Freedom: A History of US.
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Webisode 3: Liberty for All?
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Segment 3
Punishing witches in the stocks Witch Fever

It was one thing for a man in those days to stand up to the church; it was something else for a woman See It Now - Pilgrims . Women were expected to be seen but not heard. They belonged to their husbands; they were property—chattel. A husband could sell his wife's labor and keep the wages. If she ran away, she was accused of stealing herself and her clothing.

But some people, especially those known as the Quakers—or Friends—had different ideas. Quakers called their church services "meetings." In a Quaker meeting everyone is equal, there are no ministers, and anyone may speak out—including women See It Now - A Quaker Meeting. Like the Puritans they were convinced they followed the "true" religion, and they wanted to spread the word to others. Some Quakers seemed determined to be martyrs, and a woman named Mary Dyer was one of them. Even when the Puritans shipped her off to Rhode Island, she broke the laws and returned to Boston to preach her religion anew. Finally, in 1660, the Puritans hanged her. Her last words were a final refusal to save herself by leaving Boston. She said, "In obedience to the will of the Lord God I came and in his will I abide faithful to death."

Most Puritans thought they had done everything they could to be fair to Mary Dyer. It was a different world then, a world just leaving the Middle Ages. The whole world believed in witches in the seventeenth century. People thought that if you wanted to make a bargain with the devil you could do it, and then torment people and fly through the air on a broomstick, or become invisible and squeeze through keyholes. People often blamed witches for inexplicable natural disasters. Those accused of being witches were sometimes whipped, hanged, or drowned See It Now - A Witch TrialCheck The Source - John Winthrop on Witchcraft. But what happened in Salem, Massachusetts, in 1692, was different from that, as the Reverend Cotton MatherSee It Now - Cotton Mather described: Hear It Now - Cotton Mather "An army of devils is horribly broke in upon … our English settlements: and the houses of the good people … are fill'd with the doleful shrieks of their children and servants…. We have with horror seen such witchcraft See It Now - Cotton Mather on witchcraftCheck The Source - Samuel Gray's Testimony at a Salem Witch Trial."

Twenty innocent people were put to death as witches—along with two dogs Check The Source - Ann Foster's Trial at Salem, Massachusetts. These cruel episodes—the witchcraft crisis in Salem, the hanging of Mary Dyer, the expulsion of Roger Williams, and the persecution of many who were thought to have "sinned"—seemed to clash with goodness and purity at the heart of puritanism. Their children and grandchildren began asking questions for which there were no good answers. The old, intolerant ideas would not survive in the new land.

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Did You Know?
At Quaker meetings, the congregation sits and meditates in silence. Sometimes a member feels that God is communicating with him or her directly. The Friend might start talking aloud about his or her inward light. Or he or she might tremble and shake (or "quake")—which was how Quakers got their name.

Did you know that Freedom is adapted from the award-winning Oxford University Press multi-volume book series, A History of US by Joy Hakim?

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