Witchcraft and New England: A Reading List

Wed, 10/17/2018 - 12:28pm -- baglio

As the temperature drops and the leaves change color, there's something spooky in the New England air, reminding us that Halloween is nearly here. As we prepare our costumes and stock up on candy, we may catch a showing of Hocus Pocus on TV, or reread one of our favorite Harry Potter books. But while witches take on a more benign persona in today's pop culture, being accused of witchcraft was once a death sentence in New England. That's why we've chosen books that explore the history of witchcraft in New England and the Salem Witch Trials for our Halloween reading list. While we get in a spooky mood, they are an interesting but harrowing reminder of the New England's Puritan past and the effects of a real witch hunt on a society.

 

Witch-Hunt: Mysteries of the Salem Witch Trials

By, Marc Aronson

Salem, Massachusetts, 1692. In a plain meetinghouse a woman stands before her judges. The accusers, girls and young women, are fervent and overexcited. The accused is a poor, unpopular woman who had her first child before she was married. As the trial proceeds the girls begin to wail, tear their clothing, and scream that the woman is hurting them. Some of them expose wounds to the horrified onlookers, holding out the pins that have stabbed them -- pins that appeared as if by magic. Are they acting or are they really tormented by an unseen evil? Whatever the cause, the nightmare has begun: The witch trials will eventually claim twenty-five lives, shatter the community, and forever shape the American social conscience.

 

The Witches:  Suspicion, Betrayal, and Hysteria in 1692 Salem

By, Stacy Schiff

The panic began early in 1692, over an exceptionally raw Massachusetts winter, when a minister's niece began to writhe and roar. It spread quickly, confounding the most educated men and prominent politicians in the colony. Neighbors accused neighbors, husbands accused wives, parents and children one another. It ended less than a year later, but not before nineteen men and women had been hanged and an elderly man crushed to death.

Speaking loudly and emphatically, adolescent girls stood at the center of the crisis. Along with suffrage and Prohibition, the Salem witch trials represent one of the few moments when women played the central role in American history. Drawing masterfully on the archives, Stacy Schiff introduces us to the strains on a Puritan adolescent's life and to the authorities whose delicate agendas were at risk. She illuminates the demands of a rigorous faith, the vulnerability of settlements adrift from the mother country, perched-at a politically tumultuous time-on the edge of what a visitor termed a "remote, rocky, barren, bushy, wild-woody wilderness."

With devastating clarity, the textures and tensions of colonial life emerge; hidden patterns subtly, startlingly detach themselves from the darkness. Schiff brings early American anxieties to the fore to align them brilliantly with our own. In an era of religious provocations, crowdsourcing, and invisible enemies, this enthralling story makes more sense than ever.

The Witches is Schiff 's riveting account of a seminal episode, a primal American mystery unveiled-in crackling detail and lyrical prose-by one of our most acclaimed historians.

 

Salem Witch Judge: The Life and Repentance of Samuel Sewall

By, Eve LaPlante

In 1692 Puritan Samuel Sewall sent twenty people to their deaths on trumped-up witchcraft charges. The nefarious witch trials in Salem, Massachusetts represent a low point of American history, made famous in works by Longfellow, Nathaniel Hawthorne (himself a descendant of one of the judges), and Arthur Miller. The trials might have doomed Sewall to infamy except for a courageous act of contrition now commemorated in a mural that hangs beneath the golden dome of the Massachusetts State House picturing Sewall's public repentance. He was the only Salem witch judge to make amends.

But, remarkably, the judge's story didn't end there. Once he realized his error, Sewall turned his attention to other pressing social issues. Struck by the injustice of the New England slave trade, a commerce in which his own relatives and neighbors were engaged, he authored "The Selling of Joseph," America's first antislavery tract. While his peers viewed Native Americans as savages, Sewall advocated for their essential rights and encouraged their education, even paying for several Indian youths to attend Harvard College. Finally, at a time when women were universally considered inferior to men, Sewall published an essay affirming the fundamental equality of the sexes. The text of that essay, composed at the deathbed of his daughter Hannah, is republished here for the first time.

In Salem Witch Judge, acclaimed biographer Eve LaPlante, Sewall's great-great-great-great-great-great-granddaughter, draws on family lore, her ancestor's personal diaries, and archival documents to open a window onto life in colonial America, painting a portrait of a man traditionally vilified, but who was in fact an innovator and forefather who came to represent the best of the American spirit.

