new england history

King Camp Gillette: Utopian Avenger

razorsThis morning the Gillette World Headquarters in Boston was converted into the East Coast R&D center of Stark Industries. Unveiling new razors called the Repulsor 1, UltraStrike, Thunder, XL Gamma (each corresponding to Iron Man, Captain America, Thor and Hulk) Gillette has placed itself onto the razor’s edge of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Another cross-promotion of movie franchise into the consumer world is nothing new. Yet, in a strange way, the fantastic was the dream of the man that gave Gillette it’s name.

King_Camp_GilletteIn the late 19th century Wisconsin-born King Camp Gillette (left) was deeply invested in the world of personal shaving razors. With mens grooming dominated by traditional forged and sharpened straight razor, Gillette was struck by an idea- what about a simple, disposable razor and blade? After several years Gillette’s disposable razor hit the market and was an immediate success. Gillette’s first year, 1903, saw sales of five dozen razors and few hundred blades. A year later Gillette’s mass-manufactured 90,000 razors and nearly 12.5 million blades.Gillette_razor_patent

Success was his and Gillette’s imagination wasn’t confined to the world of grooming. Not unlike the fictional Howard Stark and his “Stark Expo” a place where the future could be experienced through modern technology (circa 1943,) Gillette saw a world rife with potential for harmony, social, economic and cultural advancement.

In the years before finding success as the razor brand, Gillette was an author with visions of utopia. Written by Gillette in 1894, The Human Drift and 1910’s World Corporation were both works bursting with optimism about humanity. Before the fictional Metropolis of the DC Comics universe, Gillette envisioned a mega-city in western New York that was planned down to the finest detail.gillet06

From the shape and height of the buildings, to the glazed tiles of each apartment, to the sewage and electric lighting, Gillette envisioned a world spreading from Niagara Falls in the west to Rochester, NY in the east. Sixty million Americans would live in Metropolis on the Niagara in the world considered a form of 19th century Utopian socialism. Organized by engineers and removing competitive destruction, humanity would flourish in this mega-city.

For three good views of King Camp’s Gillette’s Utopian visions check out posts at The University of HoustonCornell University and UCal Berkley.

Magic in New England’s Fields: People of God in the Devil’s Lands

There was a magic in the woods and glens of Colonial New England. Puritan settlers while quick to eye the forests and mountains with suspicion and fear of maleficium, they just as easily looked upon fellow men and women of God-fearing English stock with fear. The Natives of the region, exemplified by the Abenaki of the northeast, practiced their own form of ‘magic’ in land’s that Puritans believed was once the Devil’s dominion.

To Cotton Mather it made sense that the Devil would stalk the lands of New England as where else would he be than among a group who hated him the most, “Where will the Devil show the most malice, where is hated, and hateth the most.” From his Wonders of the Invisible World of 1693 we get a glimpse of the Devil’s power over not just man but the world itself, creator of wars, heresies and storms, ” Once more, why may not Storms be reckoned among those Woes, with which the Devil does disturb us? It is not improbable that Natural Storms on the World are often of the Devils raising. We are told in Job 1.11, 12, 19. that the Devil made a Storm, which hurrican’d the House of Job, upon the Heads of them that were Feasting in it.”

According to a 2012 lecture by Stephen Mitchell, professor of Folklore and Mythology at Harvard University, everything which happened on Earth was connected morally and physically in the Puritan mind. These groups saw ship wrecks, storms and infant death with equal suspicion of the Devil’s handiwork as a product of God’s divine plan. Disease or ‘possession’, according to Mitchell, were handled by Puritans through fasting and prayer. These actions further ratifying the connection between the spirit and physical.

Mather wrote of the Natives of Massachusetts at the time of colonization, “The Indian Powawes, used all their Sorceries to molest the first Planters here; but God said unto them, Touch them not!” Mather continued, “The New-Englanders are a People of God settled in those, which were once the Devil’s Territories.”

One can imagine the pious indignation Puritan’s experienced when they witnessed Native American ‘magic’ in New England. In 1624’s Good Newes, Englishman Edward Winslow wrote, “The office and duty of the Powah is to be exercised principally in calling up the Devil, and curing diseases of the sick and wounded.” The Powah is the Native “powwow” where priests with special powers of divination were exercised over nature, often for the benefit of man but also as a weapon. According to Winslow’s Newes, which preceded Mather’s work by nearly 70 years, the magic men of Native New England, “can raise storms and tempests which they usually do when they intend the death and destruction of other people.”

The most potent conjurer figure from the colonial period was a Pennacook sachem known as Passaconaway who is said to move rocks and return leaves to life. From a modern perspective Passaconaway was a member of a magic practicing tradition that appears to have a marvelous and intimate connection to nature. Yet viewed with the suspicions of Puritan New England Native sorcerers share talents with the Devil himself.

Roger Williams, theologian and New England colonist leader, viewed the healing actions of Native priests with more nuance, “They conceive there are many Gods or divine powers within the body of the man: In his pulse, his hearts, his lungs.” Instead of pulling from Satan for power, these priests, removed the malignant forces within man, an intimate power connected to a larger ideal. However, Williams did write, “These priests and conjurers (like Simon Magus) do bewitch the people,” going on to say rather contradictory, “most certainly (by the help of the Devil) work great cures.” (For Williams reference of Simon Magus, see Acts 8:9.)

