For most contemporary Americans, colonial America is a hazy set of images and stereotypes: Christopher Columbus discovering the New World, and Pilgrims and Native Americans celebrating the first Thanksgiving around a rough wood table loaded down with food … and then what? The Witch of Blackbird Pond provides readers with a realistic and vivid portrait of colonial New England and sketches the larger transatlantic issues that defined the colonies’ political landscape.
Along the way, author Elizabeth George Speare brings three aspects of this period to life for her readers. The first is the physical reality of colonial living: almost every chapter details the sounds, smells, and laborious tasks that went into making a life in this new world. Second, Speare shows the political origins of the American Revolution at its earliest stages, as the inhabitants of Connecticut struggle to define their relation to the crown and their English homeland. Third, and perhaps most alien to contemporary readers, Speare explores the emotional spectrum of the religious life of Connecticut Colony. Most of this exploration focuses on Puritan beliefs and practices. In Matthew Wood and John Holbrook, Speare creates characters that embody the best that Puritanism offered its followers: an all-encompassing dedication and moral fiber that could, and did, stand up to almost anything. But in figures such as Goodwife Cruff, Speare gives readers an example of the worst of Puritanism—the spite and narrow-mindedness that led to the colonial witch trials. Hannah Tupper’s gentle Quaker attitudes and point of view and Kit Tyler’s relative secular stance round out this picture of the colonial soul, showing that it is far richer and more complex than most of us suspected.