 

The Salem Witch Trials: A Day-by-Day Chronicle of a Community Under Siege

By, Marilynne K. Roach

Based on twenty-seven years of original archival research, including the discovery of previously unknown documents, this day-by-day narrative of the hysteria that swept through Salem Village in 1692 and 1693 reveals new connections behind the events, and shows how rapidly a community can descend into bloodthirsty madness. Roach opens her work with chapters on the history of the Puritan colonies of New England, and explains how these people regarded the metaphysical and the supernatural. The account of the days from January 1692 to March 1693 keeps in order the large cast of characters, places events in their correct contexts, and occasionally contradicts earlier assumptions about the gruesome events. The last chapter discusses the remarkable impact of the events, pointing out how the 300th anniversary of the trials made headlines in Japan and Australia.

 

Witches, Rakes, and Rogues: True Stories of Scam, Scandal, Murder and Mayhem in Boston, 1630-1775

By, D. Brenton Simons

In a series of richly detailed narratives, Simons uncovers the dark side of Boston life from the city's founding until the Revolution. It's the stuff of National Enquirer headlines-colonial style-meticulously researched and delightfully told.

 

The Salem Witch Trials Reader

By, Frances Hill

Against the backdrop of a Puritan theocracy threatened by change, in a population terrified not only of eternal damnation but of the earthly dangers of Indian massacres and recurrent smallpox epidemics, a small group of girls denounces a black slave and others as worshipers of Satan. Within two years, twenty men and women are hanged or pressed to death and over a hundred others imprisoned and impoverished. In The Salem Witch Trials Reader, Frances Hill provides and astutely comments upon the actual documents from the trial--examinations of suspected witches, eyewitness accounts of "Satanic influence," as well as the testimony of those who retained their reason and defied the madness. Always drawing on firsthand documents, she illustrates the historical background to the witchhunt and shows how the trials have been represented, and sometimes distorted, by historians--and how they have fired the imaginations of poets, playwrights, and novelists. For those fascinated by the Salem witch trials, this is compelling reading and the sourcebook.

 

 The Devil in Massachusetts: A Modern Inquiry into the Salem Witch Trials

By, Marion L. Starkey

The Devil in Massachusetts, first published in 1949, is a well-researched, accurate narrative of the 1690s Salem witch 'outbreak' and subsequent trials. The book takes its dialogue from actual trial records and applies modern psychiatric knowledge to help explain the witchcraft hysteria. Villagers of Salem and the surrounding area—mainly young women—suffered from unseen torments that caused them to writhe, shriek, and contort their bodies, complaining of pins stuck into their flesh and of being haunted by specters. Believing that the cause was due to an invisible spirit, the village began to hunt down those believed responsible for these demonic possessions. The Salem Witch Trials, resulting in the execution of 19 villagers, remain as one of the most mysterious and fascinating events in American history. Marion Starkey (1901-1991) was a historian and author of a number of regional history books.

 

A Break with Charity: A Story about the Salem Witch Trials

By, Ann Rinaldi

Susanna desperately wants to join the circle of girls who meet every week at the parsonage. What she doesn't realize is that the girls are about to set off a torrent of false accusations leading to the imprisonment and execution of countless innocent people. Susanna faces a painful choice. Should she keep quiet and let the witch-hunt panic continue, or should she "break charity" with the group--and risk having her own family members named as witches?

 

 

Damned Women: Sinners and Witches in Puritan New England

By, Elizabeth Reis

In her analysis of the cultural construction of gender in early America, Elizabeth Reis explores the intersection of Puritan theology, Puritan evaluations of womanhood, and the Salem witchcraft episodes. She finds in those intersections the basis for understanding why women were accused of witchcraft more often than men, why they confessed more often, and why they frequently accused other women of being witches. In negotiating their beliefs about the devil's powers, both women and men embedded womanhood in the discourse of depravity.Puritan ministers insisted that women and men were equal in the sight of God, with both sexes equally capable of cleaving to Christ or to the devil. Nevertheless, Reis explains, womanhood and evil were inextricably linked in the minds and hearts of seventeenth-century New England Puritans. Women and men feared hell equally but Puritan culture encouraged women to believe it was their vile natures that would take them there rather than the particular sins they might have committed.Following the Salem witchcraft trials, Reis argues, Puritans' understanding of sin and the devil changed. Ministers and laity conceived of a Satan who tempted sinners and presided physically over hell, rather than one who possessed souls in the living world. Women and men became increasingly confident of their redemption, although women more than men continued to imagine themselves as essentially corrupt, even after the Great Awakening.

