Despite the prevalence of Christianity among Puritan New Englanders, there was in the 17th Century still a strong pagan belief in the supernatural world. The personal relationship that Puritans believed they held with God also came with it a belief that Satan constantly tempted an individual's faith and devotion. Witches were believed to be in league with Satan to destroy God's experiment in New England, and between 1647 and 1663, 14 people were hanged in Massachusetts and Connecticut for refusing to confess to witchcraft. Throughout the 17th Century, more than 300 faced accusations in New England. The Salem witch trials began in 1692 when a number of young girls began to experience "fits" and charged that they were afflicted by spirits. There had been many internal divisions within the community, and the charges of witchcraft played right into those divisions along political, economic, social, and even gender lines (all but one of those executed were women). 175 people were arrested and 20 were executed over the next ten months. In the following account, Mary Esty petitions for her innocence.
Questions to Consider
What is the historical context of this document?
How does Mary Esty defend herself from the charges of witchcraft?
Why would Esty (or someone else) be accused of witchcraft?
What can you deduce about late seventeenth-century Massachusetts from this document?
To the Honorable Judge and Bench now sitting in Judicature in Salem and the Reverend Ministers, humbly sheweth, That whereas your humble poor Petitioned being Condemned to die, doth humbly beg of you, to take it into your Judicious and Pious Consideration, that your poor and humble Petitioned knowing my Innocency (blessed be the Lord for it) and seeing plainly the Wiles and Subtilty of my Accusers, by my self, cannot but judge charitably of others, that are going in the same way with my self, if the Lord step not mightily in. I was confined a whole Month on the same account that I am now condemned for, and then cleared by the Afflicted persons, as some of your Honours know, and in two days time I was cried out upon by them, and have been confined, and now am condemned to die. The Lord above knows my innocency then, and likewise doth now, as at the great day will be known to Men and Angels. I Petition to your Honours not for my own Life, for I know I must die, and my appointed time is set; but the Lord he knows it is, if it be possible, that no more Innocent blood be shed, which undoubtedly cannot be avoided in the way and course you go in. I question not, but your Honours do to the utmost of your powers, in the discovery and detecting of witchcraft and Witches, and would not be guilty of Innocent Blood for the World; but by my own Innocency I know you are in the wrong way. The Lord in his infinite Mercy direct you in this great work, if it be his blessed will, that Innocent Blood be not shed; I would humbly beg of you, that your Honours would be pleased to Examine some of those confessing Witches, I being confident there are several of them have belyed themselves and others, as will appear, if not in this World, I am sure in the world to come, whither I am going; and I question not, but your selves will see an alteration in these things: They say, my self and others have made a league with the Devil, we cannot confess. I know and the Lord he knows (as will shortly appear) they belye me, and so I question not but they do others; the Lord alone, who is the searcher of all hearts, knows that as I shall answer it at the Tribunal Seat, that I know not the least thing of Witchcraft, therefore I cannot, I durst not belye my own Soul. I beg your Honours not to deny this my humble Petition, from a poor dying Innocent person, and I question not but the Lord will give a blessing to your Endeavours.
- Mary Esty