TO REVOLUTIONARY AMERICA
Columbus, "Letter to Luis de Santí Angel" (1493)
Bartolomé de Las Casas, "Of the Island of Hispaniola" (1542)
There are wonderful
pine groves, and very large plains of verdure, and there is honey, and
many kinds of birds, and many various fruits. In the earth there are
mines of metals; and there is a population of incalculable number.
is a marvel; the mountains and hills, and plains, and fields, and land,
so beautiful and rich for planting and sowing, for breeding cattle of
sorts, for building of towns and villages.
be no believing, without seeing, such harbors as are here, as well as
many and great rivers, and excellent waters, most of which contain
In the trees and fruits and plants, there are great differences from
of Juana. In [La Spanola], there are many spiceries, and great mines of
gold and other metals.
of this island, and of all the others that I have found and seen, or
seen, all go naked, men and women, just as their mothers bring them
although some women cover a single place with the leaf of a plant, or
a cotton something which they make for that purpose. They have no iron
or steel, nor any weapons; nor are they fit thereunto; not be because
be not a well-formed people and of fair stature, but that they are most
wondrously timorous. They have no other weapons than the stems of reeds
in their seeding state, on the end of which they fix little sharpened
Even these, they dare not use; for many times has it happened that I
two or three men ashore to some village to parley, and countless
of them sallied forth, but as soon as they saw those approach, they
away in such wise that even a father would not wait for his son. And
was not because any hurt had ever done to any of them:-but such they
incurably timid. It is true that since they have become more assured,
are losing that terror, they are artless and generous with what they
to such a degree as no one would believe but him who had seen it. Of
they have, if it be asked for, they never say no, but do rather invite
the person to accept it, and show as much lovingness as though they
give their hearts. And whether it be a thing of value, or one of little
worth, they are straightways content with whatsoever trifle of
kind may be given them in return for it. I forbade that anything so
as fragments of broken platters, and pieces of broken glass, and
should be given them; although when they were able to get such things,
they seemed to think they had the best jewel in the world . . . .
And they knew
no sect, nor idolatry; save that they all believe that power and
are in the sky, and they believed very firmly that I, with these ships
and crew, came from the sky; and in such opinion, they received me at
place were I landed, after they had lost their terror. And this comes
because they are ignorant; on the contrary, they are men of very subtle
wit, who navigate all those seas, and who give a marvellously good
of everything-but because they never saw men wearing clothes nor the
of our ships. And as soon as I arrived in the Indies, in the first
that I found, I took some of them by force to the intent that they
learn [our speech] and give me information of what there was in those
And so it was, that very soon they understood [us] and we them, what by
speech or what by signs; and those [Indians] have been of much service
. . . with loud cries of "Come! come to see the people from heaven!"
as soon as their minds were reassured about us, every one came, men as
well as women, so that there remained none behind, big or little; and
all brought something to eat and drink, which they gave with wondrous
. . . .
It seems to
me that in all those islands, the men are all content with a single
and to their chief or king they give as many as twenty. The women, it
to me, do more work than the men. Nor have I been able to learn whether
they held personal property, for it seemed to me that whatever one had,
they all took share of, especially of eatable things. Down to the
I have not found in those islands any monstrous men, as many expected,
but on the contrary all the people are very comely; nor are they black
like those in Guinea, but have flowing hair; and they are not begotten
where there is an excessive violence of the rays of the sun . . . . In
those islands, where there are lofty mountains, the cold was very keen
there, this winter; but they endured it by being accustomed thereto,
by the help of the meats which they eat with many and inordinately hot
spices . . . .
our Redeemer has given to our most illustrious King and Queen, and to
famous kingdoms, this victory in so high a matter, Christendom should
gladness therein and make great festivals, and give solemn thanks to
Holy Trinity for the great exaltation they shall have by the conversion
of so many peoples to our holy faith; and next for the temporal benefit
which will bring hither refreshment and profit, not only to Spain, to
Christians. This briefly, in accordance with the facts. Dated, on the
off the Canary Islands, the 15 February of the year 1493.
has created all these numberless people to be quite the simplest,
malice or duplicity, most obedient, most faithful to their natural
and to the Christians, whom they serve; the most humble, most patient,
most peaceful and calm, without strife nor tumults; not wrangling, nor
querulous, as free from uproar, hate and desire of revenge as any in
world. . . .
"William Bradford on Sickness among the Natives" (1633)
gentle sheep, gifted by their Maker with the above qualities, the
entered as soon as soon as they knew them, like wolves, tiger and lions
which had been starving for many days, and since forty years they have
done nothing else; nor do they afflict, torment, and destroy them with
strange and new, and divers kinds of cruelty, never before seen, nor
of, nor read of. . . . .
with their horses and swords and lances, began to slaughter and
strange cruelty among
them. They penetrated into the country and spared neither children nor
the aged, nor pregnant women, nor those in child labour, all of whom
ran through the body and lacerated, as though they were assaulting so
lambs herded in their sheepfold.
They made bets
as to who would slit a man in two, or cut off his head at one blow: or
they opened up his bowels. They tore the babes from their mothers'
by the feet, and dashed their heads against the rocks. Others they
by the shoulders and threw into the rivers, laughing and joking, and
they fell into the water they exclaimed: "boil body of so and so!" They
spitted the bodies of other babes, together with their mothers and all
who were before them, on their swords.
They made a
gallows just high enough for the feet to nearly touch the ground, and
thirteens, in honour and reverence of our Redeemer and the twelve
they put wood underneath and, with fire, they burned the Indians alive.
the bodies of others entirely in dry straw, binding them in it and
fire to it; and so they burned them. They cut off the hands of all they
wished to take alive, made them carry them fastened on to them, and
"Go and carry letters": that is; take the news to those who have fled
killed the lords and nobles in the following way. They made wooden
of stakes, bound them upon them, and made a slow fire beneath; thus the
victims gave up the spirit by degrees, emitting cries of despair in
torture. . . .
am now to relate some strange and remarkable passages. There was a
of people [who] lived in the country, up above in the river of
[Connecticut], a great way from their trading house there, and were
to those Indians which lived about them, and of whom they stood in some
fear (being a stout people). About a thousand of them had enclosed them
selves in a fort, which they had strongly palisaded about 3 or 4 Dutch
men went up in the beginning of winter to live with them, to get their
trade, and prevent them for bringing it to the English, or to fall into
amity with them; but at spring to bring all down to their place. But
enterprise failed, for it pleased God to visit these Indians with a
sickness, and such a mortalitie that of a 1000. above 900. and a half
them died, and many of them did rot above ground for want of burial,
the Dutch men almost starved before they could get away, for ice
and snow. But about Feb: they got with much difficulty to their trading
house; whom they kindly relieved, being almost spent with hunger and
Being thus refreshed by them diverse days, they got to their own place,
and the Dutch were very thankful for this kindness.
Hunting in Salem: Why were 19 people hanged?"
also, those Indians that lived about their trading house there fell
of the small pox, and died most miserably; for a sorer disease cannot
them; they fear it more then the plague; for usually they that have
disease have them in abundance, and for want of bedding and lining and
other helps, they fall into a lamentable condition, as they lie on
hard mats, the pox breaking and mattering, and running one into
their skin cleaving (by reason thereof) to the mats they lie on; when
turn them, a whole side will flee of at once, (as it were,) and they
be all of a gore blood, most fearful to behold; and then being very
what with cold and other
distempers, they die like rotten sheep. The condition of this people
so lamentable, and they fell down so generally of this disease, as they
were (in the end) not able to help one another; no, not to make a fire,
nor to fetch a little water to drink, nor any to bury the dead; but
strive as long as they could, and when they could procure no other
to make fire, they would burn the wooden trays and dishes they ate
meat in, and their very bows and arrows; and some would crawl out on
four to get a little water, and some times die by the way, and not be
to get in again. But those of the English house, (though at first they
were afraid of the infection,) yet seeing their woeful and sad
and hearing their pitiful cries and lamentations, they had compassion
them, and daily fetched them wood and water, and made them fires, got
victuals whilst they lived, and buried them when they died. For very
of them escaped, notwithstanding they did what they could for them, to
the hazard of them selves. The chief Sachem him self now died, and
all his friends and kindred. But by the marvelous goodness and
of God not one of the English was so much as sick, or in the least
tainted with this disease, though they daily did these offices for them
for many weeks together. And this mercy which they showed them was
taken, and thankfully acknowledged of all the. Indians that knew or
of the same; and their mrs. here did much commend and reward them for
Bradford, History of Plymouth Pantation (Boston, 1898)
D. Hall, Harvard University
History, Issue 41, Winter 1994
twenty years before the Salem witch-hunt, a young woman living in the
of the minister of Groton, Massachusetts, began to "carry herself in a
strange and unwonted manner." According to the minister, Samuel
16-year-old Elizabeth Knapp saw apparitions and experienced violent
over a period of three months.
In the midst
of one fit, she spoke in a "hollow" voice, and called the minister "a
black rogue" who "tell[s] the people a company of lies."
back, "Satan, thou art a liar and a deceiver, and God will vindicate
own truth one day." Others in the room took up the confrontation,
the Devil that "God had him in chains."
came back, "For all my chain, I can knock thee in the head when I
in her own voice Elizabeth told how the Devil had promised to make her
a "witch" if she would sign a "compact" to become his servant.