 

Witchcraft in Old and New England

By, George Lyman Kittredge

A documented study of witchcraft and witchhunting in Tudor England and colonial America

 

A Storm of Witchcraft: The Salem Trials and the American Experience

By, Emerson W. Baker

Beginning in January 1692, Salem Village in colonial Massachusetts witnessed the largest and most lethal outbreak of witchcraft in early America. Villagers--mainly young women--suffered from unseen torments that caused them to writhe, shriek, and contort their bodies, complaining of pins stuck into their flesh and of being haunted by specters. Believing that they suffered from assaults by an invisible spirit, the community began a hunt to track down those responsible for the demonic work. The resulting Salem Witch Trials, culminating in the execution of 19 villagers, persists as one of the most mysterious and fascinating events in American history. 

Historians have speculated on a web of possible causes for the witchcraft that stated in Salem and spread across the region-religious crisis, ergot poisoning, an encephalitis outbreak, frontier war hysteria--but most agree that there was no single factor. Rather, as Emerson Baker illustrates in this seminal new work, Salem was "a perfect storm": a unique convergence of conditions and events that produced something extraordinary throughout New England in 1692 and the following years, and which has haunted us ever since.

Baker shows how a range of factors in the Bay colony in the 1690s, including a new charter and government, a lethal frontier war, and religious and political conflicts, set the stage for the dramatic events in Salem. Engaging a range of perspectives, he looks at the key players in the outbreak--the accused witches and the people they allegedly bewitched, as well as the judges and government officials who prosecuted them--and wrestles with questions about why the Salem tragedy unfolded as it did, and why it has become an enduring legacy.

Salem in 1692 was a critical moment for the fading Puritan government of Massachusetts Bay, whose attempts to suppress the story of the trials and erase them from memory only fueled the popular imagination. Baker argues that the trials marked a turning point in colonial history from Puritan communalism to Yankee independence, from faith in collective conscience to skepticism toward moral governance. A brilliantly told tale, A Storm of Witchcraft also puts Salem's storm into its broader context as a part of the ongoing narrative of American history and the history of the Atlantic World.

 

Entertaining Satan: Witchcraft and the Culture of Early New England

By, John Demos

In the first edition of the Bancroft Prize-winning Entertaining Satan, John Putnam Demos presented an entirely new perspective on American witchcraft. By investigating the surviving historical documents of over a hundred actual witchcraft cases, he vividly recreated the world of New England during the witchcraft trials and brought to light fascinating information on the role of witchcraft in early American culture. Now Demos has revisited his original work and updated it to illustrate why these early Americans' strange views on witchcraft still matter to us today. He provides a new preface that puts forth a broader overview of witchcraft and looks at its place around the world--from ancient times right up to the present.

 

In the Devil's Snare: The Salem Witchcraft Crisis of 1692

By, Mary Beth Norton

In 1692 the people of Massachusetts were living in fear, and not solely of satanic afflictions. Horrifyingly violent Indian attacks had all but emptied the northern frontier of settlers, and many traumatized refugees—including the main accusers of witches—had fled to communities like Salem. Meanwhile the colony’s leaders, defensive about their own failure to protect the frontier, pondered how God’s people could be suffering at the hands of savages. Struck by the similarities between what the refugees had witnessed and what the witchcraft “victims” described, many were quick to see a vast conspiracy of the Devil (in league with the French and the Indians) threatening New England on all sides. By providing this essential context to the famous events, and by casting her net well beyond the borders of Salem itself, Norton sheds new light on one of the most perplexing and fascinating periods in our history.

 

Salem Possessed: The Social Origins of Witchcraft

By, Stephen Nissenbaum and Paul Boyer

Tormented girls writhing in agony, stern judges meting out harsh verdicts, nineteen bodies swinging on Gallows Hill.

The stark immediacy of what happened in 1692 has obscured the complex web of human passion, individual and organized, which had been growing for more than a generation before the witch trials. Salem Possessed explores the lives of the men and women who helped spin that web and who in the end found themselves entangled in it.

From rich and varied sources―many previously neglected or unknown―Paul Boyer and Stephen Nissenbaum give us a picture of the events of 1692 more intricate and more fascinating than any other in the already massive literature on Salem. “Salem Possessed,” wrote Robin Briggs in The Times Literary Supplement, “reinterprets a world-famous episode so completely and convincingly that virtually all the previous treatments can be consigned to the historical lumber-room.”

