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Life in New England

In contrast to the middle Southern states, New England added 10 years to the average life span of new settlers. The first generation of Puritan colonists lived an average of 70 years — pretty close to a modern life span. Because of this unprecedented longevity, some say New England invented grandparents, who were still around to get to know their grandchildren.

Family morality is reflected in the low premarital pregnancy rate, again in stark contrast to the experience in the South. Massachusetts started the first college, Harvard, in 1636, just 8 years after the colony's founding. It took Virginia 83 years after staking out Jamestown to found the College of William and Mary in 1693.

Witches and religion

The Puritan light burned bright, but it also could be blinding. After about 40 years of accepting only the select, Puritan churches had to offer a Half-Way Covenant (1662), which opened church attendance to people who couldn't prove they were among God's elect. As time went on, the doors of the churches opened wider, perhaps sometimes even admitting sinners.

At about this time, a new type of sermon began to appear — something that speakers called a jeremiad after the always-scolding Old Testament prophet Jeremiah. Preachers thundered about the wrath of God and the hellfire that awaits the sinner, just as though sinners walked among the elect. This kind of angry shouting soon showed its ugly face in the town of Salem, north of Boston.

A group of teenage girls, under the influence of voodoo talk by a West Indian slave, claimed to have been bewitched by certain older women in the town. This claim triggered a hysterical witch hunt that led to the execution of 20 people. Most of the victims were hanged, but one was pressed to death under a huge rock. The girls claimed they could see devils in the courtroom ceiling, and Puritan judges believed them.

The Salem Witch Trials (1692) lasted for 16 months and died out when opposition to the unfairness of the trials became stronger than the fear of witches. The experience introduced the phrase witch hunt into the language, meaning a campaign directed against people who hold unpopular views but are otherwise innocent.

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