Groton, and later in Salem, proceeded from the assumption that Satan
certain people into compact with him, promising them, as he promised
Knapp, that all "should be well"—they need not worry any longer about
of Groton, however, also believed that, in the full course of God's
good would overcome evil. They witnessed the spiritual healing of
as she, under the prompting of Willard, confessed that "the occasion of
her fits" was "discontent" with her situation as a servant. She also
she was guilty of neglecting the means of grace. Though at times she
an older woman in the town of causing her bewitchment, no wider
erupted in Groton.
did arise in other New England towns—Ambridge in 1659, Hartford in
Boston in 1688, and infamously in Salem Village (now Danvers) in 1692.
Deodat Lawson, hearing of the troubles in Salem Village, came there in
late March of 1692. He witnessed 12-year-old Abigail Williams "hurried
with violence to and fro in the room" and "sometimes making as if she
fly." Then the names began to flow: Good wife Nourse, Good wife Corey.
… A judicial hearing quickly followed, with Abigail Williams and some
others testifying that they had seen the "likeness" of these women
to the Devil.
No one heeded
Martha Corey when she remarked that her chorus of accusers were "poor,
distracted children." Thus empowered, the accusers piled name onto
Before the legal process was suspended in October 1692, nineteen
had been executed.
rose to the surface in 1692 and resulted in this witch-hunt?
As the story
of Elizabeth Knapp of Groton reveals, some tensions originated in the
expectations of Puritanism.
was that believers fulfill, to the best of their ability, their moral
Another was that they examine their motives—in Puritan parlance, their
"hearts"—to see whether they had sufficiently repented of sin and
entirely in the mercy of Christ. Puritanism intensely and regularly
this question: Are you sincere?
question often resulted in self-doubt and uncertainty. One woman, Mary
Toothaker, "had thoughts she was rather the worse for her baptism and
wished she had not been baptized because she had not improved it as she
ought to have done."
uncertainty turned to anger, as when Elizabeth Knapp called Willard a
And sometimes the anger turned into blaming: Elizabeth, like the young
women in Salem Village, blamed her inward confusion on an outside,
figure, a witch or the Devil.
the ritual of confession, and confession became crucial to
To confess was to make visible the hidden sin that lurked in everyone.
This was a crucial step, and well accepted, in the process of
When men and women joined the church in early New England, for
they were asked to confess their sins.
and ministers who questioned the accused at Salem asked them to reveal
their hidden allegiance to Satan. Because Puritans felt heavily the
of their sin, and because confession was an integral part of their
we should not be surprised that some fifty men and women confessed to
joined with the Devil.
believed that God had entered into a special relationship with godly
This relationship obliged them to purge themselves of sins, personal
communal, that inevitably accumulated. The ministers and magistrates in
New England believed witchhunting, and the public executions that
it, cleansed the community of evil.
notably Cotton Mather of Boston, reasoned that the Devil would become
active as the return of Christ neared. The presence of witches in New
was evidence of a vast "plot" masterminded by the Devil to overthrow
kingdom of Christ.
the concern for the spiritual integrity of the community, confessing
were asked to name confederates, adding fuel to the fire of accusations.
Belief in witches
was not unique to the Puritans. A folklore much older than Puritanism
charms, fortune-telling, omens and apparitions, and village healers or
"cunning people." The healers' vengeful counterparts, witches, could
someone's chickens to sicken, cattle to run away, or children to become
turned to "cunning" people or to other folk practices. Not far away
Salem in the 1670s, a woman put a horseshoe over her front door to
a suspected witch from entering. When a church deacon saw the
he tore it down. In the Salem trials, several of the men and women
had reputations as healers and cunning folk.
Who were the
heroes and villains of the witch-hunt? Much blame has fallen on the
minister in Salem Village, Samuel Parris; the magistrates who conducted
the trials; and Cotton Mather, who defended the judges against the
they victimized innocent people.
Mather and his father, Increase, helped end the trials by criticizing
judicial procedures. And Samuel Parris and the judges were simply
according to widely held expectations of the time.
in fact, was not unique to Puritan America. It occurred in both
and Protestant regions of Europe, and the toll it exacted in New
was much smaller than in Scotland or parts of France and Germany.
became deathly in some Puritan villages but not others will likely
a mystery. Rather than assign blame, we should understand the tragedy
Salem as the outcome of forces larger than any single individual or
James R. Cameron Center for History, Law, & Governrnent |
Nazarene College | 23 East Elm Avenue | Quincy, Massachusetts
| Phone: 1-617-745-3000 | email: r a n d a l l . s t e p h
e n s @ e n c . e d u
Site designed by Randall J. Stephens