Witches


American history has few subjects as interesting as witchcraft, because
it confronts us with many Ideas about women. It confronts us with fears about
women, the place of women in society, and with women themselves. Also, it
confronts us with violence against women and how the problems of society were
often blamed on women. Even though some men were executed as during periods of
witch hunting, witches were generally thought of as women and most who died in
the name of witchcraft were women. In the United States, witchcraft took place
among too educated of people to dismiss it as mere "superstition." (P.10)

The first person that was executed, as a witch, in America was Margaret
Jones, in 1648. Jones was a midwife and lay healer, who was accused of several
different practices. Minister John Hale, who witnessed Jones\'s hanging in Boston
when he was a boy, later said that she "was suspected partly because that after
some angry words passing between her and her Neighbors, some mischief befell
such neighbors in their Creatures, or the like: [and] partly because some things
supposed to be bewitched, or have a Charm upon them, being burned, she came to
the fire and seemed concerned." (P.20) Hale included neither of these charges in
his list of the evidence presented against Jones, but suggested that the crimes
had to do with her medical practice. She was accused of having a "malignant
touch," Hale noted, and her medicines were said to have "extraordinary violent
effects." When people refused to take her medical advice, he added, "their
diseases and hurts continued, with relapse against the ordinary course, and
beyond the apprehension of all physicians and surgeons."(P.21) Hale also
mentioned that Jones was believed to possess psychic powers: "some things which
she foretold came to pass accordingly; other things she could tell of ... she
had no ordinary means to come to the knowledge of."(P.20) John Hale pointed out
that several of Jones\'s neighbors tried to get her to confess and repent. One
of them, he said, "prayed her to consider if God did not bring this punishment
upon her for some other crime, and asked, if she had not been guilty of stealing
many years ago." (P.22)Jones admitted the theft, but she refused to accept it as
a reason for her conviction as a witch. Hale\'s writings, on the other hand,
showed that stealing, and other crimes such as fornication and infanticide, were
regularly associated with witchcraft, by both the clergy and the larger
population . . . " (p. 22)

This first account, in Karlsens\' study, brings to the surface some of
the community\'s views of witchcraft. Most of the society of the time believed in
witches, and those who did not were usually suspected of being one. Additionally,
colonists had two differing views of witches. Some believed that witches were
simply criminals that worked in supernatural ways that were threats to their
neighbors. But more interesting, was the view of the clergy, and specifically
the Puritan church. They saw witches as not only enemies of their neighbors,
but also enemies of God. They believed that witches had entered into an evil
contract with the Devil, in which they would recruit others to destroy the
Puritan churches. Without significant support for at least one of the views, the
accuser in some cases could be brought up on slander charges. When both views
had support, the accused person was likely to be declared a witch. Then they
were considered an enemy of the New England society and the Puritan Faith.
Additionally, when both of these views were very intense, the accusations would
multiply and would effect the lives of not just one or two, but many.

Many of the societies problems were often blamed on witchcraft. The
witches in New England were said to be able to harm others in supernatural ways,
so major illnesses were often blamed on them. Also, people believed witches had
powers over animals and crops. They were often accused for bad harvests and
livestock dying. They were also commonly blamed for miscarriages, non-conception,
and birth-defects. Another problem that was explained with witch craft was the
problems of lunacy. Lunatics were believed to be crazy because a witch had
possessed them.

Although, women were generally accused of being a witch for causing harm
to others, some were actually accused of witchcraft for helping cure illnesses
that doctors could not. Even though they did some good, people strongly believed
that they received their powers from Satan. In return Satan would give her
worldly desires, and the witch would use the powers, given