PULPIT (with Peter McLean). 1992.


Central to every single Colonial town or village in America was a church and church leadership. Ministers were the spiritual heads of communities and simultaneously played a large role in community affairs and governance. Hiring, supporting and paying for a minister was not always conflict free. House, land, meetinghouse, provisions, firewood and salary all had to be supplied by parishioner tithe, tax, and donation. Personality conflicts and degrees of preparation and ordination resulted in instability in some pulpits.

Local and provincial ministers were especially important in instruction about ways of the Devil, in leading the fight against him with Christian weapons, and in being able to discern facts from fiction in the growing reports of witchcraft. Ministers were often at the fulcrum of a see-saw between hysterical claims and rational evaluations. They wavered from one end to the other as they and the court examined the accused, looked closely at the suspects’ religious records, and observed the reactions and sufferings of the afflicted when in the presence of the accused.

For doctrine, biblical wisdom, religious observance and spiritual guidance, ministers were the most powerful social forces in the early colonies. Concerning issues of the existence of witches, their bewitchment of others, the appearance and work of specters, the Devil’s grand scheme, strategies and operations, the ministers were final authority. What issued from the pulpits of Salem and Massachusetts were often instructions for Christians and all colonists in this great battle.