Fourteenth Century – Seventeenth Century
Though European explorers called it ‘the New World’ when they first reached the continent, wizards had known about America long before Muggles (Note: while every nationality has its own term for ‘Muggle,’ the American community uses the slang term No-Maj, short for ‘No Magic’). Various modes of magical travel – brooms and Apparition among them – not to mention visions and premonitions, meant that even far-flung wizarding communities were in contact with each other from the Middle Ages onwards.
The Native American magical community and those of Europe and Africa had known about each other long before the immigration of European No-Majs in the seventeenth century. They were already aware of the many similarities between their communities. Certain families were clearly ‘magical’, and magic also appeared unexpectedly in families where hitherto there had been no known witch or wizard. The overall ratio of wizards to non-wizards seemed consistent across populations, as did the attitudes of No-Majs, wherever they were born. In the Native American community, some witches and wizards were accepted and even lauded within their tribes, gaining reputations for healing as medicine men, or outstanding hunters. However, others were stigmatised for their beliefs, often on the basis that they were possessed by malevolent spirits.
The legend of the Native American ‘skin walker’ – an evil witch or wizard that can transform into an animal at will – has its basis in fact. A legend grew up around the Native American Animagi, that they had sacrificed close family members to gain their powers of transformation. In fact, the majority of Animagi assumed animal forms to escape persecution or to hunt for the tribe. Such derogatory rumours often originated with No-Maj medicine men, who were sometimes faking magical powers themselves, and fearful of exposure.
The Native American wizarding community was particularly gifted in animal and plant magic, its potions in particular being of a sophistication beyond much that was known in Europe. The most glaring difference between magic practised by Native Americans and the wizards of Europe was the absence of a wand.
The magic wand originated in Europe. Wands channel magic so as to make its effects both more precise and more powerful, although it is generally held to be a mark of the very greatest witches and wizards that they have also been able to produce wandless magic of a very high quality. As the Native American Animagi and potion-makers demonstrated, wandless magic can attain great complexity, but Charms and Transfiguration are very difficult without one.
Seventeenth Century and Beyond
As No-Maj Europeans began to emigrate to the New World, more witches and wizards of European origin also came to settle in America. Like their No-Maj counterparts, they had a variety of reasons for leaving their countries of origin. Some were driven by a sense of adventure, but most were running away: sometimes from persecution by No-Majs, sometimes from a fellow witch or wizard, but also from the wizarding authorities. The latter sought to blend in among the increasing tide of No-Majs, or hide among the Native American wizarding population, who were generally welcoming and protective of their European brethren.
From the first, however, it was clear that the New World was to be a harsher environment for witches and wizards than the Old World. There were three main reasons for this.
Firstly, like their No-Maj counterparts, they had come to a country with few amenities, except those they made themselves. Back home, they had only to visit the local Apothecary to find the necessities for potions: here, they had to forage among unfamiliar magical plants. There were no established wandmakers, and Ilvermorny School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, which would one day rank among the greatest magical establishments in the world, was at that time no more than a rough shack containing two teachers and two students.
Secondly, the actions of their fellow No-Majs made the non-magical population of most wizards’ homelands look lovable. Not only had conflict developed between the immigrants and the Native American population, which struck a blow at the unity of the magical community, their religious beliefs made them deeply intolerant of any trace of magic. The Puritans were happy to accuse each other of occult activity on the slenderest evidence, and New World witches and wizards were right to be extremely wary of them.
The last, and probably the most dangerous problem encountered by wizards newly arrived in North America were the Scourers. As the wizarding community in America was small, scattered and secretive, it had as yet no law enforcement mechanism of its own. This left a vacuum that was filled by an unscrupulous band of wizarding mercenaries of many foreign nationalities, who formed a much-feared and brutal taskforce committed to hunting down not only known criminals, but anyone who might be worth some gold. As time went on, the Scourers became increasingly corrupt. Far away from the jurisdiction of their native magical governments, many indulged a love of authority and cruelty unjustified by their mission. Such Scourers enjoyed bloodshed and torture, and even went so far as trafficking their fellow wizards. The numbers of Scourers multiplied across America in the late seventeenth century and there is evidence that they were not above passing off innocent No-Majs as wizards, to collect rewards from gullible non-magic members of the community.
The famous Salem Witch Trials of 1692-93 were a tragedy for the wizarding community. Wizarding historians agree that among the so-called Puritan judges were at least two known Scourers, who were paying off feuds that had developed while in America. A number of the dead were indeed witches, though utterly innocent of the crimes for which they had been arrested. Others were merely No-Majs who had the misfortune to be caught up in the general hysteria and bloodlust.
