Brandi Beneke

Dr. Burke
ENGL 414A
15 April 2014
Low-Stakes Writing: Historical Fiction

1. Puritanism
The setting of the novel takes place in the Puritan settlement of Wethersfield in the
Connecticut Colony in 1687-1688. Puritanism was a religious reform movement in
the late 16
th
and 17
th
centuries that sought to “purify” the Church of England of
remnants of the Roman Catholic “popery” that the Puritans claimed had been retained
after the religious settlement reached early in the reign of Queen Elizabeth I. Many
Puritans came to America and founded colonies in New England after being repressed
in England for separating from the church and founding their own congregations. The
Puritans were deeply concerned with moral and religious matters and did not tolerate
diverse opinions or practices such as those of the Quakers. The Puritans thought
acting was immoral and frowned upon theatre, which explains why the town
schoolmaster, a strict Puritan, is scandalized and threatens to close Mercy’s school
after finding the children that Kit was teaching play-acting a scene from the Bible.
One of the main conflicts of the novel is Kit’s internal conflict between her love for
the relaxed, exotic setting of Barbados and her dislike of bleak, repressive new
England.

2. The Quakers
Quakers are a Christian group founded in the mid-17
th
century in England that rapidly
spread to other countries, including the American colonies. The Quakers were
frequently persecuted for their belief in a personal, direct experience of God, which
led them to worship without ordained ministers and to eschew the observation of
outward rituals such as baptism and communion. The Puritans did not tolerate these
practices. Hannah Tupper is a kindly Quaker widow who lives in a tiny house by
Blackbird Pond and is considered an outcast because she does not attend Puritan
meetings. Rachel explains to Kit in chapter ten that Hannah and her husband had been
branded and driven out of Massachusetts for their Quaker beliefs.

3. Witchcraft
From the late Middle Ages until the early 18
th
century, hundreds of thousands of
people in Europe were tried for witchcraft and burned at the stake on the evidence of
their neighbors’ testimony or tests such as the water trial, in which floating was taken
as proof of guilt and sinking established innocence. Kit’s ability to swim in chapter
one is so shocking that Goodwife Cruff suspects her of being a witch. English settlers
in colonial America continued this persecution. The most famous instance was in
1692, when accusations by several teenage girls in Salem Village, Massachusetts, led
to widespread hysteria ending in dozens of hangings. One of the main conflicts in the
novel is an external conflict between the Quaker woman (Hannah Tupper) and the
Puritan settlers who accuse her of witchcraft. In chapter eighteen, the Cruffs, who
found Kit’s highly decorated hornbook from Barbados in Hannah’s house, accused
Kit of being a witch by association.