The Salem Witch Trials Reader

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Against the backdrop of a Puritan theocracy threatened by change, in a population terrified not only of eternal damnation but of the earthly dangers of Indian massacres and recurrent smallpox epidemics, a small group of girls denounces a black slave and others as worshipers of Satan. Within two years, twenty men and women are hanged or pressed to death and over a hundred others imprisoned and impoverished. In The Salem Witch Trials Reader, Frances Hill provides and astutely comments upon the actual documents from the trial—examinations of suspected witches, eyewitness accounts of "Satanic influence," as well as the testimony of those who retained their reason and defied the madness. Always drawing on firsthand documents, she illustrates the historical background to the witchhunt and shows how the trials have been represented, and sometimes distorted, by historians—and how they have fired the imaginations of poets, playwrights, and novelists. For those fascinated by the Salem witch trials, this is compelling reading and the sourcebook.

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Editorial Reviews

Hill takes on the ambitious task of compiling a text that will present the broadest possible outlook on the events in Salem in the early 1690s. Starting with excerpts from texts on witchcraft as early as the 15th century through to the work of both Increase and Cotton Mather, Hill moves on to texts that attempt to give a historical sense of a Puritan settlement beset by the fear of Indian raids. The chronicle of the witch hunt itself is told through contemporary accounts, most especially from the writings of Robert Calef, the Reverend George Burroughs (himself hanged as a witch) and extensive citations from the Reverend Samuel Parris, the Salem Village minister, whom Hill labels bluntly as a sociopath. Most valuably, perhaps, the last third of the Reader contains excerpts from historians and writers from the 17 to the end of the 20th century. The historians evaluate the witch trial experience as anything from the work of the devil to the excesses of Puritanism on a frightened settlement, from the social rivalry between an established agrarian community and rising bourgeois capitalism to poisoning by ergot, a rye fungus. Everyone has a theory; no one has a solution. The fiction writers, from Hawthorne to Arthur Miller, explore the events from their own view. Most striking, perhaps, is the inclusion of Arthur Miller's 1996 essay from the New Yorker, "Why I Wrote The Crucible," an account of his experience of a similar paranoia during the McCarthy era. Sometimes books entitled "readers" allow one to pick and chose the material to be read. This is not such a book. The sweep of this material demands a total reading. Highly recommended in combination with Carlson's A Fever in Salem, reviewedabove. KLIATT Codes: SA—Recommended for senior high school students, advanced students, and adults. 2000, Perseus/Da Capo Press, 415p,illus, notes, bibliog, index, 23cm, 00-043163, $18.00. Ages 16 to adult. Reviewer: Patricia A. Moore; Academic Resource Ctr., Emmanuel College, Boston, MA (retired) January 2001 (Vol. 35 No. 1)
Library Journal
Documentary collections provide startling insights into historical events and issues because they transmit tone and texture through the words of the participants. This collection on the Salem witch trials is a good example, especially since witchcraft itself is such a peculiar and mesmerizing topic to 21st-century readers. The book is divided into sections devoted to background, the witch hunt as told through personal accounts, the people involved (both hunters and hunted), and the treatment of the Salem witch trials in history and literature. Among the materials included are trial transcripts, eyewitness accounts, church records, and letters. The book's strength is its ability to illuminate the emotions of the time through the words of the historical players. Its weakness, perhaps the weakness of all documentary collections, is that it implies that this is all there is. What must be kept in mind--particularly with regard to the section on the historians' view of Salem--is that much more than what is offered here has actually been written about Salem. Once that is understood, it is easy to marvel at this intriguing collection of excerpts. Recommended for academic and larger public libraries.--Bonnie Collier, Yale Law Lib. Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780306809460
  • Publisher: Da Capo Press
  • Publication date: 10/1/2000
  • Pages: 440
  • Sales rank: 417,328
  • Product dimensions: 5.94 (w) x 8.96 (h) x 0.99 (d)

Meet the Author

Frances Hill is an accomplished journalist and novelist whose previous book on the Salem witch trials, A Delusion of Satan, was called "carefully researched and compelling" by Karen Armstrong, the author of A History of God. She lives in London.

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Sort by: Showing 1 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted March 23, 2005

    Another Great Salem Resource

    This book is another excellent source of information for the happenings at Salem. Great to add to your libary.

    3 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
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