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Sunday, 3 October 2010

In The Devil Snare The Salem Witchcraft Crisis Of 1692

In The Devil Snare The Salem Witchcraft Crisis Of 1692 Cover

Book: In The Devil Snare The Salem Witchcraft Crisis Of 1692 by Mary Beth Norton

Every historian dealing with the Salem witchcraft episode has attempted to explain "why Salem?" in terms of their own times. Reasons why have ranged from sheer fakery to mass hysteria to land greed or medical causes. Noted historian Mary Beth Norton has throughly combed through the surviving original records to arrive at a new and convincing explanation of the infamous 1692 witch crisis: the very real fear of Indian attacks on settlements in Massachusetts and Maine. Norton explores the news and letters of the times before and during 1692 to discover that Essex County MA residents were primarily concerned with the hit and run attacks on homes and settlements by Native Americans(some with French support). She bases her thesis on what she has found in original documents, rather than use the records to support her thesis. Puritans and others had very real reasons to be obsessed with the Devil in Massachusetts as they considered Native Americans Satan's agents.... Norton's narrative is most absorbing in relating the cause and effect of Native American attacks on colonial settlements.

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.

Two factors in Norton's work are most striking: 1)Just about everyone involved in the Salem witch episode had or knew of someone who had suffered losses in the eras now called King Philip's and King William's Wars, and 2)Nearly everyone involved was related to everyone else in some degree.

Norton rights many historical fallicies concerning the Salem witch episode(which she accurately terms Essex County witchcraft), focusing on the Andover area which had the highest concentration of witchcraft accusations and confessions, as well as Salem Town and Salem Village. Norton brings to light some "lost" information on accusers and accused as well, however noting that many documents may be forever lost due to deliberate destruction by either the originators and/or decendents of both accused and accusers, all wanting to preserve their families good names.

This fascinating and informationally dense book kept me up late two nights running to finish it. Norton also provides nearly 100 pages of notes and source materials, mostly of interest to serious amateur and professional historians, but full of interesting facts and further explanations.

The only real flaw in this best book I've encountered of the 1692 Witch Crisis(and I've read all of them, I believe) is that Norton uses the "they must have thought such and such" language of many of today's historians, rather than write "may" or "might", instead of "must"or "should". Norton does back up these "must" conclusions with evidence, however the reader may silently disagree upon rare occasion.

Altogether, this is a must-have book for those interested in "Salem 1692."

Buy Mary Beth Norton's book: In The Devil Snare The Salem Witchcraft Crisis Of 1692

Free eBooks (Can Be Downloaded):

John Mcdonald - The Devil Mark And Witch Prickers Of Scotland
Paul Boyer - The Salem Witchcraft Papers Vol 3
Paul Boyer - The Salem Witchcraft Papers Vol 2
George Miller Beard - The Psychology Of The Salem Witchcraft Excitement Of 1692