I ( Dee) have been surprised by the interest that has been generated by our look at the Puritans. I grew up in Salem, Massachusetts, and thanks to the Puritans, my hometown is known as “The Witch City”. Imagine your high school football team being known as “The Salem High School Witches”… Incredibly, when I was growing up the little black emblem of a witch riding on a broom was ubiquitous from gas stations to fabric stores. This emblem was “tongue in cheek” because if the truth be told, the supposed “witches” of Salem’s history were not purveyors of that black trade — not even close! Grievously, they were, as Curly of the Three Stooges might say, “victims of circumstance (which he pronounced soy kum stance).”
Salem was a fascinating town, rich in history. The museums allowed students in Salem free entrance, and during my growing up years I took full advantage of this opportunity. To the consternation of the museum caretakers, I spent many a day playing hide and seek in the incredible Essex and Peabody Museums, which were chock full of exhibits from Salem’s heyday as the shipping capital of the New World. As I grew older, I developed a deep appreciation for my former “playground” by carefully studying the exhibits which explained the town’s history.
I would frequently visit the Witch House where the witch trials took place and gaze in fascination at the books, which carefully recorded the trials and their outcomes. To this day, I believe I could give an in depth tour of the famed House of the Seven Gables, also located in Salem.
I was surprised when a commenter on the blog, without having any idea of what I would write, made some snide remark about my having a high school understanding of the Puritans. I believe this comment stemmed from a belief that TWW would trash the Puritans without giving them their due. Or perhaps, like some Calvinistas, (s)he believes that the Puritans (Christian folk heroes du jour) should only be viewed through rose-colored history books. I grew up both admiring the Puritans and despising some of their heinous acts. The Puritans were no better or worse than most of us. We love the Lord but struggle with our fallen nature.
I continue to admire the tenacity of the early Puritans. They left Europe to establish a “new city on a hill”. Just like the Israelites, they hoped their lives would be an example of their faith. They settled in a rather hostile environment where the winters are long and cold (remember all that snow that blanketed New England earlier this year?). Disease was rampant and easily spread in the small, cramped meetinghouses. The hilly, heavily forested, and rocky ground (sandy ground as one came closer to the coast) was not conducive to easy farming. Decent farmland came at a premium. Yet, through it all, they persevered.
Not only did they persevere but the Puritans became advocates of education for all members of the community, even founding Harvard University to produce “literate” ministers — something we at TWW find most admirable. Even the farmers were told to contribute money towards the establishment of the university.
It is said that, as Christians, we stand on the shoulders of giants. We run the race, overseen by “a great cloud of witnesses”. This means that we learn from those who have gone before us. I sometimes become concerned that as we learn from our predecessors we only take the good, perhaps thinking that is all we need. You know, focus on the positive and all that stuff. It is the inability to face our sins and shortcomings head on that, we believe, can lead to abusive ministries and controlling pastors. When we learn to evaluate failures made by ourselves and others (including the Puritans), that’s when we learn even more. With that we can learn to change for the better. The word “sanctification” comes to mind.
So here is our question. How did the obviously pious Puritans go from grandiose ideas such as “a city on a hill” to the need for a “Great Awakening” or revival in just a few short generations? In fact, in the eyes of some Puritans, they had begun to lose the battle with the arrival of the first generation born in the New World. How could such godly people be guilty of the heinous offenses that took place in Salem?
Today we begin an in-depth look at the Salem Witch Trials. We believe it is fascinating to see how much today’s churches mirror some of the problems that led to this sad time in history. Hopefully, as we develop this theme, our readers will begin to understand what would cause Nathaniel Hathorne to change his name to Nathaniel Hawthorne (The Scarlet Letter) because he did not want to be identified with the name of his forefathers during this time period.
The Salem Witch Trials were the result of “a perfect storm” of superstition, lack of scientific knowledge, theological missteps, greed, politics, and most likely hallucinogens. (The “dawning of the age of Aquarius” may have actually happened long before the 1960s)!
It begins, oddly enough around January 1692 in a parsonage located in Salem Village. Today, Salem Village is known as the town of Danvers, coincidentally (or perhaps, not?) home of the 1987 Danvers Statement, which dealt with “Calvinista” views of gender roles. Here is a link to get you up to speed. http://www.cbmw.org/Danvers
Salem Village was a “subsidiary” of Salem Town. The “villagers” irritated the “townspeople” of Salem by constantly petitioning for greater independence which would include their own church and pastor. So, they were assigned Samuel Parris who was given a deed to his own land and parsonage. This action caused disagreement since the villagers had no choice in their pastor and did not approve of him being given both land and a parsonage, free and clear. (Hmmmm… Does this scenario sound familiar? Think FBC Jax).
Understanding the importance of owning land is critical to developing a comprehensive understanding of the culture of that day. The politics of the ownership of land would figure prominently in the events that followed. As I have explained, farmland came at a premium. The land was passed down to heirs and often split between children. So, folks were always trying to obtain more land. They did not take too kindly to Reverend Parris being given both land and a house. Salem Town was probably well aware that this would be Salem Village’s reaction, which leads us to theorize that this was a way for Salem Town to assert its political dominance over Salem Village.
It is also pertinent to understand that women held a subservient role to men in Puritan times and had limited rights to own land. If a woman was a widow with no heirs, the land, upon her death, would revert back to the previous owner. Funny thing – the majority of women who were convicted of witchcraft were unmarried or widowed. When they were hanged for crimes they DID NOT commit, the title of their land went to the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, which then sold the farmland to the highest bidder. Once again, hmmm…. Could the “pure” and godly Puritans have been guilty of hypocrisy on a major scale?
Puritans also believed that women were more likely than men to fall for the wiles of the Devil. Do any of our readers remember that such views have been promoted on such websites such as the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood? (www.cbmw.org) There is a growing number of men (who happent to be admirers of the Puritans) teaching that women are “more gullible” because they were the first to be deceived in the Garden. Here is one such example that was published in Volume 12, No. 2 of the CBMW Journal. You can find the entire article at this link, and we encourage you to read it.
“Driscoll comes to this position in part as a result of his understanding of 1 Tim 2:12-14. Driscoll writes, ‘Without blushing, Paul is simply stating that when it comes to leading in the church, women are unfit because they are more gullible and easier to deceive than men. While many irate women have disagreed with his assessment through the years, it does appear from this that such women who fail to trust his instruction and follow his teaching are much like their mother Eve and are well-intended but ill-informed”.
Today, we leave you, our dear readers with this point: ownership of land, the belief in women being more gullible and apt to fall for Satanic traps, combined with political shenanigans of those early days, were important contributing factors in the events that unfolded in Salem in 1692. Tomorrow, we will address other issues such as slavery, superstition, and questionable theology. We will even throw in some possible hallucinogens as we evaluate the unfolding events that led to the Salem Witch Trials.
Tomorrow, we will recount this sad saga that forever changed the face of my hometown. It begins at the parsonage of Reverend Samuel Parris (located in Danvers where my mother grew up) in the winter of 1692. Tituba, a slave purchased in Barbados by Reverend Parris — may, or may not, have been weaving folk tales for his daughter, Betty Parris (age 9) and his niece, Abigail Williams (age 12). Within less than a year, many townspeople would be accused of witchcraft and hung (one was pressed to death). Hundreds more who were also accused of witchcraft died in jail…