History of the World According to the Movies: Part 35 – Colonial America


Of course, no post on Colonial America will be complete without a picture from The Crucible with Daniel Day Lewis and Joan Allen as the Proctors. Still, Daniel Day Lewis is much too hot to play John Proctor since the real guy was a much older and heavier man who had a much larger family. Elizabeth Proctor was also significantly older but not much. Still, John Proctor never recanted and never had an affair with Abigail Williams.

The United States hasn’t had a long history yet there are plenty of movies recalling it nevertheless. What was once seen as untamed wilderness by the Jamestown explorers would later become set for a world power status by the 20th century. Of course, for many people outside the US, the movies are a way to learn about American history. For Americans, the movies are a way to remember it. Still, these don’t all consist of cowboy movies or Civil War pictures. Yet, this is a nation which many believed was founded on the basis of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness as said in the Declaration of Independence. Few may not know that the US was once a colony of Great Britain or that certain events in American history didn’t even happen like the Mexican American War and the War of 1812 since much of Europe was fighting Napoleon a the time. In fact, not many people in Britain know much about the War of 1812 and they fought it, which is just as well because the Battle of New Orleans was a pretty humiliating defeat for them. Still, at least everyone remembers the American Civil War whether they like it or not as well as cowboys.

Of course, during the Age of Sail and the Cavalier Years, the world saw the rise of what would become a new country: America. However, under this time, the future nation would consist of 13 British colonies along the East coast. Of course, this is the time of the Pilgrims arriving in Massachusetts in pursuit of religious freedom and celebrating the first Thanksgiving with the Indians. You also have the Puritans who came for religious freedom as well as set up their own theocracy and later hunt witches. Still, when it comes to movies set in Colonial America, you’re mostly going to have it set in Massachusetts which will usually revolve around the Salem witch trials despite the fact that it didn’t cover most of colonial American history. Of course, from Hollywood, you won’t find out about things like New York being taken away from the Indians by the Dutch and later by the English, the infamous slave trade from the memoirs of Oladauh Equiano, the rise of Virginia growing tobacco, Indian Wars, a tale of a drag queen in colonial New Jersey, the founding of Georgia as a colony of debtors, and the one time George Washington accidentally started a world war after a diplomatic misadventure in Western Pennsylvania due to his inability to understand French or Native American languages. However, what does get into the movies, there is a potential for a great deal of inaccuracies which I shall list accordingly.

Plymouth Colony:

The Pilgrims landed in Plymouth Rock. (No, they landed in what is now Provincetown at first, but later landed in Plymouth near an abandoned Indian village they specifically chose as a landing place, but there was no rock.)

The Mayflower established the first settlement in New England. (George Popham had founded a colony along the coast of present day Maine in 1607 with 120 others. However, it failed within the year due to family changes in leadership ranks and most of the colonists got fed up and returned to England. Still, Wikipedia does have pictures of the map and the site. Nevertheless, compared to the Pilgrims, the Popham settlers were wimps.)

John Alden was a ships’ carpenter. (He was a cooper {barrel guy} and came on the Mayflower as a crew hire who later decided to stay, but he wasn’t a Separatist.)

Most on board the Mayflower came to America for religious freedom. (Yes, but the Pilgrims also came because they didn’t want their kids to grow up Dutch nor live in a land where other people could practice their religion just as freely {like Catholics, Jews, and atheists}. Some came as crewmembers and others to help provide governance for the colony. Also, many servants came along as well. Nevertheless, the Pilgrims who were religious Separatists consisted of 56% of the passengers and crew.)

John Alden and Priscilla Mullins met on the Mayflower. (Maybe but they wouldn’t get married until two years later. However, Myles Standish was probably not interested in her at the time since his wife was on board. Yet, the love triangle between Standish and Alden may have arisen that they were likely roommates and that Priscilla Mullins was the only single woman in Plymouth Colony of marriageable age at the time {but Alden and Standish probably weren’t the only guys competing for her affections. Still, it was probably her choice to marry Alden since she didn’t have any family left at Plymouth Colony and that he was close to her own age}. However, Standish isn’t known to take it personally.)

Dorothy Bradford had an affair with Captain Christopher Jones, which was why she threw herself over the ship and drowned. (There’s no evidence that Captain Jones and Mrs. Bradford had an affair {though Spencer Tracy and Gene Tierney did during the making of Plymouth Adventure}. However, the Mayflower had already landed when she drowned while her husband was on an expedition. Also, she’s said to have slipped over the side, which probably was an accident, not suicide. Still, she probably drowned because she probably couldn’t swim and there was no one else who could’ve saved her since most people didn’t know how to swim in those days. Still, William and Dorothy Bradford did have a 3 year old son who went with them who’s absent in Plymouth Adventure.)

