The Salem Witch Crisis

The Salem Witch Crisis

The Salem Witch Crisis

The Salem Witch Crisis

Synopsis

The inclination of recent scholars has been to portray the people of 17th-century Massachusetts as helpless victims of powerful economic, social, and psychological forces. Many recent accounts cite entrenched sexual hostility, chronic generational conflicts, or the clash of capitalist and peasant cultures. Rather than seeing the people of Salem Village and the surrounding communities as being swept along by the forces of historical change, Gragg makes a very strong case that the people involved (whether they were clergymen, judges, accusers, or the accused) were active participants, who made decisions that shaped the outcome of events in 1692.

Excerpt

Three hundred years ago, the people in and around Salem, Massachusetts, engaged in the most massive witch hunt in American history. Authorities arrested over 150 suspects from more than two dozen towns, juries convicted twenty-eight, and nineteen were hanged. Recent scholarship on this topic has been substantial. In the past two decades, studies emphasizing economic conflict, sexual hostility, religious division, challenges to the legal system, and exaggerated fears of witch cults have modified long-held notions about early American witchcraft. However, this revisionary work, with all its new insights, generally has not been written for the general reader. Instead, these tend to be specialized works based on the often arcane methodologies of the social sciences. While drawing on this valuable body of research, I have adopted a narrative style that presents the events in chronological order. Within that framework, I have focused on the impact that individuals' decisions had on the outcome of events. This is an old-fashioned approach, one based on the belief that history is first and foremost a good story.

As all specialists in this growing area of the colonial period of American history will quickly note, I am indebted to the work of a host of scholars, notably Paul Boyer, John Demos, Richard Gildrie, David Hall, Chadwick Hansen, Carol Karlsen, Lyle Koehler, David Thomas Konig, Stephen Nissenbaum, Richard Trask, and Richard Weisman. I hope readers will consult their often challenging, specialized studies to deepen their understanding of this engaging topic.

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