Tag Archives: witch hunts

Ancestral Journeys: Religion and Belief in Colonial America

We often get a view of the early Americans as a very puritanical peoples, likened to the caricature of various fundie groups that most of us today might very well have “heard all about”, or seen in some movie or on tv, but few of us have ever actually met or been forced to live among.

Certainly there were some of those back then too of course.

Nevertheless, the age that carried the first Europeans to pioneer North America, was one of great religious upheaval, of the kind that produces extremes at ends both conservative and liberal. Early Protestant surveys of rural districts in Germany reported that the folk were entirely given over to “superstitious practices”, which were no doubt a folkish evolution of the same “Germanic Santeria” that their ancestors had been converted to centuries earlier. And we are certainly familiar with many of the folktales, charms, and customs of the English, which, were their origin was clearly not among the learned, can likewise be assumed to have been holdovers of earlier layers of beliefs (Danish, Norse, Anglo-Saxon) that were no less a part of their own “Anglo-Nordic Santeria” that their own ancestors were converted to centuries prior.

Thomas Morton, while seemingly more a rascal looking to flip off the his puritan neighbours than any kind of believer, erected the first May Pole in North America in the 1630s. The early German settlers of Pennsylvania brought their “Germanic Santeria” with them from the old country, with the German edition of the tome “Long Lost Friend” by John George Hohman’s seeing first publication in 1820. Within a decade of that came the birth of Mormonism, with its highly mystical origins, and the known use of “folk magic” by its founder Joseph Smith. Indeed, by 1897 roughly 14% of the U.S.A.’s 72 million citizens, which is slightly more than 10 million people were reckoned “Spiritualists” with strong beliefs in the spirits of the dead and the ability of some to commune with them!

Not exactly a community of religious prudes, taken as a whole of course.

Indeed, my own ancestor, Edward Dimond, was born 1641, some 51 year before the Salem with hysteria of 1692, and just a short jaunt down the road from Salem in Marblehead, where he came to be renowned as the “Wizard of Marblehead”. It is said that he could often be found wandering among the graveyard at night and muttering to himself. Nevertheless, he was beloved by (most of) the folk, whatever else anyone else might have thought of him, for his bewitching of petty criminals and the magical assistance he reportedly lent to sailors in trouble at sea.

While the hysteria of 1692 did not turn a blind eye to Marblehead, it nevertheless left the Wizard untouched.

Speaking of “religious hysteria”: while 1692 was clearly hysterical and boasted 185 out of the total 308 witchcraft trials that took place in British North America since 1642, it nevertheless witnessed a mere 19 convictions resulting in death. In contrast the remaining 123 witch trials witnessed 37 convictions leading to death. In other words the case of the Salem witch-hunts as a gross, religion-driven travesty of justice, and Anglo-America as religiously intolerant to the core, is profoundly over-stated.

We might also keep in mind that it is not only the accusation of malevolent witchcraft that is (potentially) malicious, but also at times its practice; as our preChristian ancestors very well knew themselves. In fact, one need but look over at present day Africa to see the gross indecencies engaged in both to combat witchcraft, but also in observance of it.

They were not a bunch of promiscuous goddess worshipping college girls back then after all.

My great grandmother, Eva Lott, her great-great-great-great grandfather, was Edward Dimond Junior. He was baptized in 1687 and (formally) adopted into the Dimond kindred ten years after the end of (the brutal) Metacom’s War (1677). He was, either in whole or in part — ie. Edward Dimond Sr. “might only” be a spiritual ancestor — of the Naumkeag-Wampanoag population based upon the best available (DNA) evidence. Whatever the case, and to the point, his brother was Aholiab Dimond, who was himself the father of the famous 18th century Anglo-American seeress Moll (Dimond) Pitcher.

Moll was a classic Anglo-Nordic seeress of the caliber of Veleda as mentioned in Tacitus’ 1st century AD work Germania. Her gifts were not only sought after and praised among the common folk, but also by the wealthy and powerful, and it is said that not a ship would leave harbour without first receiving the blessing of her visions. She was in fact so renowned that nobles from Europe also sought her out for her gift of prophecy. And it is even said that George Washinton once visited her and that she prophecized his victory over the Crown.

She gives us a pretty good indication of the Christianity of Anglo-American culture at the time of the American Revolution, and the type of Christianity the Anglo-American Loyalist carried with them into what would become Upper Canada; where even a Mohawk who had chosen to remain “pagan” could nevertheless be described as pious by learned men of no more than a century later.

Here it is probably also worth noting that the Canadas only had between 4 (certainly) to 6 (possibly) Episcopalian minsters at work within it prior to 1791; when the fire-and-brimstone, saddle-minster, William Losse (of New York) began riding the newly formed and formally endorsed “Kingston circuit” through the lands of my Loyalist ancestors.

By 1817, the British Wesleyans began to arrive from the Maritimes, and by 1833 both branches of Methodism re-converged in the “Wesleyan Methodist Church”.

The Catholic Church wouldn’t establish itself west of Kingston, Ontario until the 1820s.

In the early colonial period, religious resources had been either non-existent or very scarce. For many early pioneers, any church, sect or clergyman was often better than nothing at all.” — Religion, UpperCanadaVillage. com

As late as the 1810s, baptismal records show grown adults and entire families coming forward for baptism, just to give one an idea of scarcity of “formal religious resources” in the region at that early time.

It is from out of this culturo-religious soil that our Heathenry as Anglo-Americans began to slowly reassert itself. As it continues to do on into this day. And without a single drop of blood shed at that.