For this assignment, we were asked to redraw our paragraph and section breaks within a paper we have previously written. In order to demonstrate where I did some rearranging in this paper for my early American lit class, I put the sections that were moved from their original layout in bold. Overall, I was pleased with where my paragraphs started and ended in the paper that I chose. I feel like they added to the overall flow of the paper, and that each new paragraph introduced a new idea or expounded on the previous paragraph’s idea. While some paragraphs were on the longer side, I felt like they worked that way and needed to stay that length because all the ideas did connect back to each other and fit within the paragraph. I was able to break one longer paragraph into two shorter paragraphs, but that was the exception. There were also a couple instances where I felt the break needed to come later than it did, as shown in the first bold section. While the paper worked how I had it originally, by moving the break later, I think more cohesion was added to the paper and what follows. I also found that by doing this exercise, I needed to revise my new topic sentences for better cohesion and flow, and that has helped me see places I can improve in other writing.


Rachel Rackham

English 360


12 April 2016

The Performance of the Puritan’s Criminal Justice System

The Puritan’s criminal justice system was designed to better their society and therefore meet their goals. As a result, many early American texts contain writings detailing the strict legal codes of these settlements. These texts provide insight into those living during that period, particularly those who deviated from the conventions of society and committed some sort of crime. These texts were not generally written by the lawbreaker. Instead, they were written by the pillars of the community, mainly the ministers. Due to strict verdicts and punishments for crimes of varying severity, the Puritan’s criminal justice system was ineffective in its methods of bringing about justice. These methods did not truly bring about a change in those accused, such as Patience Boston, Esther Rodgers, and Martha Carrier, even though a conversion to a belief in God was the basis of their society. Instead, their methods produced a performance for the community, serving as a reminder of what occurred should the law be broken, no matter the social status of the offender. This is significant because an inability to control a community meant as a model to other nations undermines the community’s purpose as a whole, calling into question the effectiveness of Puritan teachings.

But what might the Puritans have meant by justice? In today’s culture, justice is defined as “to punish or reward appropriately, to treat justly; to try in a court of law; to bring to trial; to punish judicially.” For the Puritans, justice was defined as “the body of a subject is to be justiced secundum legem terrae” (“Justice, v.”). Secundum legem terrae is defined as “according to the law of the land” (Taylor 476). In other words, the Puritans viewed justice as a means to bring to trial and punish appropriately, receiving verdicts according to the laws of the land. Therefore, each individual tried was done so according to the Puritan legal codes established upon settlement in the Americas. Their settlement “was founded on religion, and religion was its life. The entire political, social, and industrial fabric was built on religion.” Further, their way of life was “stern and somber… founded on the strictest, unmollified Calvinism…” and “breathed the air of legalism rather than of free grace” (Elson par. 5). Every aspect of the Puritan’s life was focused on religion, and this focus therefore provided ministers with large amounts of power within their communities. They had the power to either redeem or condemn a criminal (though those were sometimes used interchangeably), because their legal codes were founded on religion, thereby meaning that their justice was enacted through religious standards of justice in comparison to the legal ones of present society.

In receiving justice for their crimes, those convicted of the crime were brought before a council or jury, as in the narratives of Patience Boston, Esther Rodgers, and Martha Carrier. Through ministerial accounts, readers learn Boston was imprisoned for murder, Rodgers for two cases of infanticide, and Carrier for witchcraft. Boston openly admitted to committing multiple crimes and even “went forthwith and informed the Authority, and when the Jury sat on the body [she] was ordered to touch it… After the Jury had bro’t in wilfil Murder, [she] was sent to Prison” (Moody 124). In contrast, Rodgers attempted to hide her infanticides from the society. When her second child was due, Rodgers “delivered in the Field, and dropping [her] Child by the side of a little Pond, (whether alive or still Born [she could not] tell) [she] covered it over with Dirt and Snow, and speedily returned home again” (Rogers 97). Martha Carrier was on trial for witchcraft, having committed a different sort of crime than either Boston or Rodgers. Even her children, claiming they were witches, accused Carrier of being a witch because “their mother had made them so” (Mather 331). Many cases of witchcraft would involve the accused doing the devils bidding, and a memorandum added to Mather’s account contains Carrier’s confession, saying “that the devil had promised her that she should be Queen of Hebrews” (333). This additional memorandum demonstrates that Carrier confessed to being a witch in order to gain worldly treasures, something their culture would not have promoted. This may also be why she was accused as a witch, due to some sort of worldly desire for riches. In Richard Werking’s article entitled “‘Reformation is our Only Preservation’: Cotton Mather and Salem Witchcraft,” he states, “If the accused were to confess and renounce the Devil ‘openly and publicly,’ perhaps the people would be made aware of their reliance upon God, the churches, and the ministers” (290). Those convicted of crimes, whether or not these were regular crimes or crimes of witchcraft, were expected to confess their crimes before the community in order to serve as a lesson to the community.

