Witchcraft Paper Outline, 1974, page 1

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Witchcraft Persecution: A Means of Social Control of Women

. In 17th Century America

I. A Feminist Approach

The paper opens with quotations from John Winthrop's Journal

where he referred to outspoken Massachusetts women as "instruments

of the devil.” A feminist approach to the study of witchcraft is
defined and discussed. How does it differ from traditional ones?

To focus on the accused women and their alleged crimes without sexist
bias, is to realize that witchcraft charges were used to punish othere
wise unpunishable violations of unwritten social codes. This was

not the only basis for 17th century colonial witchcraft prosecutions
but is important and has been largely overlooked.

II. The European Background

English colonists brought belief in witchcraft to the New World
with them. Cases of witches hung on the high seas en route to Virginia
and Maryland. witchcraft in medieval Europe and the misogyny of the
Ealleus haleficarum is briefly discussed. Theories of anthropologist
Margaret Murray connecting witchcraft trials with efforts to suppress
an Old Religion in which women predominated. The early 17th century
witch craze in England was experienced by immigrants to America. The
effect of the Civil War and the activities of the female sectaries
(including Ranters, Seekers, Quakers) in stirring anti—feminist senti-
ment among Englishmen. . .

III. Witchcraft in the New World

_ A prevalent misconception.is that "New England‘s.record in regard

to witchcraft is surprisingly good." (Chadwick Hansen, flitehcraft

at Salem, N.Y., 1969.) Witchcraft prosecutions in the sougthern
colonies usually are barely mentioned. However, a survey of admittedly
incomplete records indicates formal witchcraft charges were brought
‘against women in all the most populous English colonies (Virginia,
Maryland, Connecticuit and Massachusetts). The statistics of knoa.
executions for witchcraft and of formal court actions against women
accused of practicing witchcract. Comnarison with English records,
including consideration of approximate total female pooulations. In
addition, lingering suspicions of witchcraft which never were formalizei
by court actions will be discussed. The prevalence of such informal
notoriety can only be guessed at through examples of slander action
brought by some victims and through evidence revealed at the Salem
witch trials. A reputation as a witch as a means of controlling the
behavior of women is an discussed.