Morehead State University

Poster Title

A Gendered Legacy: the Influence of the Burning Times on the Salem Witch Trials

Institution

Morehead State University

Abstract

The Salem Witch Trials lasted from 1692 to 1693, and reflected the fragility of hierarchical communal structures through the New England settlers’ attempts to impose traditional English constructs in the fluid environment. Initiated and sustained by several Puritan girls, the witch hunt resulted in the deaths of twenty-four people. Historians have attributed the hysteria to Ergot, economic competition, or hostile threats, but few reference the parallel conditions of the earlier European witch trials. The Burning Times reached its apex between 1450 and 1750, and an estimated fifty thousand to one hundred thousand people, predominately women, were executed. The Salem Witch Trials were a continuation of the social control mechanisms employed during the Burning Times, because they centered on eliminating threats by the autonomy of women and the poor to the permanence of the social order. Despite the differences between the English and Salem cases, the victims were primarily older and widowed, female, or socially estranged, which limited their ability to defend themselves. Considering multiple contexts and the use of religious justification by privileged men to maintain authoritative control over every aspect of society further demonstrates the significance of maintaining conventional gender roles in explaining the hysteria, the characterization of witches, and how a belief in witches endured to travel across the Atlantic. European reform, interactions between diverse groups, and opportunities in America made social mobility possible, and both instances of persecution promoted patriarchy, codified witchcraft, and redefined femininity to discourage challenges to the positions of power reserved for elite men.

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A Gendered Legacy: the Influence of the Burning Times on the Salem Witch Trials

The Salem Witch Trials lasted from 1692 to 1693, and reflected the fragility of hierarchical communal structures through the New England settlers’ attempts to impose traditional English constructs in the fluid environment. Initiated and sustained by several Puritan girls, the witch hunt resulted in the deaths of twenty-four people. Historians have attributed the hysteria to Ergot, economic competition, or hostile threats, but few reference the parallel conditions of the earlier European witch trials. The Burning Times reached its apex between 1450 and 1750, and an estimated fifty thousand to one hundred thousand people, predominately women, were executed. The Salem Witch Trials were a continuation of the social control mechanisms employed during the Burning Times, because they centered on eliminating threats by the autonomy of women and the poor to the permanence of the social order. Despite the differences between the English and Salem cases, the victims were primarily older and widowed, female, or socially estranged, which limited their ability to defend themselves. Considering multiple contexts and the use of religious justification by privileged men to maintain authoritative control over every aspect of society further demonstrates the significance of maintaining conventional gender roles in explaining the hysteria, the characterization of witches, and how a belief in witches endured to travel across the Atlantic. European reform, interactions between diverse groups, and opportunities in America made social mobility possible, and both instances of persecution promoted patriarchy, codified witchcraft, and redefined femininity to discourage challenges to the positions of power reserved for elite men.