Julianne Jennings: Fear of witches and Indians in Massachusetts

A depiction of Tituba that was published around 1880. Image from History of Massachusetts

Julianne Jennings explores the connection between the fear of Indians and the Salem witchcraft trials in 17th-century Massachusetts:
Imagine, some 300 years ago, in Puritan New England, it was believed that the wilderness was the natural habitat of the devil. Since American Indians belonged to the wilderness, their familiarity with the ways of the devil seemed obvious to the settlers. Indian conflicts, disease, and over ridding fears of the devil proved the New English needed to work harder at godliness; and saw it as their duty to rid the wilderness of “savages” and “witches.” The Salem Witches Trials, were a series of hearings and prosecutions of people accused of witchcraft in colonial Massachusetts. The trials resulted in the executions of twenty people, most of them women. Indians, were allegedly considered witches, and also became part of the hunt! Martin del Campo mentions, “John Indian” as a good an example. Historical writings indicate, Tituba, was the first person to be accused by Betty Parris and Abigail Williams of witchcraft. Her husband, John Indian, and through the trials, had a number of “fits” when present for the examination of accused witches. Some have speculated that this was a way of deflecting further suspicion of himself or his wife. It has been argued, both Tituba and John were Arawak or “mixed-race” Indians from the Caribbean.

Tensions erupted between English colonists settling in “the Eastward” (present-day coast of Maine) and the French-supported Wabanaki Indians in what came to be known as King William’s War, 1688–1697; only thirteen years after the devastating King Philip's War with the Wampanoag and other indigenous tribes in southern and western New England, where over 600 colonists and 3,000 Native Americans had died, including several hundred native captives who were tried and executed; while others were enslaved and sold in Bermuda.

King Phillip’s War essentially ended the relationship with the natives that pilgrims kept for so long before the war. These two events played a major role in religion and the test of faith of the Puritans in order to fight the evil forces of the devil and not to fall prey to the supernatural.

Get the Story:
Julianne Jennings: Witches and Indians and a Feathered Serpent in Salem, Mass. (Indian Country Today 9/10)