In The Devil’s Snare

In The Devil's Snare
In her new book In the Devil’s Snare: The Salem Witchcraft Crisis of 1692 author Mary Beth Norton reexamines the famous witchcraft hysteria and its aftermath.

She begins by pointing out several myths about the crisis: First, the nexus of the crisis actually developed in Salem Village, which is now the city of Danvers and not in Salem Town, the modern city of Salem where the trials occurred. Second, the crisis was one that encompassed all of Essex County not just Salem Village; in fact, she says that the events would be better termed the Essex County Witchcraft Crisis.

Her major thesis is that the crisis was triggered by the psychological effects of the Second Indian War, an aspect of King William’s War, occurring on Maine’s frontier from 1688 through 1698—and, she says, to the poor response to the attacks by those responsible for the colonist’s defense. In that war, the Wabanaki Indians devastated many of the towns of Maine and New Hampshire, forcing the abandonment of outlying settlements. Many of those driven out resettled in Essex County and were directly involved in the witchcraft crisis, either as accusers or confessors.

She presents a good case connecting the participants to the Indian War, and showing how the ruthlessness of the Indian attacks changed the nature of the maleficium being reported. But she is less convincing in her case that the failure of the military and political leadership in the war was itself a driving force in the crisis erupting out of control the way it did. Still, I would highly recommend this book.

The University of Virginia is hosting a project publishing all the records from the Witch Trials online.

I’ve had a had a special interest in the subject because my mother grew up in the converted barn of Elizabeth Howe from Topsfield who was accused and subsequently hanged at Gallows Hill, Salem, July 19th, 1692.

» Posted: Tuesday, January 7, 2003 | Permanent Link

The Diary of Samuel Pepys

Samuel Pepys

What a great idea: somebody is taking the diary of Samuel Pepys and turning it into a daily weblog. Apparently it’s being transcribed directly from the diary itself, each day following the dating of the diary itself.

Pepys of course wrote during some of the greatest events in London history, The Great Plague of 1665 and The Great Fire of 1666. Daniel Defoe famously wrote about life in London during the plague in his novel A Journal of the Plague Year, but Pepys writes from the perspective of someone actually living in the city at the time.

He was also writing during a time when London was a much more human–scale city. The street layout of the central core, “The Square Mile,” hasn’t really changed much since it was recorded in Braun and Hogenberg’s famous map of the city, engraved around 1560.

» Posted: Thursday, January 2, 2003 | Permanent Link


Woody Guthrie

Below are the lyrics to a typical Woody Guthrie masterpiece, “Lindbergh,” which castigates Charles Lindbergh for his involvement in the America First Committee. Guthrie, who had a sticker on his guitar that read, “This Machine Kills Fascists,” was disgusted at the site of an American hero’s involvement in a movement that seemed anti-Semitic and appeasing of German aggression. Lindbergh himself had a relationship with Nazi Germany that has cast a pall over his legacy, although he firmly supported the war once it began.

Here is how Guthrie put his feelings to song:

Mister Charlie Lindbergh, he flew to old Berlin,
Got ‘im a big Iron Cross, and he flew right back again
To Washington, Washington.

Misses Charlie Lindbergh, she come dressed in red,
Said: “I’d like to sleep in that pretty White house bed
In Washington, Washington.”

Lindy said to Annie: “We’ll get there by and by,
But we’ll have to split the bed up with Hoover, Clark, and Nye
In Washington, Washington.”

Hitler wrote to Lindy, said “Do your very worst,”
So Lindy started an outfit that he called America First
In Washington, Washington.

All around the country, Lindbergh he did fly,
And the gasoline was paid for by Hoover, Clark, and Nye
In Washington, Washington.

Lindy said to Hoover: “We’ll do the same as France:
Make a deal with Hitler, and then we’ll get our chance
In Washington, Washington.”

Then they had a meetin’, and all the Firsters come,
Come on a-walkin’, they come on a-runnin’,
(Washington, Washington)

Yonder comes Father Coughlin, wearin’ the silver chain,
Cash on his stomach and Hitler on the brain.
(Washington, Washington)

Mister John L. Lewis would sit and straddle a fence,
‘Cause his daughter signed with Lindbergh, and we ain’t seen her since
(Washington, Washington)

Hitler said to Lindy: “Stall ‘em all you can,
We’re gonna bomb Pearl Harbor with the help of old Japan.”
(Washington, Washington)

Then on a December mornin’, the bombs come from Japan,
Wake Island and Pearl Harbor, kill fifteen hundred men.
(Washington, Washington)

Lindy tried to join the army, but they wouldn’t let ‘im in,
‘Fraid he’d sell to Hitler a few more million men.
(Washington, Washington)

So I’m gonna tell you people: If Hitler’s gonna be beat,
The common workin’ people has got to take the seat
In Washington, Washington.

And I’m gonna tell you workers, ‘fore you cash in your checks:
They say “America First,” but they mean “America Next,”
In Washington, Washington.

This particular song is available on The Asch Recordings —specifically volume one, but the whole set is worth every penny you’d pay for it.

Here is a great RealAudio segment from NPR featuring interviews with Guthrie discussing growing up in Oklahoma and his early career—as well as the ambivalence towards him in his hometown.

» Posted: Wednesday, January 1, 2003 | Permanent Link