In The Devil’s SnareIn 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.