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A 350-year-old notebook which documents the trials of women convicted of witchcraft in England during the 17th century has been published online. The notebook written by Nehemiah Wallington, an English Puritan, recounts the fate of women accused of having relationships with the devil at a time when England was embroiled in a bitter civil war.
The document reveals the details of a witchcraft trial held in Chelmsford in July 1645, when more than a hundred suspected witches were serving time in Essex and Suffolk according to his account. "Divers (many) of them voluntarily and without any forcing or compulsion freely declare that they have made a covenant with the Devill," he wrote. "Som Christians have been killed by their meanes," he added.
If you would like to find a specific entry, say, about witch trials, simply search for ‘witchcraft’.
The best-known trials were conducted by the Court of Oyer and Terminer in 1692 in Salem Town. Over 150 people were arrested and imprisoned, with even more accused but not formally pursued by the authorities. All twenty-six who went to trial before this court were convicted. The four sessions of the Superior Court of Judicature in 1693, held in Salem Village, but also in Ipswich, Boston and Charlestown, produced only three convictions in the thirty-one witchcraft trials it conducted. The two courts convicted twenty-nine people of the capital felony of witchcraft. Nineteen of the accused, fourteen women and five men, were executed by hanging. One man, Giles Corey, refused to enter a plea and was crushed to death under heavy stones in an attempt to force him to do so. At least five more of the accused died in prison.
"The Puritans" were a political and religious party in England beginning in the mid-16th century. The party, influenced by Calvinism, opposed many of the traditions of the new Protestant Church of England, including the Book of Common Prayer, the use of priestly vestments (cap and gown) during services, the use of the Holy Cross during baptism, and kneeling during the sacrament, all of which constituted "popery". In the 17th century, England erupted in civil war, with the Puritan Party winning and executing King Charles I. This success was short-lived as the Commonwealth's failure under the Lord Protector's successor Richard Cromwell led to restoration of the old order under Charles II. Emigration to Massachusetts Colony by Puritans during this almost constant state of political upheaval resulted in a population of settlers both fervently religious and politically astute. Self-governance came naturally to them, and building a society based on their religious beliefs was their goal.