One such skilled practitioner was Pennacook sachem Passaconaway, known for leadership skills as well as magic, Passaconaway oversaw a confederation from northern Massachusetts deep into New Hampshire. Uniting tribes from Maine, Massachusetts and New Hampshire to bulwark Mohawk aggression, Passaconaway also is said to have possessed powers as a m’teowlin, ‘deep seeing one.’ or powwow.

The native sachem exploits were chronicled by William Wood in his 1634 work, New England’s Prospect, “(Passaconaway) can make the water burn, the rocks move, the trees dance, metamorphize himself into a flaming man.” Going on to describe Passaconaway’s skills, Wood wrote,”in Winter, when there is no green leaves to be got, he will burn an old one to ashes, and putting those into the water, produce a new green leaf, which you shall not only see, but substantially handle and carry away; and make of a dead snakes skin a living snake, both to be seen, felt, and heard.” Wood, who said powwow practitioners were imbued with exorcist and necromancer charms, did note that the sorcery talents of Passaconaway may be nothing more than, “deceptio visus” or visual tricks.

Men and women of the m’teowlin, shamans or the Midewiwin, the Grand Medicine Society, held a unique place in their communities as healer and shapers of nature. These figures could not only heal, but said to command the course of a river, seeing the future, working with spirits of the departed, aiding in hunts or communal ceremonies. These figures were important mediators with the coursing power around them as their special connection to every tree, rock or animal. One example of the power of shaman is told about the Abenaki at war where a seer consulted with spirits and determined a group of Iroquois foes were on an island and if the Abenaki attacked the next day they would wipe out the opposing force. According to the story, the battle was joined and not a single Iroquois survived, each victim having their head cleaved off and placed on a poll.

An interesting footnote to the belief that New England was filled with heathens thriving in the Devil’s dominion was that when the witchcraft hysteria swept New England in the 17th century Natives were not singled out for punishment. Puritans, it appears, were more suspicious of the Devil working through their fellow English than of the Natives of New England. Even though the New English wilderness contained Biblical evil, Native’s of the region were rarely prosecuted or suspected of maleficum.


© Copyright site content Asymmetric Creativity/Kevin Cooney (asymmetriccreativity.wordpress.com) 2014-. All rights reserved. Text may not be used without explicit permission.

Salem Witch Hysteria and PTSD Roots Pt. II

burroughs2(Note: The following is an expanded excerpt of a paper I wrote for a Magic and Witchcraft class. For Part I to the article, click here.)

In April of 1692, with witch trial testimonies in full swing, Thomas Putnam claimed his daughter Ann was visited by the spectral figure of Reverend George Burroughs who proceeded to torture the young girl. A month later, Ann Putnam testified that two apparitions appeared to her. According to Ann they were the wives of Burroughs, allegedly killed by the minister’s own hand. The constant whisper of his mistreated spouses followed Burroughs from his earliest days in Salem Village through his forcible return as witch cabal leader. His second wife, widow Sarah Ruck Hathorne whom he married in 1682, was the sister-in-law of Essex County Magistrate John Hathorne, a man who became deeply involved in the later witchcraft accusations against Burroughs. Sarah Hathorne Burroughs died in Falmouth, Maine in 1689.

Mercy Lewis, a young woman with personal history with Burroughs, then charged the minister with also appearing as a specter to her in May. Burroughs allegedly went to Lewis to get her to sign a pact with the Devil as well as try to recruit other area girls into his diabolic scheme.

It seems clear that even if the barest of historical accounts of Minister Burroughs are accurate, he cut an unusual, potentially fiery and eccentric frontier character. Known for unusual strength, like lifting a long musket with a single hand or hoisting a filled barrel with just his fingers, Burroughs may have also been in conflict with the Puritan fathers over faith.

Accusations of witchcraft further enflamed the war scars of southern New England. Ann Putnam Jr. reportedly told investigators that Burroughs had bewitched the soldiers of Governor Edmund Andros in 1688-1689. Several figures key to the Salem witch hysteria, like Magistrates John Hathorne and Johnathan Corwin whose fact finding efforts in Maine may have led to the decision to leave Falmouth virtually defenseless during 1690s mass Abanaki assault, made a variety of mistakes during King William’s War. It seems that war-time shortcomings may have been projected onto Burroughs during the trial. Hathorne and Corwin were the lead inquisitors in Salem and pressed a confession from young Abigail Hobbs who claimed she had been approached by the Devil in the woods outside Falmouth, Maine four years earlier. Hobbs was yet another Casco Bay refugee driven to the Village. The solicitation in the woods was not happenstance as the woods were widely regarded as an evil place.


