"Under an Ill Tongue": Witchcraft and Religion in Seventeenth-Century Virginia
Newman, Lindsey M.
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This project analyzes the role of religion, both institutional and private, in Virginiaâ s dealings with witchcraft during the seventeenth century. The witch trials of New England and Europe during the 1600s have tended to overshadow those that simultaneously took place in Virginia, leaving historians to prematurely regard Virginia as an anomaly of rationality in an otherwise superstitious period of witches and demons. Virginiaâ s failure to prosecute those accused of witchcraft was not due to a lack of allegations, my thesis will argue, but can instead be partly attributed to the nature of the colonyâ s religious experience and the theology and practices of Virginiaâ s Anglican Church. While Virginiaâ s seventeenth-century inhabitants migrated to the New World with firmly entrenched English religious values, their relationship with God and their response to the supernatural world were profoundly influenced by New World experiences and peoples. To protect the social fragility of their colony, Virginiaâ s political and religious leaders consciously chose to prosecute offenses that they felt threatened the social cohesion of the colony, such as fornication, gossip, and slander, and dismissed those, such as witchcraft, that threatened to tear it apart.
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