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Dr. Virginia Bernhard Speaks on Puritans, Witches in Bermuda
2/22/2011
Dr. Virginia Bernhard, University of St. Thomas Professor Emerita of history, will explore “Puritans and Witches in Bermuda, 1651-1655” at the annual B.K. Smith Lecture in History. The lecture, sponsored by the History Department, will be held at 7:30 p.m., March 31 in Cullen Hall, 4001 Mt. Vernon.

Dr. Bernhard served on the UST faculty from 1971 to 2006. She was the director of the History Department for many years, and the director of the Women Culture and Society Program from 2005-2006. She received the Minnie Stevens Piper Foundation Award for Outstanding Scholarship and Academic Achievement in 2003. Dr. Bernhard earned a doctorate from Rice University, a master’s degree from the University of Pennsylvania and a bachelor’s degree from Rice.

In the 1640’s the turbulence of civil war in England made waves across the Atlantic in Bermuda, England’s smallest colony. There a group of Puritan Independents formed a new church and challenged the government. In May 1651 the first accusations for witchcraft in Bermuda’s history took place and the colony’s first convicted witch was hanged. Between 1651 and 1655, 12 people were accused of witchcraft, and five of them were hanged. These are the only recorded executions for witchcraft in Bermuda’s history. For what it reveals about Puritans and their transatlantic networks, and about 17th century witch trials, Bermuda’s witchcraft episode, which occurred four decades before the more famous one in Salem, Mass., deserves a closer examination.

The family and friends of the late Benjamin Kopper Smith established the B.K. Smith Lecture in 1957. The series has brought a series of distinguished scholars to the UST campus to lecture and hold informal discussions with students and faculty. B.K. Smith, a welding superintendent for the Pennsylvania Railroad, came to Texas in 1920 and founded the Big Three Welding and Equipment Company, which opened a Houston office in 1925. His contributions to Houston were many and he remained active until his death in 1948, a year after UST was founded.

The event is free and open to the public For more information, contact Dr. Irving Kelter at kelter@stthom.edu.

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