Stories and verdicts: Maleficium, judicial process and the politics of neighbourliness on the atlantic margins in the seventeenth century

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Abstract

This article uses an exceptionally well-documented law case from the 1650s to offer a fresh perspective on the English experience of Atlantic settlement during its early years. It argues for the centrality of the Essex county quarter sessions court in the building of neighbourhood on the geographic and cultural margins of the Massachusetts Bay colony. By focusing on the north-eastern margin at Cape Ann, the analysis reveals aspects of state building through a common law judicial process which was just as important, but less readily apparent, in other set-tings. The article addresses three major historiographic areas, engaging with the historical literature on English neighbour-hoods and English adaptation to the American environment, on the significance of witchcraft or maleficium in English societies, and on the nature and meanings of law, law courts and judicial process in the building of communities. Case documents also enable the use of some concepts and techniques of literary analysis related to the study of narrative, arguing that judicial verdicts selected and suppressed aspects of local stories elicited during the course of the investigation in order to craft an account of local neighbourhood that suited a broader cultural narrative of Massachusetts Bay’s political consolidation during the 1650s.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)296-316
Number of pages21
JournalSocial History
Volume44
Issue number3
DOIs
StatePublished - Jul 3 2019

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • History

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