How Do Primary Source Documents Mirror The


How Do Primary Source Documents Mirror The Ideals Of A Society? Essay, Research Paper

The attitudes and beliefs of a particular time period are reflected in first hand

documents, purposely and inadvertently through the biases and ideals of the authors of the

pieces. The arrogant self-serving attitude of the first colony is reflected in Captain John

Smith?s, ?The General History of Virginia.? The Puritans holier-than-thou ideals are

reflected in the essay by William Bradford, ?Of Plymouth Plantation.? Finally the fear of

the unknown by the colonists is shown in Cotton Mather?s reflection on the Salem Witch

Trials, ?The Wonders of the Invisible world.? In all of the documents, the biases and

believes of the authors show the attitudes of the people at the time.

Captain John Smith epitomizes the self-serving attitude of the first colony in his

essay, ?The General History of Virginia.? Smith is not interested in what people in his

time think of his writing. His work is written so future generations will see Captain John

Smith (he refers to himself in third person) as a hero. According to Smith it was entirely

his doing that the colony was established. He says, ?The New President and Martin, being

little beloved, of weak judgment in dangers, and less industry in peace, committed the

managing of all things abroad to Captain Smith…,? meaning that the President is weak and

inferior to himself, and goes on to say, ?…who by his own example, good words, and fair

promises…himself always bearing the greatest task for his own share…? Feeling that he

was responsible for the survival of the colony, Smith shows his attitude of self promotion.

This was the belief of many people of the time who wanted to be remembered. Smith

does not take all the credit for his work. He believes that God is helping him. The Indians

did not help Smith by their own accord, ?But almighty God (by his divine providence) had

mollified the hearts of those stern savages.?(Smith) Again his feeling of superiority shows

when, he believes the Indians are not human enough to act with out the help of God.

Smith believes that God is solely on his side.

The Puritans, who believed God had chosen them to be the ones who get to enter

heaven, also believed they were above everyone else. In William Bradford?s essay, ?Of

Plymouth Plantation,? he exemplifies the belief that the Puritan colony as a complete entity

(rather than Smith who promoted only himself) is superior. In their own

self-righteousness, the Puritans felt that non-Puritans, ?did not deserve help at their

hands,? but gave it to prove themselves better than others. Rather than doing deeds that

would promote them in their own life time, the Puritans worked for the afterlife. They all

believed that since God choose them, all that they had to do to get into heaven was to live

pure lives. Bradford is not as hostile towards the Indians-he does not refer to them as

savages-as Smith, but as with Smith, Bradford believes that the Indians were ?special

instrument[s] sent of God for their good…? The Puritan people were bias towards all

non-Puritans, not necessarily on purpose, but more inadvertently by their religious


The Puritans also held a fear of the unknown. They believed that the devil was a

physical being who lived in the forest. He cohorts were witches who did his evil bidding.

Anything unusual that happened in the community was attributed to witchcraft. ?The

Wonders of the Invisible World,? by Cotton Mather shows the trial of one such witch by

the name of Martha Carrier. The claims of the people in the trial seem to be grossly

exaggerated as to make a stronger case against Cather. Claims such as, ?several gallons of

corruption,? running from a wound and, ?he could thrust a knitting needle into his wound

four inches deep,? show the exaggeration used to convict suspected witches. The victims

(those accused of witchcraft) were generally those who, such as Martha Cather, were not

upstanding members of the Puritan community. Mather sums up the Puritan intolerance

for members of the community who are not upstanding in his memorandum, ?This

rampant had, Martha carrier, was the person of whom the confessions of the witches and

of her own children among the rest agreed that the devil had promised her she should be

queen of Hell.? Anything that was not understood was attributed to witchcraft during the

early years of America in the Puritan colonies. This showed the fear and lack of

understanding of the world the Puritans had.

Primary documents give excellent insight into the lifestyles of the period in which

they are written. The biases expressed by the authors show the feelings of the time.

Different people of the same time share different believes (i.e. the Puritans compared to

John Smith). Much can be gained through the study of primary documents of a time

period; the unique nature of primary source material is a superb way to get a true feel for

the people of a certain time period.

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