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A Storm of Witchcraft: The Salem Trials and…

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

by Emerson W. Baker

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Thoroughly researched and well-written. Baker combines genealogy with detailed historical analysis to tell the most complete story of the outbreak of the Salem witch accusations and trials. His close attention to the location of people both physically and in family contexts with property disputes complements mastery of historical context - the trauma of ongoing war with the Wabanaki, the loss of the Massachusetts Bay Charter, disputes about moral reformation and returning to the original Puritan vision for the colony vs a general loosening of church discipline, the breakdown of the legal system as a result of the charter change, and the struggles of various players to maintain or better their status. Baker combines these masterfully. And he goes on to assess the aftermath -- how did this fractious society come back together painfully over the generations. My only criticism is that I sometimes found it very difficult -- despite Baker's attempts to make matters as easy as possible -- to follow the interrelationships of all the actors, and there is quite a cast. Altogether, however, an excellent read that I heartily recommend to anyone interested in the complex history of the Salem trials, and indeed, of New England colonial history. There is much meat here. ( )
  johnjmeyer | Feb 21, 2016 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 019989034X, Hardcover)

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.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:10:09 -0400)

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