J.K. Rowling's new Magic in North America story examines the Salem Witch Trials
The second story in J.K. Rowling’s History of Magic in North America, titled “Seventeenth Century and Beyond,” begins to reveal the bigger picture of what the Harry Potter author is trying to achieve with her new online series, establishing a national identity for wizards in the U.S. It’s such a strange and immense task, but Rowling is really pulling it off.
The first thing that Rowling establishes with “Seventeenth Century and Beyond” is that even though wizards had access to the New World before the No-Maj arrived, the immigration to North America wasn’t much easier for magical peoples. While they had the aid of the Native American wizarding community, the infrastructure that existed in Europe simply wasn’t there. There were no wandmakers to speak of, and Ilvermorny, the North American wizarding school, started out as “a rough shack containing two teachers and two students.”
But like No-Majs living in the New World, hardship didn’t only come from the conditions. People, magical or not, can be real jerks too. The biggest a-holes of all in early-wizard North America were the Scourers, basically the American equivalent of Death Eaters, but interestingly, the origin of their evildoing comes from a very different place. The Scourers were mercenaries who began as the earliest form of wizarding law enforcement in the New World. When they eventually became corrupted, the climate went from bad to worse. The group were partly to blame for the Salem witch trials, which took advantage of the already-established fear of witches in the colonies that stemmed from religion.
The witch trials, while tragic for both the magical and No-Maj populations, had a fascinating effect on the wizarding population in America. After the hysteria, wizards fled and those elsewhere in the world were dissuaded from coming here. This caused the percentage of pure-blood New World wizards to fall and the No-Maj-born population to grow. These changes helped the country avoid the most classist tendencies of Britain’s wizarding community, which itself was a reflection of real life in the U.K..
That isn’t to say that America became some kind of prejudice-free utopia for wizards. This country has its own demons, and Rowling finds a way to reflect the country’s troubled history with race relations in her own story of wizardry in the U.S.
After the Salem witch trials, the Magical Congress of the United States of America was established to make sure nothing like it ever happened again. One of the first acts of the governing body was to hunt down the Scourers responsible for the atrocity and execute them. Some of the worst escaped, however, blended into the No-Maj community, and seeded hatred of magical people throughout subsequent generations. The result was a culture of people that is harder for wizards to hide from, more suspicious than their European counterparts.