Philadelphia versus Salem: Preventing Witch Hysteria

Last week, we shared the story of the Mattson Witch Trial, the only known witch trial Willaim Penn presided over.  Pennsylvania never reached anywhere near the heights of Salem’s infamous witch hunts.  So just how much did Penn’s ideals make a difference in the witch hysteria? 

“The Bewitched Man,” Francisco de Goya y Lucientes, 1798

The answer lies not within one difference, but many differences.  Penn and his Quaker colony had a very different social environment influenced by religion, politics, and education.  Penn founded his colony as a “holy experiment” grounded in his plans for religious tolerance, laws created and governed by the people, and a fair justice system.  These values changed how witch hysteria affected the communities in Pennsylvania.

Much like the Quakers, Salem’s Puritan founders created their community out of a desire to escape religious persecution in Europe. However, contrary to Penn’s policy of inclusion and tolerance, Salem prohibited any non-Puritans from living in Salem. 

 

“Witches’ Initiation,” David Teniers the Younger, 1647-49

Salem also had a history of persecution for witchcraft.  The religious leaders regularly gave sermons warning of the danger of witches and openly advertised the witch hunts that happened throughout Europe.  In addition, the court system did not really function and failed to regulate or protect those accused of witchcraft.  So in 1692, when the accusations and trials really began to engulf the community, the colony’s government failed to maintain order and sanity.

 

Anonymous drawing of witches at work from Johann Geiler von Kayersberg, 1517. Cornell University Library.

All of these factors play into the horrible persecution of the 59 people tried in Salem, of which 20 were put to death before anyone could stop the hysteria. By the end of the summer in 1692, 13 women and 6 men were hanged in Salem, Mass. for the crime of witchcraft.

Needless to say the hysteria of witch hunts struck hard for centuries throughout Europe and the colonies, leading to severe persecution, shunning, and often death for the accused men and women.  Anything mysterious or hard to explain, like cows not producing milk or infant deaths, could be blamed on a witch.  Science would later prove the real reasons for such events, but it would come to late to save the many people who were burned or hanged or drowned as witches.Pennsylvania avoided most of this madness, but not entirely, as Margret Mattson and Yeshro Hendrickson’s trial proves.

 

Visit Pennsbury Manor on Sunday, October 28 1:00-4:00 for our FREE Trick-or-Treat at the Manor event!  Families with costumed kids get free admission to our many activities, including a Reenactment of the Margret Mattson Witch Trial!

 

Written by Mary Barbagallo, Intern

Edited by Hannah Howard

Sources:

Pennsylvania Colonial Cases – Proprietor vs. Mattson

 The Malleus Malficarum of Henrich Kramer and James Sprenger: Translated with an introduction by the Reverend Montague Summers, Dover Publication, Inc., New York, NY, 1971.

 The Witch Hunts: A History of the Witch persecutions in Europe and North America, Robert Thurston, Pearson Education Ltd., United Kingdom, 2007.

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One comment on “Philadelphia versus Salem: Preventing Witch Hysteria

  1. fireflite says:

    When my visitors are interested in discussing further the religeous freedom aspect of Pennsbury, I like to use Virginia and Massachusetts as contrasting examples to Pennsylvania, and ones that are far more typical of 17th Century societies. This usually leads to the Salem Witch Trials.

    I think most people have the impression that Salem was a sort of historical anomoly, something that came out of nowhere, happened once and and then disappeared. As the article points out, nothing could be further from the truth. I’ve seen widely varying estimates of the number of alleged witches who were executed across Europe in the centuries leading up to Salem, but I believe it may have been in the tens of thousands. I like to say what happend in Salem, Massachusetts was merely the last dying gasp of an age-old phenomonon.

    Tom Turner
    Tour Guide & Animal Care Volunteer

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