Not simply a dramatic and isolated event, the Salem outbreak has wider implications for our understanding of developments central to the American experience: the breakup of Puritanism, the pressures of land and population in New England towns, the problems besetting farmer and householder, the shifting role of the church, and the powerful impact of commercial capitalism.

 

Salem's Ghosts

By, Rose Earhart

The lure of the history of the Salem Witch Trials brings thousands of tourists to the city of Salem, MA, evey year. What the tourists and residents of Salem don't know is that there is a subculture of ghosts living among them from the hangings of 1692.

Mary English, accused of witchcraft in 1692, is trying to help other victims of the witchcraft hysteria rise from the dead and join her and her husband Philip in Salem's otherworld.

Encounters with the living of Salem, and battles with the ghosts of George Corwin and the Devil himself take the reader on a journey through modern day Salem, and back to the Salem of 1692.

Mary English, while walking across Salem Common, comes upon two girls being accosted. One is a descendent of hers, Nora English, and Nora's friend, Lynn March. Mary is able to rescue Nora, but Lynn is brutally raped and murdered by a decendent of George Corwin.

Waiting until Halloween hight, when the veil between the real world and the otherworld is the thinnest, Nora, and the spirit of the murdered Lynn cross over to the otherworld with the help of Mary English and Lynn's mother, the modern day witch, Lillith March.

Rose Earhart weaves a tale of ghostly intrigue taking the reader on a tumultuous ride through Salem's history. From the hangings on Gallow's Hill, to the mysterious powers of Tituba, the first witch of Salem, and finally to a confrontation with the Devil, Salem's Ghosts is a wonderful weaving of modern day Salem with the Salem of 1692

 

Salem Witchcraft

By, Charles W. Upham

In the late seventeenth century, nineteen residents of Salem, Massachusetts—charged by their neighbors with practicing witchcraft — were hanged. Their accusers, for the most part good and respectable people living in an immensely superstitious age, were convinced their fellow townspeople were in complicity with the devil.

This book, first published in 1867 in two volumes, is still praised by historians as the most important book on the Salem witch trials. Charles W. Upham, a former mayor of Salem as well as the minister of the First Church of Salem and a U. S. congressman, painstakingly researched the history of the village and the notorious trials that took place there in 1692. His well-documented, minutely detailed work was the first to organize the many records of this event into one articulate account.

Upham not only supplies a wealth of valuable information on the history of Salem and the legislative and economic problems of the settlement that helped set the stage for the trials, but also provides numerous details of local hostilities that sowed the seeds of suspicion, fear, and resentment among villagers and helped fuel the witch hunt.

This edition reprints in one volume this fascinating, classic account of one of the darkest episodes in early American history. Enhanced with a new Foreword, it will be of immense value to students of New England and American history. Visitors, tourists, and residents of Salem will also find it a highly readable, indispensable resource.

 

Salem's Lot

By, Stephen King

Ben Mears has returned to Jerusalem's Lot in the hopes that living in an old mansion, long the subject of town lore, will help him cast out his own devils and provide inspiration for his new book. But when two young boys venture into the woods and only one comes out alive, Mears begins to realize that there may be something sinister at work and that his hometown is under siege by forces of darkness far beyond his control.

 

Witchcraft at Salem

By, Chadwick Hansen

Trial documents and contemporary narratives are used in this discussion of the practice of witchcraft in seventeenth-century New England.

 

Heretic's Daughter

By, Kathleen Kent

A woman condemned by the truth. Her daughter saved by a lie.

Salem, 1752. Sarah Carrier Chapman, weak with infirmity, writes a letter to her granddaughter that reveals the secret she has closely guarded for six decades: how she survived the Salem Witch Trials when her mother did not.

Sarah's story begins more than a year before the trials, when she and her family arrive in a New England community already gripped by superstition and fear. As they witness neighbor pitted against neighbor, friend against friend, the hysteria escalates--until more than two hundred men, women, and children have been swept into prison. Among them is Sarah's mother, Martha Carrier. In an attempt to protect her children, Martha asks Sarah to commit an act of heresy--a lie that will most surely condemn Martha even as it will save her daughter.

This is the story of Martha's courageous defiance and ultimate death, as told by the daughter who survived.