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Witchcraft in Early North America

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Overview

Witchcraft in Early North America investigates European, African, and Indian witchcraft beliefs and their expression in colonial America. Alison Games's engaging book takes us beyond the infamous outbreak at Salem, Massachusetts, to look at how witchcraft was a central feature of colonial societies in North America. Her substantial and lively introduction orients readers to the subject and to the rich selection of documents that follows. The documents begin with first encounters between European missionaries and Native Americans in New France and New Mexico, and they conclude with witch hunts among Native Americans in the years of the early American republic. The documents—some of which have never been published previously—include excerpts from trials in Virginia, New Mexico, and Massachusetts; accounts of outbreaks in Salem, Abiquiu (New Mexico), and among the Delaware Indians; descriptions of possession; legal codes; and allegations of poisoning by slaves. The documents raise issues central to legal, cultural, social, religious, and gender history. This fascinating topic and the book’s broad geographic and chronological coverage make this book ideally suited for readers interested in new approaches to colonial history and the history of witchcraft.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
The slenderness of this volume belies its author's ambition: an introduction to European, African, and Native American witchcraft before and after European contact. In cogent prose, Games has done a remarkable work of synthesis, bringing together dozens of sources and a hundred pages of primary text to create a compelling and entertaining overview of witchcraft history. She puts witch hunts into political and religious context, noting how colonial life laid fertile ground for sorcery and rebellion. While her editorial skills are admirable (included are transcripts of famous witch "confessions," the poisoning of one of Thomas Jefferson's slaves by a conjurer, and more), her own work may be of more interest. Games actively interprets, framing each document with a background sketch and leading questions ("What--or who--might have saved Mary Lee from murder?"), but ambition can come at a cost; overviews of belief systems are generalized, conclusions can come from questionable sources, and the writing at times recalls a textbook. But for students and history buffs who seek a larger context for the Salem outbreak, this is an admirable volume. (Oct.)
Karin Wulf
Witches, witches, everywhere. That’s the elegantly simple and subtle insight of Alison Games’s new book. Witchcraft in Early North America combines an innovative approach to exploring the enmeshed histories of European, African, and Native American people in the early modern world with an important analysis of the deep and wide histories of witchcraft beliefs and practices across North America. Students, teachers, and general readers alike will appreciate this combination as they explore the richness of Games’ introduction and the variety of primary sources she has gathered here.
Peter C. Mancall
Alison Games's wonderful book combines a superb historical introduction with an imaginative and wide-reaching collection of documents. Witchcraft, we learn, crossed cultural boundaries in North America, a finding that finally places the study of this aspect of the early modern world into our larger understanding of the period. General readers, students, and professors alike will benefit from the efforts of Professor Games, a leading scholar of the early modern Atlantic world, who brings her considerable talents and unique historical skills to the problem of witchcraft.
Magic
The book is well-written, intelligent, and balanced. . . . Games excels as a scholar, and there are insightful passages in the text; her analysis of the decline of legal witchcraft prosecutions among European cultures, for example, is outstanding. She deftly explains the theories of multiple causation that are often difficult to explain to undergraduates. . . . The diverse document selection that follows Games's essay is far more interesting than any collection specifically addressing witchcraft in North America.
CHOICE
Games (history, Georgetown Univ.) makes a vital contribution to the pedagogical resources on early American witchcraft. With its introductory essay and interdependent collection of primary materials, the book demonstrates how accusations of witchcraft mediated colonial encounters between mutually illegible cultures. . . . Games's historical introduction broadens the scope of witchcraft study beyond New England to incorporate less familiar outbreaks in New France and New Spain. The author traces as well the conflicting beliefs European, Native, and African peoples brought to these encounters. A modest selection of Salem materials are among the 29 brief primary documents, which include legal documents, reports of first encounters, and possession narratives from across the continent. Games's premise is that the historical record tells the story slant; accordingly, this volume represents a necessary and ethical, albeit brief, attempt to counter the Anglo-centrism that has characterized witchcraft historiography. The author resituates episodes of witchcraft in the context of cultural contact and conflict in which they occurred, incorporating them into larger scholarly trends in the study of early America as a space of contact zones. . . . Summing Up: Recommended.
Journal of American History
The essay is very well written and clearly conveys complex ideas. The author provides useful analyses of why the Spanish were such ardent witch hunters in America (but not in Spain) while the French took a more lenient approach toward alleged Indian witches.
Journal Of American History
The essay is very well written and clearly conveys complex ideas. The author provides useful analyses of why the Spanish were such ardent witch hunters in America (but not in Spain) while the French took a more lenient approach toward alleged Indian witches.
Choice
Games (history, Georgetown Univ.) makes a vital contribution to the pedagogical resources on early American witchcraft. With its introductory essay and interdependent collection of primary materials, the book demonstrates how accusations of witchcraft mediated colonial encounters between mutually illegible cultures. . . . Games's historical introduction broadens the scope of witchcraft study beyond New England to incorporate less familiar outbreaks in New France and New Spain. The author traces as well the conflicting beliefs European, Native, and African peoples brought to these encounters. A modest selection of Salem materials are among the 29 brief primary documents, which include legal documents, reports of first encounters, and possession narratives from across the continent. Games's premise is that the historical record tells the story slant; accordingly, this volume represents a necessary and ethical, albeit brief, attempt to counter the Anglo-centrism that has characterized witchcraft historiography. The author resituates episodes of witchcraft in the context of cultural contact and conflict in which they occurred, incorporating them into larger scholarly trends in the study of early America as a space of contact zones. . . . Summing Up: Recommended.
Magic
The book is well-written, intelligent, and balanced. . . . Games excels as a scholar, and there are insightful passages in the text; her analysis of the decline of legal witchcraft prosecutions among European cultures, for example, is outstanding. She deftly explains the theories of multiple causation that are often difficult to explain to undergraduates. . . . The diverse document selection that follows Games's essay is far more interesting than any collection specifically addressing witchcraft in North America.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781442203570
  • Publisher: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc.
  • Publication date: 10/16/2010
  • Series: American Controversies Series
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 232
  • Sales rank: 528,183
  • Product dimensions: 6.10 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 1.10 (d)