Prior to the Pilgrims’ arrival, no white person had ever set foot in New England. (Actually there had never been a successful settlement in New England until that time. However, there had been several English expeditions as well as an attempted settlement in Maine that failed. One of these was led by Captain John Smith himself {yes, that John Smith from Pocahontas}. Not only that, but Squanto was kidnapped during a couple of these, lived in Europe for nearly 14 years, was trained as an interpreter, and had his whole hometown wiped out by European diseases. He crossed the Atlantic six times in his life.)

Puritan Massachusetts:

In Puritan Massachusetts, a pregnant woman caught in adultery would be put in prison until the child was born then subject to public humiliation, ostracism, divorce, as well as be made to wear a scarlet letter A for the rest of her life. Also, she was allowed to fight for her child’s custody and keep the father’s identity a secret. (Actually Hester Prynne got off pretty easy with the Puritan Massachusetts equivalent of a slap on the wrist even though people who committed adultery did have to wear letters on their clothes but it was AD not an A. They also could be fined, beaten, branded, imprisoned, or banished from Massachusetts Bay. The most severe punishment for adultery in Puritan Massachusetts was death by hanging but it wasn’t always applied. Had Hester Prynne received the traditional punishment, there probably wouldn’t be a story like The Scarlet Letter.)

Salem Witch Trials:

Witches were burned at Salem during the trials. (Actually those who were executed in the Salem Witch Trials were those who accused of witchcraft who asserted their innocence but were found guilty anyway. All but one were hanged and one was crushed. Also, only 20 accused witches were executed. Those who admitted guilt didn’t face execution for they remained to name names.)

The accusers during the Salem witch trials were a dozen teenage girls. (Yes, but they also included men and adult women including Tituba’s husband John Indian {absent from the film}, Ann Putnam Sr., and Sarah Bibber as well as more in Andover, where the number of accused exceeded those of any town including Salem Village.)

A goat got into another person’s garden which caused tempers flaring during the Salem witch accusations. (This happened three years before and the animal was a pig getting into the Nurse’s family fields with Rebecca Nurse making an outburst at the neighbor. He died of a stroke a few months later. This incident was used at the trial to convict Rebecca Nurse of witchcraft.)

The judges during the Salem Witch Trials were Thomas Danforth, John Hathorne (ancestor of Nathaniel Hawthorne and the main reason for his name change), and Samuel Sewall. (The panel consisted of William Stoughton, Nathaniel Saltonstall, Wait Winthrop, Bartholomew Gedney, Samuel Sewall, John Hathorne, Jonathan Corwin and Peter Sergeant. Thomas Danforth was the Deputy Governor and a member of the Governor’s Council but he did preside on a few occasions. However, William Stougton did become Lieutenant Governor and Chief Magistrate. Saltonstall had to quit early. Still, Hathorne, Gedney, and Corwin were the primary magistrate who took the depositions at Ingersoll’s tavern.)

Rebecca Nurse, Martha Corey, and John Proctor were hanged for witchcraft around the same time all reciting the Lord’s Prayer. (They were hanged separately in 1692 with Nurse in July, Proctor in August, and Corey in September. Also, the person hung while reciting the Lord’s Prayer was the Rev. George Burroughs causing a stir in Salem because it was believed a witch couldn’t’ say the Lord’s Prayer without making a mistake. Proctor is also said to do the same.)

The witch hysteria didn’t die out in Salem in 1692 as more and more people refused to save themselves by giving false confessions. (The opposite was true. According to Margo Burns: “more and more people were giving false confessions and four women actually pled guilty to the charges. Some historians claim that this was because it became apparent that confession would save one from the noose, but there is evidence that the Court was planning to execute the confessors as well. What ended the trials was the intervention of Governor William Phips. Contrary to what Phips told the Crown in England, he was not off in Maine fighting the Indians in King William’s War through that summer, since he attended governor’s council meetings regularly that summer, which were also attended by the magistrates. But public opinion of the trials did take a turn. There were over two hundred people in prison when the general reprieve was given, but they were not released until they paid their prison fees. Neither did the tide turn when Rev. Hale’s wife was accused, as the play claims, by Abigail Williams (it was really a young woman named Mery Herrick), nor when the mother-in-law of Magistrate Jonathan Corwin was accused — although the “afflicted” did start accusing a lot more people far and wide to the point of absurdity, including various people around in other Massachusetts towns whom they had never laid eyes on, including notable people such as the famous hero Capt. John Alden (who escaped after being arrested).”)

The Salem Witch Trials were a landmark event in world history. (Only in American history. Witch trials were already happening all over Europe which killed way more people.)

The Salem Witch Trials were confined to Salem, Massachusetts. (It started with Salem but it extended to the Northeast Massachusetts area.)

