How Far Can The Average Person Throw A Football So, You Want to Know About the Salem Witch Trials – Part One – Life As a New England Puritan

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So, You Want to Know About the Salem Witch Trials – Part One – Life As a New England Puritan

Advice on how to use this: If you are really interested in the subject, read everything and you can hold your own in a conversation with any expert. If you have a report, or otherwise don’t care, just scan and read the first few sentences of each paragraph. I don’t always add dates because timelines are so easy to find online, but I follow a loose chronology. The main purpose is to present information as it is best understood. It is designed for you to feel about life, learn some information and become a more knowledgeable person.

What was life like for a New England Puritan?

People were clamoring and trying to find a target. By 1660 Americans had a common goal; worked together and created a new frontier, but now the convoy was well established and the focus was on the material and spiritual benefits.

The colonists did not care about the British political leaders. Instead, people idolized the founding fathers, like those who arrived on the Mayflower. In 1692, the founding fathers died and left.

The majority of the population had always been born in England, but the tide turned, and by the late 1600s, America was filled with native-born people.

There was no separation between church and state, and people who did not attend meetings were suspected and could be punished. In many towns there was a rule that a person could not vote if he was not a member of the church.

Since lying was considered a sin, it was punishable by law.

Rattlesnake was not common, but when one did occur, it was a form of entertainment to which young children were invited. The most famous part of the hanging was the last words of the person who was going to be executed, saying goodbye to his family. Puritans believed that allowing children to witness the hanging would teach them the consequences of immoral behavior.

Life was a series of hectic activities with little entertainment. The average family made their own bread, butter, cider, ale, clothes, candles and everything else they used. Each family member could work from morning to evening.

The houses were dark, damp and depressing. The candle was always lit, even in the middle of the day, because the small windows let in very little light.

The nearest neighbor usually lived a few football fields away.

Most people could not write and signed their name with their “mark” on legal documents. The signature “X” was unusual for young girls (and even older women) who liked to make curly hearts and other inventive designs.

Since people couldn’t read, they didn’t care (or know) how their name was spelled, and since a court reporter couldn’t very well ask an illiterate person how to spell his name, he would write down the spelling. Many official documents have individual names spelled differently. Mary Easty was also Easty, Osborne, Osburn, Corey, Corey, etc. Even learned and educated men used loose grammar and did not care about correct spelling.

Typical families had 5-10 children of their own, and there was usually an additional child living at home. At age 7, children are given their full share of responsibility and are expected to live up to adult standards.

New England had one of the lowest infant mortality rates in America. “Nine out of ten children born there survived to at least the age of five, and perhaps three-quarters of them reached adulthood.” In most rural areas, up to 25% of children die before the age of 1, and only about half survive to adulthood.

Most marriages end with the early death of a spouse. A married couple was happy to be separated from each other for seven years. Second and third marriages were common.

The man was the head of the family. A wife could offer her opinion to her husband behind closed doors and even prove a valuable partner, but she was expected to agree with her husband on all matters. She could not own property or vote without her husband’s permission. A woman was assumed to be the weaker sex in every way, and if she did not obey her husband’s rules, she was encouraged to use physical violence as a form of “correction”.

There was a real fear of Indians (Salim never attacked) and everyone knew at least one Maine orphan whose parents would be killed by Indians. Surprisingly, many of the captives and captives chose to stay with the tribe instead of returning to their families.


America was a colony of England and had to do things according to a set of rules called the “Charter” handed down by the King of England. It would take 10 weeks just to get the news to England by ship. By March, when the witch scare first broke out, the previous charter had long since been removed. This meant that there was no leader, no rules, and the closest thing to a leader in England was negotiating a new charter. Because of the circumstances, the accused witches were investigated and kept in custody, but not tried. In May, Increase Mather, president of Harvard (the only New Englander with an official title) returned from England with a new charter and a new governor. This is where the real trials began.

Puritan beliefs

The Bible was the law; period, no questions, end of conversation. It was taken literally and sins such as adultery and fornication could be punished by death.

The faith of the Puritans suffered blows and no new people joined their ranks. Ministers constantly preached about the demotion and the rise of Satan, as if they were one and the same.

Ministers used to talk about the virtues of being a good wife that she could really hope for. A woman would be disliked if she owned her own land, did not have many children, or in any case, was a talker or otherwise.

People practiced magic and white magic. Simple women’s tales, like fortune-telling, were passed down from generation to generation, even though it was considered evil. Ministers have always preached about the dangers of invoking the devil through witchcraft, however harmless.

There was general distrust at that time, and if a cow died suddenly, the owner would probably think that one of the neighbors had cursed it. Man dare not question God’s judgment; he just doubted it was aimed at him. If he searched his soul and found that he had done nothing to deserve the death of his cow, he blamed the misfortune on the devil, who worked through a witch.

To deny God was unquestionable, so by the same token, denying the existence of Satan would be just as much blasphemy. The Bible was considered absolute truth, and men who could read consulted the Bible on personal and legal matters.

The Puritan way of life was strict and righteous and they were not the kind of loving and forgiving that one would expect to find in such a religious society. According to Marion Starkey, if a man had a toothache, the Puritans thought he had sinned in some way with his tooth. This feeling was so strong that some of the accused witches confessed in astonishment and racked their brains to find something they had done in the past to cause the devil to use them in this way.

The Puritans used fasting as a way to give a little something extra to God and unite the community in one cause. Meals were very important and usually the only time during an average day that a person could sit down and relax for a moment.

There was little difference between dreams and real life. To the Puritan, everything had a reason and “…dreams contained prophecies, revelations, truths that were more real than everyday life, and there was no other clear explanation of what they were.”

Salem village

Throughout his life, Thomas Putnam resented wealthy families like the Porters. Both families grew up in Salem, but the merchant Porters were more worldly and successful than the Putnam farmer. No matter how hard he tried, Thomas Putnam, a man of authority in his own right, could not defeat those unfortunate Porters. The porters had more land and more money, but what bothered Thomas was that the porters were considered smarter than Putnam because they spoke better. Thomas moved to secede from the town of Salem and form the village of Salem, but the town did not want to give away the property.

The Village of Salem was allowed to build a meetinghouse, but it was to operate as a franchise of the Salem Town Meetinghouse. Thomas Putnam tried to raise the ranks with the hands of ministers, but this only served to divide the community; those who supported Putnam and his choice of minister and those who hated Putnam and did not support any of his choices. All the unsuspecting ministers would eventually leave Salem Village because of the conflict. Sometimes Salem Town/Village refused to pay (George Burroughs had to go to the General Court to get paid), and sometimes the ministers bowed out, frustrated by all the arguments.

Eventually the village of Salem was allowed to function independently, and Samuel Parris was the first minister to do so for the fledgling community.

A witch, according to the Salem Puritan.

Witches were known for killing healthy children.

Witches had pets known as “familiars” to do their evil bidding. Familiars drank their witches’ blood from an extra “skin” located somewhere on their body, usually near their genitals. Salem acquaintances had a habit of sucking between the index and middle finger.

Witches could throw curses like frisbees and target anyone who angered them.

Witches made pacts with the devil, sometimes for a certain amount of time. Satan was always tempting people to sign his book.

The sorcerer could not recite the “Our Father” prayer without making a mistake.

A witch could be in one place while her wonder caused pain and misery in another.

Satan had no power over those who did not allow him. He could not take the form of a righteous person, although the Puritans had no reason to believe this, and many argued for the use of “spectral evidence”.

If a person was convicted or even accused of witchcraft, his family was automatically suspected.

Christa Delle Zan-2009

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