Meet the Author

Alison Games is the Dorothy M. Brown Distinguished Professor of History at Georgetown University. She is the author of Migration and the Origins of the English Atlantic World, which won the Theodore Soloutos Award in Immigration and Ethnic History, and The Web of Empire: English Cosmopolitans in an Age of Expansion, 1560–1600, winner of the Bainton Book Prize in History.

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Table of Contents

Preface

Section I Witchcraft in Early North America: An Introduction 1

Beliefs: Europeans 7

Beliefs: West and West-Central Africans 18

Beliefs: Native Americans 21

Colonization, Witchcraft, and Resistance 25

New Mexico 32

New France 36

British North America 39

Africans and Their Descendants in North America 48

Outbreaks: Putting Salem in Context 55

Confession 63

Possession 65

Prophets and Witch Hunts in the New United States 76

Skepticism 83

Notes 93

Section II Primary Documents 107

First Impressions 109

Document 1 Fray Benavides Sees Wizards, Sorcerers, and the Demon in New Mexico, 1625-1627 109

Document 2 Making Sense of the Sickness in Huron Country, 1636-1637: Who's a Witch? 111

Document 3 The Execution of Isaac Jogues, 1646 118

Resistance and the Devil 120

Document 4 Andres Perez de Ribas Explains the Origins of the Tepehuan Revolt, 1616 120

Document 5 Witchcraft, Sorcery, and the Pueblo Revolt, 1680-1681 123

English Witch Beliefs Cross the Atlantic 127

Document 6 The English Act against Conjuration, 1604 127

Document 7 The Law of the Colony of Connecticut, 1642 129

Document 8 The Case of Goodwife Wright, Virginia, 1626 129

Document 9 The Execution of Mary Lee en route to Maryland, 1654 133

Document 10 The Case of Grace Sherwood, Virginia, 1706 137

Document 11 Governor Kaine Pardons Grace Sherwood, 2006 142

New Worlds 143

Document 12 A Case of Witchcraft in New Mexico, 1708 143

Document 13 Willem Bosman Explains the Ritual Use of Poison in Guinea, 1704 152

Document 14 South Carolina Strengthens Its Laws against Poisoning and Slave Doctors, 1740, 1751 153

Document 15 Items about Poisoning from the South Carolina Gazette, 1749, 1769 157

Document 16 Poison at Monticello, 1800 158

Two Cases of Possession 160

Document 17 The Possession of Elizabeth Knapp, Massachusetts, 1671-1672 160

Document 18 Possession at Abiquiu, New Mexico, 1763-1764 166

Outbreaks 175

Document 19 The Examinations of Tituba and Sarah Good, Salem, March 1, 1692 176

Document 20 Nathaniel Cary's Account of His Wife's Examination, May 1692 181

Document 21 The Examination of Candy, July 4, 1692 184

Document 22 The Petition of John Proctor, July 23, 1692 185

Document 23 The Examination of Mary Toothaker, July 30, 1692 186

Document 24 The Examinations of Abigail Faulkner, August 1692 189

Document 25 Thomas Brattle's Skepticism, 1692 190

Document 26 Ann Putnam's Confession, 1706 195

Document 27 The Code of Handsome Lake 196

Document 28 The Code of the Shawnee Prophet, circa 1812 197

Document 29 The Witch Hunt at the White River Mission, 1806 199

Index 205

About the Author 217

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