E/MS Unit II

Activity 2: Threats to the Community

Have students read over the first page of the document listing Capital Laws in effect in the early years of the Massachusetts Bay Colony.

  1. What issues do the first three laws address?
  2. What does it tell us when these three appear at the top of the list, ahead of murder?
  3. Look at the second law, regarding “Witch-craft.” What does the wording in the law tell us about people’s belief in the presence of witches?

Define “defendant,” “plaintiff,” and “deposition.” Have half the class read John Winthrop’s journal entry that describes the evidence against a convicted witch, and the other half read the Mass Moment about Mary Parsons. Both groups should answer:

  1. What evidence was presented in court as proof of witchcraft?
  2. How did the case get resolved?
  3. What factors may have helped or hurt the accused person?

Have the students exchange information about their reading. Then discuss:

  1. What appears to have been a big part of these accusations?
  2. The evidence of witchcraft seems ridiculous to us today. Why did people in the seventeenth century apparently take it so seriously?
  3. The Puritans believed that everything good that happened was a result of God’s blessing. How did they explain unfortunate things such as storms, illness, death, and accidents?
  4. What are alternative explanations for these events?
  5. Do local histories mention any case(s) of suspected witchcraft in the students’ home town? If so, what can they find out about it?

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