Law and custom in seventeenth-century New England gave male property owners authority over the women, children, and other dependents of their families. Women who spoke up or stood out merited suspicion, and many were accused, prosecuted, and occasionally executed for the crime of witchcraft. Women could be excommunicated, as Ann Hibben was in 1641, for “usurping” her husband’s role, or, as Anne Yale Easton was in 1644, for expressing “unorthodox opinion.” During the notorious Salem Village trials of 1692, magistrates put credence in rampant accusations of witchcraft by hanging 19 people, fourteen of them women. Anne Hutchinson, a prominent Boston woman, was tried and banished from Massachusetts in 1637 after attracting a religious following and “casting reproach upon the faithful Ministers of this Country.” Although Hutchinson was never accused outright of being a witch, the delivery of a deformed, stillborn infant to one of her female associates in 1638 was interpreted by the Puritan fathers as the Devil’s work. This illustration from an eighteenth-century chapbook (a cheaply printed pamphlet) presented a “monstrous” birth as a sign of witchcraft.
Source: John Ashton, Chap-books of the Eighteenth Century (1882)—Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress.