Neighbors or acquaintances launched accusations of witchcraft against certain people as a means of gaining power, or land. In the time of the puritans having more land meant having more power. The more land you owned, the more influence you had in the community. In many instanced women with husbands that had a large sum of land were targeted but, were often acquitted. While on the other hand women that were accused that did not have much land, and therefore little influence were often tried, found guilty and executed. I believe a need for influence pushed many people to accuse others of witchcraft.
Two cases in which women were accused of being witches were those of Katherine Harrison and Susan Martin. In the case of Katherine Harrison, her husband was a wealthy landowner. When accusations were brought up against her she was able to provide her accusers with land to appease them. However, that was not the case for everyone. In the case of Susan Martin, she was not left any land by her father or step mother. She was accused of witchcraft after the deaths over her sister and husband. Thus, when accusations were brought against her she had no influence in the community, and no one to speak on her behalf. As a result she was tried, found guilty, and executed for the crime of witchcraft.
It is quite apparent that women dominated the accused during the witch trials. This shows that in puritan society women are looked at as creatures easily taken or influenced by evil. This could be rooted in the Puritan belief that Eve’s disobedience brought evil into the world. As a result, puritans likely believed women to be naturally evil beings, both drawn to evil and influenced by evil. Thus, making it more likely that women would be witches in the community and not men.
Another interesting Puritans belief was that when a woman was a witch she passed her witchcraft down to her daughter. However, nothing was ever mentioned about her passing it down to her son. I believe, in part, that the reason women were accused was because a preconceived notion that women were more susceptible to being influence by evil. Overall, women were the easiest targets for accusers. Which is likely why you see so many women and very little men tried in the courts for witchcraft.
Kerber, Linda, et.al. Women’s America. 8th edition, New York: Oxford University Press, 2016