Salem was significant within the magical community for reasons far beyond the tragic loss of life. Its immediate effect was to cause many witches and wizards to flee America, and many more to decide against locating there. This led to interesting variations in the magical population of North America, compared to the populations of Europe, Asia and Africa. Up until the early decades of the twentieth century, there were fewer witches and wizards in the general American population than on the other four continents. Pure-blood families, who were well-informed through wizarding newspapers about the activities of both Puritans and Scourers, rarely left for America. This meant a far higher percentage of No-Maj-born witches and wizards in the New World than elsewhere. While these witches and wizards often went on to marry and found their own all-magical families, the pure-blood ideology that has dogged much of Europe’s magical history has gained far less traction in America.
Perhaps the most significant effect of Salem was the creation of the Magical Congress of the United States of America in 1693, pre-dating the No-Maj version by around a century. Known to all American witches and wizards by the abbreviation MACUSA (commonly pronounced as: Mah – cooz – ah), it was the first time that the North American wizarding community came together to create laws for themselves, effectively establishing a magical-world-within-a-No-Maj-world such as existed in most other countries. MACUSA’s first task was to put on trial the Scourers who had betrayed their own kind. Those convicted of murder, of wizard-trafficking, torture and all other manners of cruelty were executed for their crimes.
Several of the most notorious Scourers eluded justice. With international warrants out for their arrest, they vanished permanently into the No-Maj community. Some of them married No-Majs and founded families where magical children appear to have been winnowed out in favour of non-magical offspring, to maintain the Scourer’s cover. The vengeful Scourers, cast out from their people, passed on to their descendants an absolute conviction that magic was real, and the belief that witches and wizards ought to be exterminated wherever they were found.
American magical historian Theophilus Abbot has identified several such families, each with a deep belief in magic and a great hatred of it. It may be partly due to the anti-magic beliefs and activities of the descendants of Scourer families that North American No-Majs often seem harder to fool and hoodwink on the subject of magic than many other populations. This has had far-reaching repercussions on the way the American wizarding community is governed.
In 1790, the fifteenth President of MACUSA, Emily Rappaport, instituted a law designed to create total segregation of the wizarding and No-Maj communities. This followed one of the most serious breaches of the International Statute of Secrecy, leading to a humiliating censure of MACUSA by the International Confederation of Wizards. The matter was that much more serious because the breach came from within MACUSA itself.
In brief, the catastrophe involved the daughter of President Rappaport’s trusted Keeper of Treasure and Dragots (the Dragot is the American wizarding currency and the Keeper of Dragots, as the title implies, is roughly equivalent to the Secretary of the Treasury). Aristotle Twelvetrees was a competent man, but his daughter, Dorcus, was as dim as she was pretty. She had been a poor student at Ilvermorny and at the time of her father’s ascension to high office was living at home, hardly ever performing magic, but concentrating mainly on her clothes, the arrangement of her hair and parties.
One day, at a local picnic, Dorcus Twelvetrees became greatly enamoured of a handsome No-Maj called Bartholomew Barebone. Unbeknownst to Dorcus, Bartholomew was a Scourer descendant. Nobody in his family was magic, but his belief in magic was profound and unshakeable, as was his conviction that all witches and wizards were evil.
Totally oblivious to the danger, Dorcus took Bartholomew’s polite interest in her ‘little tricks’ at face value. Led on by her beau’s artless questions, she confided the secret addresses of both MACUSA and Ilvermorny, along with information about the International Confederation of Wizards and all the ways in which these bodies sought to protect and conceal the wizarding community.
Having gathered as much information as he could from Dorcus, Bartholomew stole the wand she had obligingly demonstrated for him, showed it to as many pressmen as he could find, then gathered together armed friends and set out to persecute and, ideally, kill all the witches and wizards in the vicinity. Bartholomew further printed leaflets giving the addresses where witches and wizards congregated and sent letters to prominent No-Majs, some of whom felt it necessary to investigate whether there were indeed ‘evil occult parties’ happening at the places described.
Giddy with his mission to expose witchcraft in America, Bartholomew Barebone overstepped himself by shooting at what he believed were a group of MACUSA wizards, but which turned out to be No-Majs who had the bad fortune to leave a suspected building while he was watching it. Fortunately nobody was killed, and Bartholomew was arrested and imprisoned for the crime without any need for MACUSA involvement. This was an enormous relief to MACUSA who were struggling to cope with the massive fallout of Dorcus’s indiscretions.
Bartholomew had disseminated his leaflets widely, and a few newspapers had taken him seriously enough to print pictures of Dorcus’s wand and note that it ‘had a kick like a mule’ if waved. The attention focused on the MACUSA building was so intense that it was forced to move premises. As President Rappaport was forced to tell the International Confederation of Wizards at a public inquiry, she could not be sure that every last person privy to Dorcus’s information had been Obliviated. The leak had been so serious that the after-effects would be felt for many years.
