The Crucible: Colonial Period Of Early American History

Massachusetts had a very interesting past during the colonial period of early American History. It all started in 1620. Many groups settled in Massachusetts to escape religious persecution and practice religious freedom in America. Pilgrims from England, arriving on the Mayflower, settled in the Plymouth area of Massachusetts. Over the next several decades and into the seventeenth century, Puritans from England settled in Salem, Boston, and officially established the Massachusetts Bay colony. By 1640, there were over 40,000 immigrants that had arrived in the Massachusetts Bay colony (Brooks).

The religious ideas of the Puritans strictly followed the Bible and they came to America because of the freedom to practice their religion, which was not evident in early England times. Pilgrims arrived to escape religious persecution in England (“Massachusetts”). The leader of the Puritan church was John Winthrop, who seized a majority of the power in Massachusetts during the colonial period. He believed that the individuals in the Massachusetts Bay colony needed to strictly follow their Puritan beliefs.

Because of the large influence of the Puritan church, the early form of government in the Massachusetts colony was very religious. The political views in Massachusetts revolved around Theocracy, where God and religion was the center of politics. Many individuals believed that to be righteous to God, they had to follow the laws of the land. This included strict moral codes and respect. The General Court, established by members of the Puritan church, was the main political force in early colonial times. Two delegates from each town in the Massachusetts area formed the General Court.

The Court had Legislative and Judicial power, and in 1641 formed a code of laws called the “Body of Liberties. ” These laws governed everyday life in the colony (“A Brief History”). The ideas of the Puritan church, the Pilgrims, and the politics revolved around the General Court profoundly affected Massachusetts during the early colonial times in America. Witches and Witchcraft had a large influence on the people in the New England colonies in the late seventeenth century. The first witch hunt started in March of 1662.

In Hartford, Connecticut, a young girl named Elizabeth Kelly had died in her home after an encounter with her family’s neighbor, Goody Ayres. Before her death, Elizabeth claimed to be possessed by Ayres and the devil. After her death, many other individuals were thought to be possessed by witches, which led to neighbors and townsfolk being questioned of performing witchcraft in the community. Those suspected of witchcraft were put on trial. In total, over forty-six individuals in Connecticut were persecuted for being witches, and eleven executions took place (Klein). This leads to the infamous trials in Salem.

The Salem witch trials began in 1692, thirty years after the Connecticut outbreak. Young girls in nearby woods were thought to be possessed, screaming and dancing black magic dances. After examination, local doctors concluded that the symptoms were from bewitchment. The girls, including Elizabeth Parris and Abigail Williams, accused members of the Salem community of bewitching them (“Salem”). More and more individuals were accused, sparking the trials. There were several ways to determine if someone was a witch, most importantly being physical tests and characteristics.

One of the well-known tests in the seventeenth century was tying the hands and feet of the defendant and throwing him into water. If the accused individual floated, he was a witch. Physical traits, such as having moles, warts, or birthmarks, were a sign that the person could be a possible witch as well. Even if innocent, many members of the Salem community confessed as being a witch. In the end, confession was the only way out for the defendants. Confession led to repentance, and execution would not take place.

Someone considered guilty in a trial had several consequences: jail, exile, or execution. Some witches in jail were stoned to death, and execution meant the gallows. In total, over twenty people were hung on Gallows Hill in Salem (“Witchcraft”). To this day, the Salem witch trials are remembered as perilous times that shaped the Massachusetts colony in the seventeenth century. The early 1950s was considered a time of fear. In the midst of the Cold War between the United States of America and the Soviet Union, many Americans feared that Communism would sweep through the nation.

The potential Communist threats and actions posed from members of the government and undercover spies in the United States was nationally known as the Red Scare. Feeling as though the country was in danger, President Truman issued Executive Order 9835 (the Loyalty Order) on March 21st, 1947 at the start of the Cold War. The Loyalty Order analyzed the loyalty of federal employees working for the government (“Red Scare”). Many individuals began to question the actions of several government officials.

Among the accusers was Joseph R. McCarthy, who was a first-term Wisconsin senator. McCarthy devoted his time in the early 50s to identify and expose possible Communist members of the U. S. government. He brought fear to the American people during the beginnings of the Cold War. His strong intimidation affected politics and members involved in the United States government. In a speech in February of 1950, McCarthy was brought into national fame. He revealed a list of over 200 potential members of the Communist party who worked in the U. S. government.

This caused several Senate investigations over the next several months. While in charge of the Committee on Government Operations in 1953, McCarthy’s investigations to expose possible Communist threats led to over 2,000 members of the government to lose their jobs. In 1954, Senator Joseph McCarthy shifted his focus to Communist ideals present in the U. S. Army, instead of in the government. His verbal attacks against the armed services led to a decrease of McCarthyism supporters. McCarthy slowly lost national interest and power, and died in 1957 (“Joseph McCarthy”).

McCarthy’s views were not the only ideas that sparked Communist fear in the United States. In the beginning of the 50s, the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) also attempted to expose communist subversions. The Committee specifically worked to attack the film industry in Hollywood. The efforts of the HUAC resulted in the blacklists of several radicals (“HUAC”). Senator McCarthy’s political views and influence, along with the national fear of Communism in the United States, shaped America the way it is today.