Abigail Williams:

Abigail Williams and her friends were teenagers in 1692. (They were pre-teens while some were older. However, Abigail was 11 or 12 at the time and so was Betty Parris and Ann Putnam Jr..)

Abigail Williams was Reverend Parris’ niece. (There’s no genealogical evidence to prove that they were related. It’s possible she may have been a household servant. Yet, it was also customary for orphans without surviving family to live with the local minister. Still, most historians think her motivation for testifying was due to her wanting more attention since she was a “poor relation” to the Parris family with no marital prospects {she’d get no dowry}.)

Abigail Williams worked for the Proctors. (She never did, but maybe for the Parrises.)

Abigail Williams was Elizabeth Proctor’s first accuser. (It’s said Ann Putnam Jr. was. Mercy Lewis and Mary Warren also accused her as well.)

Abigail Williams was the ring leader in the Salem accusers. (She’s considered this. However, Ann Putnam Jr. was the most active whose name appeared 400 times in the court documents. Actually many of those involved with the Putnams had some relationship with the accused, accusers, and afflicted girls. In fact, many of the accused previously had disputes with the family. Not to mention, Ann Putnam Jr.’s court performances were notorious as the “star” witness in the trials.)

Abigail Williams stole £31 of Rev. Samuel Parris’ cash in order to flee to Barbados. (She would never have been able to get that kind of money since Rev. Parris earned £33 for his annual salary in cash. Still, we don’t know what happened to her though it’s said she died young.)

Abigail Williams and Betty Parris were the only two children in the Parris household. (Betty had an older brother and younger sister who also lived with them.)

Abigail Williams started the Salem Witch Trial hysteria just to get John Proctor’s wife bumped off. (For one, there’s no evidence that Abigail knew the Proctors and certainly didn’t have an affair with John {since she was a child at the time}. It’s more likely she just an attention seeking teen who acted out and was accused of witchcraft herself. More likely she accused someone else to take the heat off herself. And though she was the first accuser at the Witch Trials, she wasn’t much of a ringleader.)

Betty Parris:

Betty Parris participate in the proceedings at Salem. (She was shuffled off to live with Stephen Sewall’s family in Salem Town soon after the hysteria broke.)

Betty Parris’ mother was dead by 1692. (Her mother would die in 1696 so she was very much alive during the Salem witch trials. The Parrises also had two other children at the time.)


Tituba was black using Caribbean voodoo magic. (She may have been a Chrsitianized Indian using European white magic at the instruction of her English neighbors and married.)

Tituba led a wild dancing rite in the woods which Rev. Parris stumbled upon. (There’s no historical evidence of this, though she did bake a strange cake after the girls were afflicted {but at a neighbor’s suggestion} which led to her to being charged with witchcraft. She also dabbled in fortune telling and other non-Puritan activities.)

John Proctor:

John Proctor cheated on his wife Elizabeth with Abigail Williams. Not only, that he and his wife also tried to stop the witch craze that wreaked Salem, Massachusetts. (Actually, he was good to his wife, and even if he wasn’t he wouldn’t go for Abigail Williams who was 11 at the time of the Salem Witch Trials. As for the Proctors’ fate, he was hanged way before the Salem witch craze ended and Elizabeth only escaped because she was pregnant. She was released when the craze ended. Also, contrary to what the movies say, some of the witches hung at Salem were men, not women.)

John Proctor was accused of witchcraft for ditching Abigail Williams. (They never had an affair nor is there evidence Abigail knew the Proctors. Still, he was more of a victim of town rivalries than a scorned lover. Also, while Abigail was his chief accuser it was over him and his wife sending specters to torment them {as well as defending his wife}. Not to mention, Elizabeth’s grandmother was a Quaker midwife also suspected of witchcraft. His former servant Mary Warren {who had second thoughts before being accused herself for defending the Proctors} and Mary Walcott also accused him.)

John Proctor was hanged after Giles Corey was pressed. (He was hanged before.)

John and Elizabeth Proctor were a couple in their thirties with two young sons. (He was 60 while she was 41 {though she was pregnant during the trial}, and she was his third wife. They also had about five living children at the time with the oldest being seventeen. John had a 33 year old son living with him from his first marriage as well as three others from his second {one of whom was married at the time}. In the movie The Crucible, John is played by Daniel Day Lewis who was a rather young man.)

John Proctor was a farmer. (He was a successful farmer and a tavern keeper whose interests were diametrically opposed to the old established elite of Salem Village. Also, he lived between Salem Village and Salem Town.)

John Proctor confessed to being a witch during his trial. (He maintained his innocence throughout. Yet, another accused man whose wife was also accused did recant. His name was Samuel Wardwell of Andover.)

