The Devil's Disciples: The Makers of the Salem Witchcraft Trials

Overview

Mention the term witch hunt, and Salem, Massachusetts, springs to mind—and with it the power of superstition, the danger of mob mentality, and our natural fear of gross injustice. For more than a year, between January 1692 and May 1693, the men and women of Salem village lived in heightened fear of witches and their master, the Devil. Hundreds were accused of practicing witchcraft. Many suspects languished in jail for months. Nineteen men and women were hanged; one was pressed to death. Neighbors turned against ...

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Overview

Mention the term witch hunt, and Salem, Massachusetts, springs to mind—and with it the power of superstition, the danger of mob mentality, and our natural fear of gross injustice. For more than a year, between January 1692 and May 1693, the men and women of Salem village lived in heightened fear of witches and their master, the Devil. Hundreds were accused of practicing witchcraft. Many suspects languished in jail for months. Nineteen men and women were hanged; one was pressed to death. Neighbors turned against neighbors, children informed on their parents, and ministers denounced members of their congregations. How could a settled community turn so viciously against itself? Why were certain persons accused and condemned while others were not? And why did the incidents of Salem occur where and when they did?

Approaching the subject as a legal and social historian, Peter Charles Hoffer offers a fresh look at the Salem outbreak based on recent studies of panic rumors, teen hysteria, child abuse, and intrafamily relations. He brings to life a set of conversations—in taverns and courtrooms, at home and work—which took place among suspected witches, accusers, witnesses, and spectators. The accusations, denials, and confessions of this legal story eventually resurrect the tangled internal tensions that lay at the bottom of the Salem witch hunts.

Johns Hopkins University Press

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Editorial Reviews

William and Mary Quarterly - Mike McGiffert

This engaged account of New England's most notorious crisis fuses scholarly craft and chutzpah with the skills of a master story teller. The author's expertise as a legal historian, coupled with explorations of oral culture and informed conjectures on such topics as Tituba's origins and 'recovered' memories of child abuse, give The Devil's Disciples a distinguished place in the ever-lengthening line of Salem witchcraft studies.

Books and Culture - David C. Downing

A welcome recent edition is Peter Charles Hoffer's The Devil's Disciples (1996), which offers biographical and historical contexts while deliberately avoiding the kind of Procrustean thesis that has skewed so many earlier studies.

New England Historical and Genealogical Register - Jennifer M. Mitten

In this fascinating and well-researched study, Peter Charles Hoffer examines the events at Salem in both their social and legal contexts... Anyone interested in history of American culture or the development of the legal system will enjoy this book. It reads like a good novel in that you cannot wait to see what happens next, even though the verdicts were passed in 1692.

American Historical Review

A superb legal scholar, Hoffer provides an excellent discussion of the procedures and evidence used in the trials. He reveals that grand juries demanded more tangible evidence of witchcraft that the assertions of afflicted adolescent girls before issuing indictments. Hoffer then demonstrates that, in determining the guilt of the accused, the trial juries essentially followed the lead of the judges, who were insufficiently prepared for witchcraft cases.

Journal of American History

Hoffer's central argument is persuasive and significant... [He] furthers understanding of Salem witchcraft by comparing it to allegations of satanic abuse and child molestation in our own time. Without denying the existence of child abuse today or the importance of exposing it to public view, Hoffer compares the Salem witchcraft hysteria to the collective fantasies of victimization that have overtaken United States communities in recent years... [He] demonstrates the continued relevance of the Salem episode and its important place in American history.

New England Historical and Genealogical Register

Reads like a good novel... You cannot wait to see what happens next, even though the verdicts were passed in 1692.

Books & Culture
A welcome recent edition is Peter Charles Hoffer's The Devil's Disciples (1996), which offers biographical and historical contexts while deliberately avoiding the kind of Procrustean thesis that has skewed so many earlier studies.

— David C. Downing

Booknews
Hoffer (history, U. of Georgia) approaches the Salem witch trials as a legal and social historian, looking at the phenomenon in light of recent studies of panic rumors, teen hysteria, child abuse, and intrafamily relations, and detailing the event in a narrative style. Includes an appendix on the origins of Tituba, the original "witch" in the trials. Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780801852015
  • Publisher: Johns Hopkins University Press
  • Publication date: 4/1/1998
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 296
  • Sales rank: 484,264
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 0.68 (d)

Meet the Author

Peter Charles Hoffer is Research Professor of History at the University of Georgia and the author of numerous books on early American law and history, including the second edition of Law and People in Colonial America, also available from Johns Hopkins.

Johns Hopkins University Press

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Table of Contents

Preface
Acknowledgments
Prologue: Tituba 1
Ch. 1 Samuel Paris 17
Ch. 2 Salem Village 39
Ch. 3 Witchcakes 60
Ch. 4 Betty's People 82
Ch. 5 Accusations and Confessions 102
Ch. 6 The Diviners 131
Ch. 7 Trials 154
Ch. 8 Pardon 179
Conclusion 199
Appendix What's in a Name?
Tituba's Origins 205
Notes 211
Index 271
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