Essay on American History to 1887

1141 Words Dec 18th, 2006 5 Pages
Paul Boyer and Stephen Nissenbaum's Salem Possessed explores the pre-existing social and economic divisions within the Salem Village community, as an entry point to understand the accusations of witchcraft in 1692. According to Boyer and Nissenbaum, the village split into two factions: one interested in gaining more autonomy for Salem Village and led by the Putnam family, and the other, interested in the mercantile and political life of Salem Town and led by the Porter family. Boyer and Nissenbaum's deft and imaginative look at local records reveals the contours of communal life in colonial New England and provides a model through which to understand the witchcraft accusations as part of a larger pattern of communal strife. Such a tight …show more content…
One faction, led by the Putnam family, most identified itself with the traditional agricultural activities of the village and consequently supported the village minister, Samuel Parris, and the drive for greater autonomy from Salem Town. The opposing faction, led by the Porter family, identified itself with the mercantile town, near which most of the Porter faction lived. In opposition to the Putnam faction, the Porters opposed the minister and wanted greater association with the town of Salem. The bitter and contentious disputes between the two factions within Salem Village both before and after the witchcraft outbreak, demonstrate a pattern of communal conflict which transcended the events of 1692.

These same fault-lines, according to Boyer and Nissenbaum, explain the pattern of witchcraft accusations. The same villagers who stood with the Putnams to support Parris and petition for an independent church for the village, show up as complaints on witchcraft indictments in 1692. Similarly, many of the accused witches in Salem belonged to the Porter faction or, according to Boyer and Nissenbaum, represented the projection of the grievances caused by such factionalism upon more obtainable targets like Rebecca Nurse and Martha Cory. Through such a reconstruction of the factional village of Salem, Boyer and Nissenbaum explain the Salem witchcraft episode from within the larger history of the transformation

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