Each of these examples describes a woman brought to trial through the Puritan’s criminal justice system. In each case, they were accused of a crime, brought before a court and tried, and then received a sentence for their crimes (usually the death sentence). In the interim between arrest, trial, and death, the accused were also permitted to go to church, where their presence would draw large crowds. As a result of these crowds, “Mather labored to enhance his effectiveness…” with “the handling [of the large crowd being] the same for all sermons. Though each was aimed particularly at the felon, it still had to be profitable to the whole congregation” (Lazenby 53). The Puritan ministers most likely felt the need to help and educate those in prison, based on the accounts given to readers of Boston and Rodgers. Each met with a minister who was meant to help them come to see the error of their ways, similar to the way sermons were designed to be profitable to each felon and the congregation as a whole, adding a level of performance to the sermons given.

As a result of these ministerial visits, Boston herself had a “remarkable conversion” while imprisoned. After being brought up in a religious family, she turned away from the truths she had been taught which led to her horrific actions in the community. She “adored God as infinite and unchangeable; She confessed her Sins… and prayed that she might be cleansed in the Blood of Christ” (Moody 120, 138). For Rodgers, at the beginning of the narrative she said, “Satan made me believe that it was impossible such a Sinner, should be Saved”, and after the ministers visited her in prison she hoped to have her “Soul washed and cleansed in the Blood of Jesus Christ” (Rogers 98). Both Boston and Rodgers appear to be converted to the church due to these phrasings, wishing that they might be washed in the blood of Christ. This conversion occurred through the work of the ministers while the women were imprisoned, bringing about a moral redemption and justice for the individuals. The only view given of Carrier is of her trial, the multiple accusations against her, and her eventual confession after continued pestering by officials. Many suspected witches were executed due to evidence given by witnesses, so even without her confession, there was little likeliness of conversion.

The topic of witchcraft existed fragilely within the Puritan social order, for “if people were to renew the covenant, they had to be reminded of the nearness of the spiritual world, and no opportunity should be lost in doing so.” Witchcraft was used during the period by the ministers so the community might be reminded of religion, and of the spiritual world. “But at the same time, a good deal of caution had to be used toward those accused of witchcraft” (Werking 286). Whether or not the Puritans believed in witchcraft they knew that the topic was sensitive in caring for those accused. While witchcraft served as a reminder that the spiritual world was near, this reminder better served to help those who were not accused of witchcraft, and would not have helped Martha Carrier.

With the structure of the Puritan’s criminal justice system, neighbors were to spy on each other to make sure all obeyed the law, conscientiously looking for instances of witchcraft as they spied. This is true in both Rodger’s and Carrier’s situations. This is shown in Rodgers account, with the “Child being found by some Neighbors was brought in, & laid before my Face, to my horrible Shame and Terror” (Rogers 97). Her neighbors had ensured she would be brought to justice, and Rodgers was most likely terrified because she knew the consequences for her actions. In Carrier’s case, it was her neighbors accusing her of a crime that had no merit. These accusations most likely stemmed from a disagreement, but served to paint her in a negative light and ultimately led to her death because of the meritless crime.

