The Demographic Basis
MOST WITCHCRAFT SUSPICIONS in colonial New England orginated in conflicts among people who knew one another. No one could be certain that an angry encounter with a neighbor would not elicit an accusation. Still, not everyone was equally vulnerable to the accusation of witchcraft. More importantly, not everyone was equally vulnerable to trial, conviction, and execution. For the process by which the community identified the witches in its midst was quite selective. It was informed not only by the witchcraft beliefs described in the first chapter—these could be applied to almost anyone—but also by several widely shared if largely unspoken assumptions about the kinds of people likely to align themselves with Satan.
Some New Englanders were likely witches, others were not. People who did not fit the shared image of the witch could certainly be accused, but except during outbreaks they were almost always vindicated early in the process. Sometimes people in the community simply ignored such accusations or refused to lend them public support. In some cases local authorities prevented further action by dismissing the charges as insubstantial or by punishing accusers for defaming the