A Social Tension in Bacon S Rebellion and Salem Witch Trials
Considerable growth and great tensions were developed in the late seventeenth century in the European colonies. With the imposition of salutary neglect, colonists were demanded to create their forms of local government. Although some governments proved successful, others left the regions with great instability. Additionally, the large population of neighboring Native Americans, who believed colonists had stolen their land, led to much tension. Finally, a continued wavering effect in the economic success of the colonies created unrests. All these factors culminated into two significant conflicts known as Bacon’s Rebellion of 1676 and the Salem Witch Trials of 1692. These two occurrences demonstrate the increase of social tension among the European colonists in America through the display of unequal economic status and social uncertainty throughout the societies.
Bacon’s Rebellion of 1676 manifested due to Native American attacks on colonists and a lack of governmental action to prevent such conflicts. Nathaniel Bacon believed that Virginia Governor Berkeley’s Indian policy didn’t do enough to protect regional farmers who were often attacked by multiple Indian groups in the Virginia area. Moreover, Bacon wished to “extirpate all Indians”. Native Americans attacks on colonists, however, were not unprovoked. Due to Virginia’s mass production of tobacco, which quickly depletes the soil of proper nutrients, farmers were forced to expand into Indian Territory, thus resulting in several violent interactions between the two groups. Tensions in the area also grew due to many new taxes imposed on colonists by Governor Berkeley. Moreover, colonists believed that Berkeley had overstepped his rights as a governor. Also adding to the tensions were the declining prices of tobacco, Virginia major economic export. All these tensions culminated in 1676, where Nathaniel Bacon and other young farmers attacked and burned the city of Jamestown in hope for new government policies. As a result, Governor Berkeley fled the area and a new local government was formed.
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The Salem Witchcraft Trials differed from many other conflicts in colonial society in that it was a generational conflict. Generally, the traditional Puritan leaders were upset by the actions of younger Puritan families in the New England region. Specifically, older women were unhappy with the scandalous actions of their young girls. Additionally, a growing population that nearly reached the sustainability of the region added to a great deal of pressure and developed more animosity toward the younger generations. Politically, Salem was also unstable. With the absence of a governor and new royal charter, the citizens of Salem proliferated violently. In 1692, many young girls, especially those on the outskirts of town, were accused of witchcraft. Most of those who were accused were convicted based merely on imagination and suspicion; however, only twenty were executed, but others died in prison.
Both, the Salem Witch Trials and Bacon’s Rebellion, created tensions, which later led to a divide in their societies. In Bacon’s Rebellion, the conflict was a rivalry between the colonists and Indians, however, there was also a divide among the colonists. The Yeomans, who were disproportionately threatened by the Indian war and burdened by taxes, tended to lean toward Bacon’s side in the conflict. However, the wealthy Virginian elite, those who were thriving due to the influx of indentured servants and policy of the headright system, were overall against Bacon. This created separation between the colonists in Virginia, instead of the intended unity. During the Salem Witch Trials, due to religion, people believed evil demonic witches were harming others. This caused people to accuse others of witchcraft. Neighbor testified against neighbor. Husband against wife. Children against parents. This phenomenon turned everyone in the community against each other.
A key component in these two events was discrimination. In Salem, women had an inferior social status compared to men and were viewed as weak, which is why they were easy to blame. In Carol F. Karlsen’s book, The Devil in the Shape of a Woman, she states that nearly 200 were accused of witchcraft during the “outbreak” in Salem, and more than three-fourths were female (Karlsen, 40). And the small number of men who were accused were only blamed because they were the husband, son, or male relative of the accused female (Karlsen, 40). The gender roles consisted of many differences during the period of the Salem Witch Trials and therefore caused more women to be accused of witchcraft. Men held more power and attained higher positions in all aspects of society than women. Unfortunately, it created the gender discrimination against women that led to many accusations of witchcraft in Salem, Massachusetts.
Although in the Salem Witch Trials discrimination was focused on gender, instead Bacon’s Rebellion was geared toward economic discrimination. The rebellion can be attributed to a myriad of causes, all of which led to dissent in the Virginia colony. Economic problems, such as declining tobacco prices, growing commercial competition from Maryland and the Carolinas, and the rising prices from English manufactured goods (mercantilism) caused problems for the Virginians. However, the colonists found their scapegoat in the form of the local Indians. The colonists on Bacon’s side believed that Indians caused their low economic standing by Indians’ refusal to secede their land to the colonists, leaving them with little farm area for crops, minimizing their sales.