Although many in the magical community campaigned to have her imprisoned for life or even executed, Dorcus spent only a year in jail. Thoroughly disgraced, utterly shellshocked, she emerged into a very different wizarding community and ended her days in seclusion, a mirror and her parrot her dearest companions.
Dorcus’s indiscretions led to the introduction of Rappaport’s Law. Rappaport’s Law enforced strict segregation between the No-Maj and wizarding communities. Wizards were no longer allowed to befriend or marry No-Majs. Penalties for fraternising with No-Majs were harsh. Communication with No-Majs was limited to that necessary to perform daily activities.
Rappaport’s Law further entrenched the major cultural difference between the American wizarding community and that of Europe. In the Old World, there had always been a degree of covert cooperation and communication between No-Maj governments and their magical counterparts. In America, MACUSA acted totally independently of the No-Maj government. In Europe, witches and wizards married and were friends with No-Majs; in America, No-Majs were increasingly regarded as the enemy. In short, Rappaport’s Law drove the American wizarding community, already dealing with an unusually suspicious No-Maj population, still deeper underground.
1920s Wizarding America
The wizards of America had played their part in the Great War of 1914-1918, even if the overwhelming majority of their No-Maj compatriots were ignorant of their contribution. As there were magical factions on both sides, their efforts were not decisive, but they won many victories in preventing additional loss of life, and in defeating their magical enemies.
This common endeavour led to no softening on MACUSA’s stance on No-Maj/wizard fraternisation, and Rappaport’s Law remained firmly in place. By the 1920s the US wizarding community had become used to existing under a greater degree of secrecy than their European counterparts and to selecting their mates strictly from within their own ranks.
The memory of Dorcus Twelvetrees’ catastrophic breach of the Statute of Secrecy had entered magical language, so that being ‘a Dorcus’ was slang for an idiot or inept person. MACUSA continued to impose severe penalties on those who flouted the International Statute of Secrecy. MACUSA was also more intolerant of such magical phenomena as ghosts, poltergeists and fantastic creatures than its European equivalents, because of the risk such beasts and spirits posed of alerting No-Majs to the existence of magic.
After the Great Sasquatch Rebellion of 1892 (for full details, see Ortiz O’Flaherty’s highly-acclaimed book Big Foot’s Last Stand), MACUSA headquarters was relocated for the fifth time in its history, moving from Washington to New York, where it remained throughout the 1920s. President of MACUSA throughout the decade was Madam Seraphina Picquery, a famously gifted witch from Savannah.
By the 1920s Ilvermorny School of Witchcraft and Wizardry had been flourishing for more than two centuries and was widely considered to be one of the greatest magical education establishments in the world. In consequence of their common education, all witches and wizards are proficient in the use of a wand.
Legislation introduced at the end of the nineteenth century meant that every member of the magical community in America was required to carry a ‘wand permit’, a measure that was intended to keep tabs on all magical activity and identify the perpetrators by their wands. Unlike Britain, where Ollivanders was considered unbeatable, the continent of North America was served by four great wandmakers.
Shikoba Wolfe, who was of Choctaw descent, was primarily famous for intricately carved wands containing Thunderbird tail feathers (the Thunderbird is a magical American bird closely related to the phoenix). Wolfe wands were generally held to be extremely powerful, though difficult to master. They were particularly prized by Transfigurers.
Johannes Jonker, a Muggle-born wizard whose No-Maj father was an accomplished cabinet maker, turned himself into an accomplished wandmaker. His wands were highly sought after and instantly recognisable, as they were usually inlaid with mother-of-pearl. After experimenting with many cores, Jonker’s preferred magical material was hair of the Wampus cat.
Thiago Quintana caused ripples through the magical world when his sleek and usually lengthy wands began entering the market, each encasing a single translucent spine from the back of the White River Monsters of Arkansas and producing spells of force and elegance. Fears about over-fishing of the monsters were assuaged when it was proven that Quintana alone knew the secret of luring them, a secret he guarded jealously until his death, at which point wands containing White River Monster spines ceased production.
Violetta Beauvais, the famous wandmaker of New Orleans, refused for many years to divulge the secret core of her wands, which were always made of swamp mayhaw wood. Eventually it was discovered that they contained hair of the rougarou, the dangerous dog-headed monster that prowled Louisiana swamps. It was often said of Beauvais wands that they took to Dark magic like vampires to blood, yet many an American wizarding hero of the 1920s went into battle armed only with a Beauvais wand, and President Picquery herself was known to possess one.
Unlike the No-Maj community of the 1920s, MACUSA allowed witches and wizards to drink alcohol. Many critics of this policy pointed out that it made witches and wizards rather conspicuous in cities full of sober No-Majs. However, in one of her rare light-hearted moments, President Picquery was heard to say that being a wizard in America was already hard enough. ‘The Gigglewater,’ as she famously told her Chief of Staff, ‘is non-negotiable.’
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