Synopses & Reviews
In January 1692 in Salem Village, Massachusetts, two young girls began to suffer from inexplicable fits. Seventeen months later, after legal action had been taken against 144 people—20 of them put to death—the ignominious Salem witchcraft trials finally came to an end.
Now, Mary Beth Norton—one of our most ad-mired historians—gives us a unique account of the events at Salem, helping us to understand them as they were understood by those who lived through the frenzy. Describing the situation from a seventeenth-century perspective, Norton examines the crucial turning points, the accusers, the confessors, the judges, and the accused, among whom were thirty-eight men. She shows how the situation spiraled out of control following a cascade of accusations beginning in mid-April. She explores the role of gossip and delves into the question of why women and girls under the age of twenty-five, who were the most active accusers and who would normally be ignored by male magistrates, were suddenly given absolute credence.
Most important of all, Norton moves beyond the immediate vicinity of Salem to demonstrate how the Indian wars on the Maine frontier in the last quarter of that century stunned the collective mindset of northeastern New England and convinced virtually everyone that they were in the devil’s snare. And she makes clear that ultimate responsibility for allowing the crisis to reach the heights it did must fall on the colony’s governor, council, and judges.
A vivid, authoritative historical evocation and exploration that will alter forever the way we think about one of the most perennially fascinating and horrifying events in our history.
About the Author
Mary Beth Norton is Mary Donlon Alger Professor of American History at Cornell University. She is the author of The British-Americans: The Loyalist Exiles in England, 1774–1789 (1972); Liberty’s Daughters: The Revolutionary Experience of American Women, 1750–1800 (1980); Founding Mothers & Fathers: Gendered Power and the Forming of American Society (1996), which was a Pulitzer Prize finalist; and (with five others) A People and a Nation (6th ed., 2001). She has also edited several works on women’s history and served as the general editor of The AHA Guide to Historical Literature (3rd ed., 1995).