The Colonial South

Witchcraft was dealt with in different ways when people migrated to the New World compared to European countries. When the first people came to the New World, Natives Americans were their biggest fear in the sense that they were the most unknown. The English didn't expect anyone to be in the New World, and to make matters worse, the Native Americans had lives entirely different than the British. The British believed from the beginning that Native Americans worshipped the Devil. The assumption stemmed from the belief that the Devil thrived in unpopulated places.

King James "Damonologie" only enforced these believes, and he also had a huge fear and paranoia towards witchcraft. In 1613, a Puritan minister claimed that witchcraft thrived specifically in Virginia, more than anywhere else in the world. You might wonder where this idea came from... Well, that's a good question. That basically has no answer.

Witchcraft in Virginia was a special case in several ways. The hearings would start in county courts and then progress to the General Court in Jamestown. Interestingly enough, the accusations were predominately towards men, not women. Virginia still followed the English law and in 1604, for witchcraft to be taken to court, the accused had to have had harmed a person or property. Most of these cases resulted in defamation. With a huge amount of poor and forgotten people in these communities, they used gossiping as a way to have a voice and political opinion. For most, it seemed the only way to be heard was to accuse someone of witchcraft. Though many were accused, not one person was executed for witchcraft in Virginia.

With accusations coming in left and right with little evidence behind them, it forced the government to state the 1655 Order. In this order, any person who accused a witch had to have not only evidence but witnesses as well. If they accused was found innocent, the accuser was fined 1,000 pounds of tobacco. Since it was mostly women who were accusing each other, in 1662, it was stated that husbands were not responsible for paying these fines.

So why wasn't there any large scale panics in Virginia? For one, there wasn't a large clergy in Virginia. It also helped that men heavily outnumbered women, so no one wanted to kill the few women left. And of course, the instability felt in Virginia after just landing in the New World was what took most of the attention and left witchcraft to fall on the back burner. No one had the time to be dealing with witchcraft accusations while trying to set up towns and communities completely from scratch.

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