Sunday, January 14, 2018

The Salem Witch Trials: A Day-By-Day Chronicle of a Community Under Siege [Book Review]




Based on twenty-seven years of original archival research, including the discovery of previously unknown documents, this day-by-day narrative of the hysteria that swept through Salem Village in 1692 and 1693 reveals new connections behind the events, and shows how rapidly a community can descend into madness. 

Marilynne Roach opens her work with chapters on the history of the Puritan colonies of New England, and explains how these people regarded the metaphysical and the supernatural. 

It is crucial to recall that during the years 1692-97, there were numerous political issues. The Puritans distanced themselves from England, not yet having recognition as a “church” forming their own society away from Britain, the war with France was occurring that included the aid of the Indigenous, later left to survive and/or die when the war ended and after that, the Treaty of Ryswick obliged King Louis to finally acknowledge England’s Protestant succession.

The Puritans, who left England due to "religious persecution", feared their religion was under attack again and worried they were losing control of their colony. The political instability and threat to their religion created a feeling of uneasiness and discontent in the Massachusetts Bay Colony.

During these years, this small village started an anxiety ridden hysterical hunt after mostly women, and several men, based upon their dealings with the “devil” claiming innocent people were “witches” responsible for the antics of villagers coerced by their minister, Parris and other villagers.

Since the “accused witches” were considered dangerous prisoners, they were kept in a dungeon chained to the walls because jail officials believed this would prevent their spirits from fleeing jail and tormenting their victims.

English law at the time dictated that anyone who refused to enter a plea could be tortured in an attempt to force a plea out of them. This legal tactic was known as “peine forte et dure” which means “strong and harsh punishment.”

The torture consisted of laying the prisoner on the ground, naked, with a board placed on top of him. Heavy stones were loaded onto the board and the weight was gradually increased until the person either entered a plea or died.

Many modern theories suggest the accusers, starting with the young girls [who were apparently being attacked by “witches” and partly responsible for the witch hunts, along with adults that coerced, threatened and beat others into believing this rubbish] were suffering from epilepsy, boredom, child abuse, and/or mental illness.

This book is fantastic if one seeks a day to day account of what life was like during this time. It is not a book to be picked up and simply read, rather, studied. The author, Roach, is a historian and this book is an exemplary example of her work. This is THE “go to” book on all you ever need to know about the Salem Witch Trials.

The interesting aspects of this era and village is that divinatory methods, herbal healing, healers, folk medicine and “psychic” abilities and practices were commonplace. That alone is proof enough that mass hysteria and mental illness were responsible for the trials and deaths.

This historical account blatantly shows that this village and the people living in it, were beyond naive and filled with fear, hence, the horrid slaughter of innocent people based upon collective fear, judgment and the absolute insane mindsets of people where common sense, sense of self and self respect was never present. 


Everyday illnesses, deaths, random occurrences, noises, visions, marks on the body like moles, were all blamed on “witchcraft” and in todays world, the things that occurred are able to be explained medically, scientifically and spiritually.

This account has taught me that most, if not all of the people living in this village were beyond mentally deranged. Instead of needing a “religious” leader and community, perhaps psychiatrists, psychotherapists and trained mental health professionals would have recognized mass hysteria and prevented the sweeping fear that overtook Salem Village. 


Sadly, the accused had their land, livestock and all possessions taken from them. It points to a larger motive, not just fear and control, but land grabbing and greed.

As for why these victims were targeted in the first place, historians have noted that many of the accused were wealthy and held different religious beliefs than their accusers.

This, coupled with the fact that the accused also had their estates confiscated if they were convicted has led many historians to believe that religious feuds and property disputes played a big part in the witch trials.

To date, 120 people [88 women, 32 men] were suspected of “witchcraft” between 1638-91, most on trial repeatedly concluding in 121 trials involving 85 women and 36 men. 38 cases were slander suits brought against accusers.

Of the 83 witch trials, not the slander trials, which includes “spotty” record keeping, there were roughly 11-17 executions [all women, two men] occurring in Connecticut and Massachusetts, where the majority of the English population lived.

Others who were not hanged, but tortured to death, including suspected animals, evaded punishment, escaped jail, found not guilty, were pardoned, or died while jailed, added to the above numbers. 


There was never “burning at the stake” as most people assume.

In 1703, families, 21 people, of the accused and murdered started legal petitions to the General Courts. The Courts found all evidence against the murdered and accused to be weak and insufficient.

It was not until 1712 that the names of the executed and accused were cleared and their families given reparation based on testimony from living accusers and the financial gains of Reverend Parris, now made public. The Courts decided that “original charges came from people influenced by evil spirits then, and [some of them] “of profligate and vicious” lives now.

Legally, it was not until 2001, that the state of Massachusetts amended a 1957 "apology" in addition to the initial 1712 reparations, and legally cleared the names of the remaining unnamed victims.

The true evil existed only within the people that lied, allowing the innocent to be brutally killed. True evil exists only within those that lead the naive into the dark. 



 You can find this book at your local library or HERE 

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