard facts:

1) Evangelicalism emerged most prominently in the Congregational communities of New England. For example, the evangelical George Whitefield had little success in the southern colonies, “because most Anglicans distrusted his emotional preaching and ecumenical support… [and the south] also lacked the dense settlement and many printing presses” (348). In New England, however, these essential elements were present, and he achieved much larger audiences.

2) Norton writes in her essay Witchcraft in the Anglo-American Colonies that “the vast majority of known witchcraft cases arose in Massachusetts or Connecticut or developed among Puritan New Englanders.” Furthermore, to extend my tentative comparison of evangelicalism and medieval Christendom, she explains: “only New Englanders established the sorts of small, relatively self-contained communities that in Europe tended to generate witchcraft charges.” Norton suggests that these communities facilitated interaction between neighbors, which facilitated conflict between neighbors, which—when coupled with the unpredictable hardships of colonial life, and a pre-enlightenment worldview—likely escalated into accusations. Quite frankly, the farming societies in the Chesapeake and the Carolinas were not as conducive.

So it is clear that New England was more evangelical, and also more prone to witchcraft charges. But the question remains: was this relationship a correlation or causation? A partial causation, I would bet—contribution is probably a better word.
I’m interested to hear the perspectives of my fellow students on the issue.

Slavery in the North, Virginia, and South Carolina

Slavery took on distinct forms in the various regions of America. In the North slavery was not as commonplace as in the South, but slavery in some areas was still the primary backbone of physical labor, and unlike the South, Northern slaves were more directly in competition with working class whites, but at the same time had more elements of their own autonomy and were often quite close to their white owners. In Virginia slavery underwent several transformations. Slavery saw its roots initially in Virginia as very similar to indentured servitude, with some slaves finding freedom after working for a master for a set number of years. The beginning years of slavery in Virginia showed a surprising degree of egalitarianism between freed blacks and whites, with some blacks becoming planters and slave owners themselves. As time went on however, and more slaves entered Virginia, the elites among the society grew upset at the idea of this near racial equality and worked to enshrine black inferiority into the laws, resulting in a vast removal of the rights of freed blacks and of those of slaves.  In South Carolina, a interesting dichotomy emerged, slaves were crucial to almost every aspect of South Carolina life, from working the fields to fighting Indians, and the slave owners profited greatly from the slaves’ skills and  labor, but the slave owners were greatly fearful of the possibility of a slave uprising, as they were outnumbered by their slaves and instituted harsh slave codes to attempt to prevent it. But in spite of this slaves had  a greater degree of cultural autonomy than within other portions of the American colonies.

Rise of the Plantation Elite

In his discussion of the Chesapeake colonies, Taylor discusses the rise of the ruling plantation elites who would go on to form the basis of the Antebellum South’s title-less aristocracy. The Chesapeake colonies saw a brief period of social mobility in the formative years of the colonies, during which time many of these elites made their place, a combination of freed servants and the initial planters who hired these servants formed the basis of this elite, but those who would come to the Chesapeake colonies after this brief period found the period of social mobility to be very short  lived, as usable land vanished, thus leaving a growing divide between the wealthy landowners possessed plenty of good land to grow tobacco, and those with little or no land who were struck with poverty. This growing divide was further widened by the Governor of Virginia, who gave out vast land grants to his favorites among the plantation elite, which resulted in growing tensions between the ruling class and the lower classes, as well as those landowners dissatisfied with their position, ultimately resulting in Bacon’s rebellion and the recall of the governor. After this rebellion the planter elite underwent a major change, as they moved to build solidarity with the lower classes by developing a genteel manner and emphasizing shared racial bonds and their differences, conflicts, and superiority towards the Indians and Africans.

Unlike Virginia, the Carolinas did not start off with a planter elite at odds with the poorer common planters and servants, rather from the beginning the Carolinas  the planters found a need for the commoners as they feared the possibility of slave and Indian alliances , and knew that they needed white commoners to help defend them against these dual threats. The fear of slave revolt drove these  planter elites to greater solidarity with the white commoners and also drove them to attempt to set black slaves and Indians at odds with each other  by offering indians rewards for black slaves being returned and declaring war on Indians who harbored black slaves. The plantation elite were able to fully establish their power, eventually overriding the Lords Proprietor and controlling the majority of political power within the Carolinas.

In this week’s reading, chapters 7 and 11, Taylor discussed the colonial practices of Georgia, the Carolinas, and the Chesapeake. To start, I disliked the lack of information the author gave about Georgia. Granted, as mentioned in class, Georgia history is boring. But I am from Atlanta, and I am biased. I want my state to be represented as much as the others. My suggestion to the author, without any credibility of course, would be to include more detail about the issues in Georgia and the native peoples involved. However, I was born in Greenville and also lived 9 years in York, SC so I was moderately pleased with the history of the Carolinas. One of the main arguments Taylor presents includes the white sense of solidarity versus the fractioned Indian identities. I found this particularly interesting and wondered the outcome had the Native peoples banded together and fought as an American nation. Would we all still be in Europe? Would it have taken decades or centuries more to conquer the “New World”? In just about all of the cases on the eastern coast of the North American mainland, Indians fought side by side with colonists against rival tribes. The Europeans would play the nations against each other and take advantage of the rivalries. Later, when convenient, the colonists would find an excuse to massacre the former partners. One of the very few chiefs to promote a nation combining tribes was executed for his ideas, not by a European, but by a fellow native. A few differences between the colonies include the attempt by Georgians to create a colony without slave while the Chesapeake and Carolinas relied heavily on slave trade and labor to prosper. The explanation about trying to keep whites motivated to work by avoiding slave labor rang bells in my head because I have taken AP US history but this idea was never addresses in the textbook I read before. It makes sense that whites would find physical labor degrading because it made them feel like slaves and that was definitely depressing in the time period.

