Topic: The Seventeenth Century: Focus on the Puritans
For this topic we will be focusing on the Puritans and on the Salem Witch Trials. The latter took place in the heart of Puritan-dominated Massachusetts Bay Colony in the late seventeenth century. As you learned in Chapter 2 of Out of Many, the Protestant Reformation led to a split in Western European Christianity, with many Protestant churches splitting away from the Catholic Church. The Protestant denomination that eventually emerged triumphant in England was Anglicanism, although throughout the seventeenth century Catholics, Anglicans, and Puritans fought for control of England. Puritans were English followers of John Calvin. They wanted to “purify” Anglicanism, which they thought was too similar to Catholicism. The struggles between Anglicans, Catholics, and Puritans were not purely religious; they also had much to do with the pursuit of political power.
Of central importance to understanding how Puritans in America viewed themselves and the world around them are the concepts of the covenant and predestination. John Winthrop, the first governor of Massachusetts Bay Colony, outlined the idea of the covenant in his sermon “A Model of Christian Charity” (1630); this sermon is one of your primary sources for Topic 3. The concept of predestination had been articulated by the Frenchman John Calvin in the sixteenth century. According to Calvin’s doctrine of predestination, before the beginning of time God had decided who would be saved, meaning they would go to heaven, and who would go to hell. Those predestined for salvation were called “the elect” or “saints”.1 Humans, in their everyday lives, could do nothing to change whether they were among the elect or the damned. Moreover, Puritans believed that one could never be sure whether one was among the elect or the damned.
– only God knew this for sure. This way of thinking forced Puritans to acknowledge their total dependence on the grace of God: because a Puritan could never know for sure whether he was predestined to go to heaven or hell, his only comfort was faith
– faith that God had marked him out to be saved. Not all Puritans had the strength of faith necessary to strictly follow this very difficult theology. For example, some Puritans sought signs that they or others were among the elect or the damned. Correct living, proper dress, and regular church attendance might be seen as indications that one was among the elect. Prosperity might also be a sign of God’s favor and hence a sign that one was among the elect. On the other hand, vulgar displays of wealth might be evidence of gluttony and greed, and hence indications that one was among the damned. Both community opinion and the opinion of local ministers influenced whether Puritans saw themselves and those around them as being among the damned or the elect.
Puritans therefore lived under a heavy cloud of uncertainty. Moreover, Puritans saw themselves as surrounded by temptation and evil. Those who believed (or hoped) that they were among the elect had to live their lives surrounded by those predestined to go to hell. Puritans believed that other religious groups, like Quakers and Anglicans, threatened the purity of their godly community. In addition, there were also external threats. Puritans believed that Satan lurked in the forests that surrounded their settlements. Puritans were also surrounded by Indians, and they therefore often viewed Indians as agents of Satan.
1 Puritan saints therefore differed from Catholic saints. Catholic saints were especially holy people; often it was claimed they could perform miracles. Puritan saints were simply those people God had predetermined would go to heaven.
All of these factors (and others, as you will learn when you read the secondary source, “The Visible and Invisible Worlds of Salem”) played a role in the Salem witch craze of 1692?93.
Remember to strive for total coverage on the questions! You want my feedback on all of the Topic 3 material and you want that point of extra credit! Also remember that graded posts must be at least 300 words long and should leave no doubt in my mind that you did the reading – so discuss specific passages and use quotes. (See my sample post on the Topic 3 discussion forum.)
Key Terms (Discuss relevant key terms into your answers.)
Puritans / Puritanism predestination Pilgrims
Cotton Mather, Wonders of the Invisible World
Massachusetts Bay Colony
Salem Village vs. Salem Town proprietary colony
John Winthrop, “A Model of Christian Charity” Anne Hutchinson
Anglo Dutch Wars (1652-74) William Penn
Roger Williams Pequot War (1637)
Salem Witch Trials (1692-93)
King Philip’s War (1675-76) Metacom
Samuel Parris, Tituba, Sarah Good, Bridget Bishop, Abigail Hobbs
Pokanokets Bacon’s Rebellion
Feme sole / feme covert
the Glorious Revolution (1688) King William’s War (1689-97)
Tying the readings together (Tie together information from two or more of the assigned readings.)
1. Describe the roles of the community, the family, and women in Puritan society (see Out of Many, pp. 50?51). How did the women who were accused of witchcraft in Salem in 1692 challenge these roles? (Discuss specific examples from “The Visible and Invisible Worlds of Salem” and/or the “Primary Sources on Sarah good and Bridget Bishop”.)
2. According to John Winthrop, what covenant have the colonists made with God? What would be the consequences of either upholding or breaking this covenant? Now put yourself in the shoes of a Puritan living in Massachusetts Bay Colony the late seventeenth century. Do you think you and your fellow Puritans have been upholding your covenant with God or do you think it has been broken? (Use specific historical examples to support your argument.)
3. How did the colonies established by the English in New England differ from those established in the Chesapeake in the seventeenth century? In which area would you rather have lived and why?
Out of Many, Chapter 3, p. 46 to end (Draw on multiple sections of Ch. 3 in your answer.)
4. The third quarter of the seventeenth century was a particularly violent period in the history of colonial America. What were some of the causes and consequences of this violence?
a. (Hint: Choose a couple of specific examples to discuss in detail; for example the Pueblo Revolt, King Philip’s War, Bacon’s Rebellion, and/or King William’s War.)
5. The seventeenth century was a tumultuous one in England, as political and religious tensions led to civil war and revolution. Describe how religion (including religious dissent) effected colonial immigration and the attitude of the English government towards the colonies from the reign of King Charles I to the Glorious Revolution. This chart will help you:
Overview of English history from the reign of King Charles I to the Glorious Revolution
King Charles I (r. 1625-1649)
Charles was executed in 1649. He was Anglican, but with Catholic leanings. He persecuted Puritans.
The Commonwealth (1649-53) and Protectorate (1653-58)
The English government was controlled by the Puritan Oliver Cromwell for most of this period.
King Charles II (r. 1660- 1685)
Turning away from the Puritan dictatorship established by Cromwell, the English people invited Charles II, a son of Charles I, to be their king. Charles was Anglican but he leaned towards Catholicism. He advocated religious tolerance during his reign.
King James II (r. 1685-1688)
James was Catholic and was forced to abdicate in 1688 in the Glorious Revolution (so- called because there was no bloodshed).
King William (r. 1688-1702) and Queen Mary (r. 1688-94)
Mary was a daughter of James II. She was Anglican and took the throne at the invitation of the English people during the Glorious Revolution. She reigned with her husband, William.
John Winthrop, “A Model of Christian Charity”: see the “Tying the Readings Together” questions, above.
The Visible and Invisible Worlds of Salem & Primary Sources on Sarah Good and Bridget Bishop
6. Choose a couple of “witches” to discuss. Why were these men and women accused of being witches? What evidence was used to prove that they were witches? How would this evidence hold up in court today?
7. How have historians and others attempted to explain the Salem witch craze? Which of these arguments seems most persuasive to you and why?