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In the Devil's Snare: The Salem Witchcraft Crisis of 1692 (2002)
Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0375706909, Paperback)The story of the Salem witchcraft trials is well known, from both historical accounts and dramatic retellings, such as Arthur Miller's play The Crucible. Cornell historian Mary Beth Norton now offers a significant reinterpretation of the events that (by her count) led to legal action against at least 144 people, 54 confessions of witchcraft, 19 hangings, and one "pressing to death ... by heavy stones." Norton's contribution is to contextualize what happened. She studies not just Salem itself, but all of Essex County and northern New England, because so many of the people involved in the witchcraft crisis didn't live in Salem proper. She also says these grim events must be understood in relation to King William's War, which the early Americans called the Second Indian War. This frontier conflict and the religious interpretations thrust upon it created the conditions for what happened in Salem and the surrounding region, which, says Norton, would not have occurred in the war's absence. As might be expected, her narrative does not proceed along traditional lines. It is driven more by the academic imperative to break scholarly ground than by the urge to tell a harrowing story. For readers interested in knowing what really happened at Salem, though, In the Devil's Snare may be the best source. --John J. Miller
(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 14 Apr 2011 12:38:09 -0400)
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. Mary Beth Norton 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. 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.
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