Southern History Ain’t Pretty

Finally, we reached the South. We piddled around the area for a little while with Virginia and shortly after went North. But now we can talk about some good ole southern tales of rice, raiders, terror, and for brief moment, Georgia. Those short headers from Taylor’s  Chapter 11 on the Carolinas show us just how great colonial times were in the Carolinas. It is safe to say that they showed up a little late to the party. The “new world” was no longer a disease ridden mystery but rather a disease filled reality. People had been in America long before the Lords Proprietor were set govern the large state of everything above Florida and below Virginia. But quickly, as Taylor points out and we might expect, that large land mass split into North Carolina, South Carolina, and eventually Georgia.

However, for the Carolinas showing up late to the party might not have been a bad thing. Just as Virginians figured out their crop was tobacco, so did South Carolinians figured out that rice could be their fortune. So the South Carolinians did as all respectable rich white men did back then, they bought slaves. The slave trade was not a new entity, but rather a practiced trade. And these were not any slaves. They were specialists in their fields, literally. However, being so southern the slaves could easily run south away from the slaveholders and into free territory. So, to prevent them for running away they armed themselves at all times, scared them, and armed the Native Americans around them to help if any slaves were to run in their direction. The whites were scared up an uprising in a society where blacks were a large part of the population. As history tells us, South Carolina becomes a slave state and remains that way for a long, long time.

Now, as Taylor did with Georgia, I will briefly speak of the Chesapeake colonies. Taylor presents a lot of information here. Yet, while I was reading, I felt as if I was reading a book of fun facts. He spats off numbers about how much it cost to cross the ocean and then mentions the story of Elizabeth Abbot and her master. Which leads him to wealth, successful planters, which in turn lead to Bacon’s Rebellion, and so on. Taylor then ends the chapter with slavery. He acknowledges a successful freed black man, Anthony Johnson, but then speaks his final words on the demise of the status of freed black men. One colonist even said that Negro and Slave had become homogenous (157).

I’ve always had a passion for studying southern history because it is where I am from. But it has never been nor will it ever be pretty. Taylor does what should be done. He speaks of truths, horrible, horrible truths, but truths that should be acknowledged and learned from.

Transformation of Labor in Virginia

In Chapter 7, Taylor writes about the Chesapeake colonies from 1650-1750. The part of this chapter that stuck out to me the most was how labor transformed from indentured servitude to the concept of slavery usually associated with the South. Most indentured servants before 1620 were forcibly brought over, but after 1620 it was a mostly voluntary choice. The emigration of servants fluctuated accordingly with the tobacco prices and wages in England (142). Although the first Africans were brought over as salves in 1619, it was not a profitable decision. Many of the early Africans were treated as indentured servants and were freed after their allotted labor time. There were no colonial laws against blacks, so “black freedmen and women could move as they pleased, baptize their children, procure firearms, testify in court, buy and sell property, and even vote (p. 154).” There were even instances of interracial marriage. These examples are in stark contrast to the way blacks were treated even up until the 1960s and 70s.

As Will  said in his post after Bacon’s Rebellion a decrease in white indentured servants caused many of the planters to seek African labor. Even as late as 1650, enslaved Africans still only comprised 2% of the Chesapeake colonial population (142). Taylor says, “At the end of the seventeenth century, slaves became a better investment, as servants became scarcer and more expensive (p. 153).” The decrease in diseases increased slave life expectancy and allowed slave traders to come to the Chesapeake. Surprisingly, Taylor says that the change from indentured servants to salves protected the planters against rebellions by angry freedmen (p. 154). The only problem was, that the planters now had to worry about slave rebellions. The colonial militia began as a safeguard against slave rebellion. This was the beginning of whites grouping themselves together, not based on class, but by race. Towards the end of the seventeenth century, the Chesapeake colonies started placing stricter legal codes in regard to both slaves and freed Africans (p.155). Masters also started believing that “only pain and fear could motivate them (slaves) (p.155).” They considered the Africans as non-humans and this justified their despicable treatment of the slaves.

Laws passed in 1680 and 1705 further divided the races and set out punishments for blacks that broke the racial boundaries (p.156). Previously freed slaves were also discriminated against, and many of them left the Chesapeake colonies (p. 156-157). As racial slavery grew, Taylor says that “Virginia became both more stable and more distinctive from England (p. 157).” The racial divide continued to grow and your identity was the connotation associated with your skin color. Although whites were more united than ever once slavery was introduced, the classes within the white race were extremely unequal.