Tag Archives: Witches

There Be Great Witches Among Them: Witchcraft and the Devil in Colonial Virginia

Daemonologie

Salem witch trials are among the most well-known instances of witchcraft in colonial America, but belief in witches was not limited to New England. The colonists who settled in the lower colonies, like Virginia, came from England at a time when witch trials were a fact of life and had been for centuries. Beliefs such as these were bolstered by King James I’s 1597 text Daemonologie, which wrote that witchcraft and possession by the devil was, “most common in such wild partes of the worlde,” because there, “the Devill findes greatest ignorance and barbaritie.” (1) As Edward Bond wrote in his article “Source of Knowledge, Source of Power,” this led to English colonists who were “predisposed…to see evidence of malevolent supernatural forces in North America,” which they did, nearly immediately. (2)

Detail of Smith's 1612 Map of Virginia. The caption reads: Powhatan held this state and fashion when Capt. Smith was delivered to him prisoner, 1607.

Detail of Smith’s 1612 Map of Virginia. The caption reads: Powhatan held this state and fashion when Capt. Smith was delivered to him prisoner, 1607

Map of Ould Virginia, from Smith's Generall Historie

Map of Ould Virginia, from Smith’s Generall Historie

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Upon arrival, colonists recorded the signs of witchcraft and the devil they saw in the new world. When describing the native people of Virginia, John Smith wrote, “their chiefe God they worship is the Devill,” (3) and Powhatan, the chief, was “more devill than man.” (4) Reverend Alexander Whitaker, in a letter to a fellow priest in England, wrote that the behavior of the native people, “make me think that there be great witches among them, and that they are very familiar with the devil.” (5)

In his article “The Devil in Virginia in the Seventeenth Century”, Richard Beale Davis wrote that the few instances of witchcraft in colonial Virginia “had more to do with folklore than theology,” and Virginia avoided anything nearing the scale of the … read more »

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