John Proctor didn’t believe in witchcraft. (We’re not sure if he did or not. He just didn’t believe in the afflicted girls and thought they should’ve been suspected of witchcraft themselves instead of pointing fingers at respectable people like his wife.)

John and Elizabeth Proctor were the only people in their family accused of witchcraft. (Their two oldest children were accused as well along with John’s oldest son Benjamin from his first marriage, and John’s daughter Elizabeth Very from his second marriage. Elizabeth’s sister, brother-in-law, and sister-in-law were also among the accused.)

John Proctor was thin and rather attractive. (He was a large and aging man seen as a good businessman, fearless, bold, and impulsive. Yet, he’s played by Daniel Day Lewis in the 1996 film The Crucible. If he wanted to resemble the real man at the time, he’d have to age 30 years and gain 50 pounds.)

Giles Corey:

Giles Corey was executed for refusing to name a witness. (He was accused of witchcraft and refused to enter a plea which held up the proceedings {since the law required it}. Also, he wasn’t as much executed as tortured to death by being pressed by stones in order to try to force him to enter a plea so the trial could proceed. Still, he probably figured out he was going to be executed if he was tried at all so he didn’t enter a plea to protect his kids from being disinherited {despite deeding the property to most of his children anyway}.)

The Putnam Family:

Ann Putnam’s daughter was Ruth and was the only child to survive infancy from the family. (It was also Ann. Arthur Miller changed it to Ruth to avoid confusion despite that the mother was referred to as “Ann Putnam Senior” while the daughter was known as “Ann Putnam Junior.” Also, the Putnams had 6 living children by 1692 with Ann Jr. being the oldest while Ann Sr. was pregnant at the time. However, Ann Sr. and her sister lost a fair number of kids in comparison while the Nurse family lost remarkably few. Still, Mr. and Mrs. Putnam would eventually have 10 children who’d survive them.)

Ann Putnam Jr. was the first afflicted with a sleep they couldn’t wake from. (Abigail Williams and Betty Parris were the first two girls who became afflicted. But their afflictions consisted of violent physical fits.)

Colonial Pennsylvania:

Benjamin Franklin discovered electricity while he was flying his kite during a thunderstorm. (Benjamin Franklin didn’t discover electricity but he did discover that electricity came from lightning and he wasn’t the only one to determine that. As for his kite flying in a storm, we’re not sure if that even happened. Or whether he flew it or made his son William fly the kite instead. If he flew it himself, it’s highly unlikely that the visible lightning struck the key or else Franklin would’ve gotten killed {though it doesn’t stop cartoons showing him getting electrocuted this way}. Though to be fair, it wasn’t uncommon for 18th century scientists to conduct life-threatening experiments like this. How Franklin made his discovery was observing the kite strings repelling each other and deduced that the Leyden jar attached to them was being charged.Thus, he determined that the lightning had negatively charged the key and the Leyden jar. However, this is based on legend as well as notes from an experiment that Franklin proposed in 1752 though it’s very plausible he would’ve done this. We just don’t have a verified record on whether he did or not. And we know that similar experiments were conducted in France and Russia with the latter case resulting in a fatality.)

Ben Franklin was a middle aged bachelor. (He had a common-law wife and three kids, one of whom became a Loyalist. But since Ben and Me perpetuated the kite myth, I list this as well. Hell, he may have had his son William fly the kite in the storm.)

William Penn was a saint. (Sure he was a Quaker who tried to co-exist with the Indians. Yet, he actually managed to piss off the settlers in what is now Delaware that they created the colony which bore the name of the future state. Pennsylvania wasn’t just a haven for religious freedom but also a profitable venture for himself and his family who managed to run it into Revolutionary times. Oh, and he called the Catholic Church “the Whore of Babylon” and Puritans as “hypocrites and revelers of God.” Not to mention, he prohibited swearing, lying, gambling, masks, theater, and drunkenness in his colony as well as grew more Puritanical later in life.)

Colonial Life:

Young courting men were sewn into bundling bags while the parents usually slept in a different room as the youngsters. (It was usually the girl who was sewn into the chastity straightjacket and the parents slept in the same room as the courting youngsters. Yet, even having parents sleep in the same room as you didn’t always kill the mood since as many as 1/3 of colonial brides were pregnant at the altar.)

Young unmarried people kissed in public in the 18th century. (They didn’t.)

English colonists lived in log cabins. (It was introduced by Swedish immigrants in the 1770s. Most English colonists lived in frame houses.)

The blunderbuss was a colonist’s weapon of choice. (They usually used matchlock and flintlock muskets.)

Most men wore wigs in Colonial America. (Wigs were very expensive and not many could afford one. Also, many aristocratic men preferred to arrange their own hair and powered. Still, only 5% of colonists wore wigs.)

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