HST296A: Reading Notes, 16-Feb-2005

Paul Boyer and Stephen Nissenbaum, “Salem Possessed:  The Social Origins of Witchcraft,” in Colonial America 3rd ed., pp. 343-372.

Did Salem change anything? What does the witch episode tell us about "underlying social tensions in colonial New England?" Boyer and Nissenbaum, applying community studies methods, conclude that " a dee[ly disturbing rift between commercial and expansive Salem Town...and rural Salem Village...best explains the pattern of accused and accusers." But is that enough to explain what happened?

It was not about purging the poor, deviant and outcast: it included all ranks. (p. 346)

eastern village:accused. western: accusers

factions surrounding est. of  Village church and hiring of minister Parris. In 1691 Parris supporters voted out, antiParris voted in. No $$ for Parris. 1st four afflicted were Parris-related

More rich are anti-Parris, more poor are pro-Parris. More Town side are anti-Parris, more Village side are pro-Parris.

Meanwhile: Salem Town has become more prosperous but the distribution of wealth is more polarized, concentrated in fewer hands. Merchants outnumber farmers in town government. "many fine houses" in town, not in village.

Village faction lines develop along those who identify/side with Town and those who don't.
Eastern villagers  have best land, best access to road/river transportation (esp. along Ipswich Rd- which had most anti-Parris), able to rise in wealth

So, the Village church is not just a church - it's a counterweight to the town-dominated side of the village. Some rich, many supporters are solidly middle class with possible expectations to do better, many poor. A surprising group to lead the "leading role in witchcraft persecutions." (p. 364)

Tavern keepers also at risk. Taverns as sources of concern - strangers, gathering places for trouble.

Intensity: "what was going on was not simply a personal quarrel, an economic dispute, or even a struggle for power, but a moral conflict involving the very nature of the community itself." (p. 365) At risk is the body community itself.

NOTE: Behave in the best interest of the community. "The important thing is not whether very many people actually did. . .but rather the fact that when they did not. . .they felt they were not behaving properly." (p. 366)

Villagers see Townies as threatening that belief because they are chasing "emerging mercantile capitalism." (p. 367) Satan seduces through fear but also through material blandihments. (see also Demos)

Accusers feel guilty when not adhering to body community and so turn guilt into accusation:

Madame Bubble (and even later South-Sea Bubble) from Pilgrim's Progress; the enticing, money fondling "witch" 8 years before Salem.

John Demos, “Underlying Themes in the Witchcraft of Seventeenth-Century New England,”  in Colonial America, 1st ed., pp. 113-134.

Demos asks not "who was to blame" but rather "why did it cause such a stir?" Anthropology (for strategy) and psychoanalysis (for theory) may provide better approaches than history (which usually confines itself to the rational). "neither New England society nor the seventeenth-century personality provided satisfactory outlets for man's agressive tendancies." How does the relationship between land distribution and family structure feed into group conflict?

('Who's to blame when the situation degenerates? Disgusting things you never anticipate. . . ' (!!)  ...parti[sanship] gone out of bounds...)

Salem as symptom: "The subject is important not in its own right, but as a means of exploring certain larger questions about the society and the individuals directly concerned." (p. 115)

He proposes to look at the "complex relationships between the alleged witches and their victims." (p. 115)

3 categories; witches, accusers, witnesses
He sees a "system" of witchcraft belief in 17th cent. New England, but Salame provides a demography of the people involved

"the witches were predominantly married or widowed women, between the ages of forty-one and sixty." or their families (p. 118)

Accusers, at least in court as might be expected, were men (representing women, though)

"What appears to have been common to nearly all these people, irrespective of their economic positions, was some kind of personal eccentricity, some deviant or even criminal behavior that had long since marked them out as suspect." (p. 121) That integrates well with Wall and the importance of reputation/adherance to community values
But how does that mesh with Boyer/Nissenbaum??

"Nearly all the people involved came from the southern half of the town." (p. 123) Again, Boyer/Nissenbaum??

1) witches age: middle; accuser's ages: younger generation
2) witches were deviants
3) charges involved neighbors

"That there was a great deal of contentiousness among these people is suggested by innumerable court cases from the period, dealing with disputes about land, lost cattle, trespass, debt, and so forth. Most men seem to have felt that the New World offered them a unique opportunity to increase their properties, and this may have served to heighten competitive feelings and pressures."
OK, court cases might just be that is the standard way of negotiating, and this generation had to negotitate a lot, cf: Powell. (Then again, maybe Puritans are a self-selected genetically vitriolic people--they left England after all!!)

"First and definitely foremost in the minds of most New Englanders was the idea that witches gave free rein to a whole gamut of hostile aggressive feelings. "
"Another important facet of the lives of witches was their activity in company with each other." (p. 126) (Well, duh--would 17th cent. NEs have done other than congregate!?)

aggressive impulses, (and covetousness), not libidinal ones
also projection (cf. Boyer/Nissenbaum)

he then proceeds to discuss orality but really he sounds like he is NOT an expert

re: other cultures:
"They report that witchcraft belief is powerfully correlated with the training a society imposes on young children in regard to the control of aggressive impulses. That is, wherever this training is severe and restrictive, there is a strong likelihood that the culture will make much of witchcraft." (p. 130)

And then he wanders off into breastfeeding again...oy!

The accusers were especially sensitive and pushed over the line into pathology but "their behavior clearly struck an answering chord in a much larger group of people." (p. 133)

What post-settler generation was this? Pop. pressure?

Hmm...maybe Salem looms large because humans, at least western post-18th cent. humans, are fascinated with scary things! We just keep writing about it and writing about it, and one idea sparks another...or maybe guys are fascinated when women go berserk...)

Three reviews of Jane Kamenshy's Governing the Tongue: The Politics of Speech in Early New England. (New York: Oxford University Press, 1997)

1) Bailey, Richard "The Clapper of the Devil's Bell in Early America" American Speech, Vol. 74, No. 4, 429-433.

Puritans enacted Deuteronomy: filial rebellion is a capital crime, though no one was killed and few tried. Deference rules, but if the Calvinist belief means all have "equal access to divine truth" then all can speak.

Public repentance included repeating the offending speech!

Witchspeak: words meant to do harm

We continue wrestling with the same difficulties: "disputes persist about words as deeds and words as mere air"

Bailey concludes with the usual scholarly "we know about this, why don't those historians, but maybe we should investigate this historical time period more closely"

2) Hall, David D, review in The Journal of American History, Sept. 1999, p. 754-755

"The people of the seventeenthcentury Mass. regarded speech, or the spoken word, as the foundational means by which God revealed himself to mankind." yet speech has its dark subversive underside, hence the desire to regulate it.

Kamensky focuses on three episodes: initial decade of settlement, restlessness of second generation youth which coincides with Quaker challenge to orthodoxy, and Salem.

Concluding chapter: transition to 18th century indifference

He doesn't buy her argument that women's speech was especially disruptive.

3)  Gustafson, Sandra in  The William and Mary Quarterly, 3rd Ser., Vol. 56, No. 3, 671-672

The colonies proscribed speech while trying to free it to be more Godly.

(Here's an example of adaptation in new world environment!)

"Massachusetts Puritans believed that violent words, repeated within the context of an officially controlled performance, could heal the breach that they created." (p. 672)
However, women who spoke with authoritative accents were likely to be punished (Anne Hutchinson, witches)

Kamensky argues that the Salem witchcraft crisis, coinciding with the loss of the colony's charter and the imposition of the common law, effectively dismantled the Puritan system of speech regulation. The spoken word lost power in the process." (p. 672)