The law in Puritan society was clear, without much room for any unique circumstances that might occur in the society. Had the law been more flexible, then the crimes committed by Boston and Rodgers would not have occurred to the extent that they did. Boston would not have murdered her Master’s grandchild in order to actually be guilty of a crime. She most likely had a mental illness that was not addressed and helped during that period. Rodgers would not have felt the need to hide her initial or subsequent pregnancy and infanticide. Also, Carrier would not have confessed to witchcraft had the law been different. Due to the regulations put in place, those convicted were forced to admit their guilt, even if they were not guilty, and even if there were other circumstances to consider. Imprisoned and visited by ministers to help them redeem and find justice for their souls, it must be considered that none of the accused were truly converted. This can be seen through the performances occurring at church and at executions, in the accounts written about their lives and in the rhetoric used in the accounts.

Many aspects of the Puritanical justice system, such as church sermons, criminal trials, criminal confessions, and even criminal executions existed to fulfill a type of performance within the community. These performances were not only the scaffold performances many critics mention in their works, but were also a religious performance intended to bring the community back into the religious fold of the Puritan’s church. In Lazenby’s article, he mentions several examples of these performances, starting at the sermons where the accused would stand in front of the crowd and confess their sins. For “though these sermons were admittedly extreme examples of church drama, New England churchgoers were accustomed to dramatic expressions of repentance…” and by far “the most impressive dramatic ritual was this bringing a fettered criminal into the sanctuary to edify and be edified” (51). Cotton Mather produced sermons meant to call his people to repentance for their wrongdoings, and the performance at church was just the beginning. Based on Mather’s remarks, the danger of the people “was increasing secularization in the life of the colony and the consequent loss of religious zeal… the clergy stressed the necessity of continually reminding the people of the existence of the spiritual world and of its close connection with the material world” (Werking 283). This reminder was given during the executions of the accused.

The greatest performances given of all, besides those given in church sermons, were the scaffold performances. Upon being led to the scaffolds, “the penitents, ‘instructed’ beforehand by Mather, delivered warning speeches to the crowds assembled at the gallows – speeches successful enough, in his eyes, to merit publication (Lazenby 54). No doubt this was a part of the countless hours spent with each of the convicted. In the accounts given of the lives of Boston and Rodgers especially, readers are shown how much time the ministers spent with both.  Upon Boston’s execution, Mr. Moody walked with her to the scaffold, giving final ministerial words. To the crowd, Mr. Moody stated that “he verily believed that Hundreds there present if they did not begin to seek God in earnest that Night, would perish forever… he hoped many of them would secure their eternal Salvation” (Moody 139). Mr. Moody used Boston’s execution as a stage to preach the dangers of sin to the crowd. Those who were caught up in the execution spectacle were also reminded to be cautious with their actions, for if they were not cautious, they could be next on the scaffold.

Boston’s account closes with her execution, and her seemingly peaceful death. When Mr. Moody asked her if she remembered what she intended to say, her response was “Yes, and added, Lord Jesus receive my Spirit” (Moody 140). Boston’s first response was to say yes; it only occurred to her afterwards to add “Lord Jesus receive my Spirit.” This can be interpreted as partial commitment from Boston of conversion to the Puritan church. The rhetoric also changes through the course of this narrative, starting with the use of the first person and ending with a third-party writer, which also supports the question of a true conversion occurring. These narratives extended “the reach of the spectacle of execution which established and reinforced the boundaries of the social compact through its example of both sin and redemption” (Harvey 256). Through reading this narrative, more insight is given to the execution spectacle and therefore to the religious spectacle to which the ministers of the society adhered.

The first-person narration that is present up to a point in Boston’s narrative is also present in Rodgers’ narrative. Amelia Lewis’ article discusses this occurrence, stating that “the first-person narrative putatively came directly from Esther Rodgers, yet the narration frequently slips into third person, disrupting the first-person confession” (38). The transitions between the first and third person narratives offered in this narration serve as a reminder to readers that these words were not fully written by Rodgers, but offer the “rigid rhetoric of a Puritan minister, calling into question the degree to which Rodgers’s voice emerges in the midst of these other voices; the latter were privileged by their owners’ ability to write and more powerful social positions” (39). This change in perspective also draws in to question the execution spectacle.