Was the psychological hysteria of Salem’s young women a manifestation of the stress of war, communal squabbles and frontier life? Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is a widely accepted psychological diagnosis that could be applied to the accusers. However, the individual nature of PTSD does not properly grapple with the group dynamic that gave credence to the wild accusations. Epidemic hysteria, a physical or psychological manic state manifested by a group, seems to fit the Salem case perfectly. Provoked by stress and nurtured by community values or worries, epidemic hysteria has several recorded instances in Europe, from a Black Death induced mass dance hysteria in German to the French “Barkers” who crawled around like dogs, social stress can spread like a thought virus through a community. Could the young women of Salem, reeling from war and reflecting the spiritual worries of their communities; and personal prejudices of their parents have turned to Burroughs as scapegoat? Was Mercy Lewis, who was familiar with Burroughs unconventional ministerial style as well as intimate to his household, the well from which the prejudice sprung from? Could Mercy Lewis, scarred by war and fallen from a position of affluence, also been witness to or possibly victim of Burroughs reputed ill temper during her brief time as maidservant?

Inarguably an unconventional clergyman Burroughs easily becomes the apostate minster of Satan in New England when portrayed by the vivid imaginations of young women, isolated and near a zone of conflict. Death loomed with each raid, Satan rallied his forces in the treeline and frontiersmen needed a strong spiritual figure to guide them in a time of war. Burroughs was effortlessly painted as a failed, questionable religious leader, with a rebellious desire to live apart from the civility and strict leadership of Massachusetts Bay. When viewed through the critical lens of Salem Village religious leaders, Burroughs became not only an enemy of the village, but the colony and the Puritan faith. The men of Massachusetts had gone to war in Maine and returned with losses, physical and financial. Stung by these defeats, it seems their judgment may have been clouded when presented with a figure as odd and spiritually unconventional as Burroughs. The wayward Burroughs was a casualty at the confluence of personal circumstances, religious prejudices and group psychological trauma that led to his execution as leader of the mythic witches of Salem Village.


© Copyright site content Asymmetric Creativity/Kevin Cooney (asymmetriccreativity.wordpress.com) 2014-. All rights reserved. Text may not be used without explicit permission.

Salem Witch Hysteria and PTSD Roots Pt. I

(Note: What follows is an expanded excerpt of a paper I wrote for a Magic and Witchcraft class.)

There have been scholarly or psychological explanations of the witch trials and hysteria in Salem and around New England. From petty neighbor disputes to hallucinogenic bread mold poisoning, there were seemingly as many explanations for the craze as there were witch-related indictments in New England during the 17th century. Some 234 indictments were handed down by New England authorities, including 36 executions, during the craze period.

One overlooked idea that has grown in acceptance is the idea of war-time psychological trauma, specifically to certain players in the Salem Witch hysteria. Not confined to the battlefield, but any dramatic tragic event, Post-traumatic Stress Disorder’s attributes include,”flashbacks, nightmares and severe anxiety, as well as uncontrollable thoughts about the event,” according the Mayo Clinic. If we look closely at a pair in the Salem story we find a connection to the horrors of war and its possible influence on the Salem witch hysteria.

George Burroughs, Harvard graduate and unconventional preacher, arrived in Falmouth, Maine to lead a small congregation that included the prominent land-owning family of Phillip Lewis in 1674. Two years of instructions and Bible readings to the populations of friends and neighbors came to an end when war arrived in Falmouth. A splinter of King Phillip’s War racking southern New England pierced Casco Bay as Wabanaki raiding parties killed and put to the torch everything in their path including the homes of Burroughs congregation. The pastor and other Falmouth survivors sought refuge on a Casco Bay island. Burroughs, seeking security and stability in the wake of the decimation, traveled to Salem Village to become its pastor.

Burroughs time in Salem would be short lived as lack of pay and a disputed loan from the prominent Putnam family of Salem led the minister to return to a rebuilt Falmouth, Maine after three years. He would return to Maine, set a new phase in life and await new war.


Maine landowner Phillip Lewis welcomed daughter, Mercy, to the world in 1673. Raised in Falmouth, Maine up to the raids of King Phillip’s War, Mercy Lewis fled to Salem Town until 1683. Like Burroughs, Lewis returned to the reformed Falmouth, leading a typical frontier life just a short distance from the returned unordained minister until war broke out a second time in her young life.

Abanaki raiders and their New French allies swept into Maine in a series of raids in September of 1689 during King William’s War. Reaching back into Falmouth, now fortified and prepared for attacks, the Abanaki battled militia for six hours but were ultimately rebuffed. Once affluent, the family of Phillip Lewis was decimated by the wars of 1689 and 1690. Orphaned during the Falmouth incursions of the period, Mercy Lewis would find shelter in the home of George Burroughs for several months. Mercy remained with the pastor until she moved first to Beverly and then to Salem Village in employment of Thomas Putnam. Thomas Putnam, member of the family whom Burroughs financially battled, was father of nine children including his oldest, Anne Putnam Jr.

It was late January, 1692 when the girls of Salem Village began their convulsions of bewitchment and it was soon that Mercy Lewis, then 19, and 12-year old Ann Putnam Jr. joined the accusatory chorus.


In the conclusion of this post we’ll look at the accusations and how the confluence of war and witchery led to death.


© Copyright site content Asymmetric Creativity/Kevin Cooney (asymmetriccreativity.wordpress.com) 2014-. All rights reserved. Text may not be used without explicit permission.