In Salem Massachusetts, during the 17th Century, the courts put local residents on trials for witchcraft, leading to many executions. Most of the accusations were influenced by both religious and gender elements. Women were commonly being linked to evil and the devil, and were becoming a threat to society socially, economically, and militarily. These women were insiders, local residents, to the Salem community, yet these women were being accused unexpectedly due to their threatening presence and behavior.
Both primary and secondary sources are essential for my project. My first primary source I will be analyzing is by David Levin, titled What Happened in Salem?: Documents Pertaining to the Seventeenth-century Witchcraft Trials. This primary source consists of direct trials that could possibly give me a better understanding of the possible influences of religion on these trials. Also, it appears that this source has primary documents inside, but also analyzes these sources himself which could be very helpful. Also, another book written by Bernard Rosenthal, titled Records of the Salem witch-hunt, provides many legal documents from the 17th century during the Salem Witch trials. Both books mentioned will provide direct evidence from the era of the Salem Witch trials, but more of the legal perspective since these were accusations. The next primary source being used in this paper is from the Salem Witch Trial Documentary Archive found online. This primary source is amazing. It has a ton of primary sources that have direct quotes of what exactly happened during these trials. This website allows access to diaries, sermons, personal letters, record books, court records, while also providing accusations and maps of witchcraft. Furthermore, this website has both witchcraft papers and court records. Also, Worldcat contains a variety of court records and orders that occurred during the Salem Witch Trials. This will help me see more records outside of the previous primary sources which I could use to begin to categorize trends I see.
For the secondary sources, David Harley’s article, “Explaining Salem: Calvinist Psychology and the Diagnosis of Possession,” appears to be a great source that coincides with the study of religion and accusations. Harley discusses how the psychological illnesses were not an issue, but it was more of a physical illness. Most of the time, physical illness was based around religion (demonic possession, God’s punishment, etc.). The next secondary source is by Peter Hoffer titled, The Devil’s Disciples: Makers of the Salem Witchcraft Trials. Hoffer focuses on the influence of the Devil on these accusations, so I feel like this source would be great with how religion influenced these trials since the relationship between the community and the Devil is discussed. Next, the source, The Devil in the Shape of a Woman: Witchcraft in Colonial New England, written by Carol F. Karlsen, discusses the focus on women being accused as the witches during these trials. These women were typically focused on because of their economic and social positions. For instance, men accusing women because of their threat to the social order. Also, the source, In the Devil’s Snare: The Salem Witchcraft Crisis of 1692, written by Mary Beth Norton, furthermore emphasizes the idea of women being a harm to society, but instead she focuses on the military aspect as well. She notes how women and young girls were seen as a threat to society, so therefore, they were being accused more than men. Lastly, the source Damned Women: Sinners and Witches in Puritan New England, written by Elizabeth Reis, discusses the relationship between women and evil in the Puritan practice. She notes how that directly influences society into accusing these women as witches.
As a historian, it is interesting to test and see the influence of religion and gender on society. We, as historians, already see the connection between women (gender) and evil (religion). Just because an individual was born a woman, they were being identified with the Devil, which caused many tensions within the Salem society. For instance, these women were being accused as causing evil socially, economically, and militarily. It is very important to understand why a focus began towards women as being evil and demonic. Being able to relate religion and gender to the accusations of the Salem Witch Trials could open an array of connections.
Levin, David. What Happened in Salem?: Documents Pertaining to the Seventeenth-century Witchcraft Trials. 2d ed. Harbrace Sourcebooks. New York: Harcourt, Brace, 1960.
Rosenthal, Bernard. Records of the Salem witch-hunt. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2014.
“Salem Witch Trials Documentary Archive.” Accessed February 8, 2018. http://salem.lib.virginia.edu/home.html.
“Transcripts of Legal Documents.” Accessed February 8, 2018. http://salem.lib.virginia.edu/texts/transcripts.html.
Harley, David. “Explaining Salem: Calvinist Psychology and the Diagnosis of Possession.” The American Historical Review 101, no. 2 (1996): 307-30. doi:10.2307/2170393.
Hoffer, Peter Charles. The Devil’s Disciples: Makers of the Salem Witchcraft Trials. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1996.
Karlsen, Carol F. The Devil in the Shape of a Woman: Witchcraft in Colonial New England. 1st Vintage Books ed. New York: Vintage Books, 1989.
Norton, Mary Beth. In the Devil’s Snare: The Salem Witchcraft Crisis of 1692. 1st ed. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2002.
Reis, Elizabeth. Damned Women: Sinners and Witches in Puritan New England. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1997.