In the text offered of Martha Carrier’s witchcraft accusations, there is no first-person narration offered. Solely given to readers through many accusations of witchcraft is the perspective of the accusers, and of those trying the cases in front of the accused and the accusers. There were many instances of this shown throughout various texts. In fact, Martha Carrier’s trial had many testimonies given against her and of her witchcraft and practices. These testimonies do not allow for readers to learn what Carrier might have thought, nor do they allow for any true crimes or conversion to be seen. Mather’s memorandum is meant to serve as an example of her guilt, but instead alludes to the possibility of a forced confession, or a confession given to stop all of the accusations against her.

The rhetoric involved in the confessions and the performances given in church and at the scaffold all lead to a resolution that everything associated with a criminal, from the accusation, to the trial, and finally to the execution, are meant to be a performance for the Puritan community. This performance would then be used to keep the community in check and following the written laws. The Puritans came from the Netherlands and England, where turmoil abounded. In order to escape that society, they left for the Americas, where their own community could be established according to their values. However, in the ideal society the founders wished to create, human nature and opposition occurred, as well as a requisite conformity to the culture no matter the status of a person within the community. The criminals punished, including Patience Boston, Esther Rodgers, and Martha Carrier, were outcasts of their community in some way, whether they were an Indian serving in the community, an indentured servant brought into the community as an outsider, or a longstanding member of the community who had somehow quarreled with another. Because of these differences, they were outsiders and a threat to the city upon a hill idea pioneered by John Winthrop (Winthrop 177). As a result, the performance made by the ministers in church and at the scaffold served to show society that all were equal according to their law, and subject to the same laws as the community they lived within. This equality is one of religious justice, a way for the community leaders to keep their society in check from inside sources, showing that anyone who threatened the society’s goal as a whole would not be allowed to continue in their practices, but would be converted to the Puritan religion in order to receive the requisite justice. Their performative deaths would then reinvigorate the community to follow the guidelines laid out for them and allow the community to continue in conformity.

Works Cited

Elson, Henry William. “Puritan Laws and Character.” History of the U.S.A. Ed. Kathy Leigh.       The MacMillan Company, n.d. Web. 09 Apr. 2016.

Harvey, Tamara. “‘Taken from Her Mouth’: Narrative Authority and the Conversion of Patience Boston.” Narrative 6.3 (1998): 256-70. ProQuest. Web. 9 Apr. 2016.

“Justice, v.” OED Online. Oxford University Press, March 2016. Web. 9 April 2016.

Lazenby, Walter. “Exhortation as Exorcism: Cotton Mather’s Sermon to Murderers.” Quarterly Journal of Speech 57 (1971): 50-6. ProQuest. Web. 9 Apr. 2016.

Lewis, Amelia C. “Interpretive Challenges Posed by the Gendered Performances of Early             American Female Criminals.” Legacy 31.1 (2014): 38-41. ProQuest. Web. 9 Apr. 2016.

Mather, Cotton. “The Trial of Martha Carrier.” The Norton Anthology of American Literature.     Ed. Nina Baym and Robert S. Levine. 8th ed. Vol. A. New: W.W. Norton, 2012. 330-33.     Print.

Moody, Samuel, and Joseph Moody. “A Faithful Narrative of the Wicked Life and Remarkable   Conversion of Patience Boston.” Pillars of Salt. Ed. Daniel E. Williams. Madison:        Madison House, 1993. 119-41. Print.

Rogers, John. “The Declaration and Confession of Esther Rodgers.” Pillars of Salt. Ed. Daniel E.             Williams. Madison: Madison House, 1993. 95-109. Print.

Tayler, Thomas. The Law Glossary: Being a Selection of the Greek, Latin, Saxon, French,           Norman and Italian Sentences, Phrases, and Maxims Found in the Leading English and            American Reports, and Elementary Works, with Historical and Explanatory Notes. Alphabetically Arranged, and Translated into English .. 7th ed. New York: J.S. Voorhies,   1865.Google Books. Web. 9 Apr. 2016.

Werking, Richard H. “‘Reformation is our Only Preservation’: Cotton Mather and Salem             Witchcraft.” William and Mary Quarterly 29.2 (1972): 281-90.ProQuest. Web. 9 Apr.      2016.

Winthrop, John. “A Model of Christian Charity.” The Norton Anthology of American Literature. Ed. Nina Baym and Robert S. Levine. 8th ed. Vol. A. New: W.W. Norton, 2012. 166-77.     Print.













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