A Storm of Witchcraft: The Salem Trials and the American Experience

A Storm of Witchcraft: The Salem Trials and the American Experience

by Emerson W. Baker


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Beginning in January 1692, Salem Village in colonial Massachusetts witnessed the largest and most lethal outbreak of witchcraft in early America. Villagers—mainly young women—suffered from unseen torments that caused them to writhe, shriek, and contort their bodies, complaining of pins stuck into their flesh and of being haunted by specters. Believing that they suffered from assaults by an invisible spirit, the community began a hunt to track down those responsible for the demonic work. The resulting Salem Witch Trials, culminating in the execution of 19 villagers, persists as one of the most mysterious and fascinating events in American history.

Historians have speculated on a web of possible causes for the witchcraft that stated in Salem and spread across the region-religious crisis, ergot poisoning, an encephalitis outbreak, frontier war hysteria—but most agree that there was no single factor. Rather, as Emerson Baker illustrates in this seminal new work, Salem was "a perfect storm": a unique convergence of conditions and events that produced something extraordinary throughout New England in 1692 and the following years, and which has haunted us ever since.

Baker shows how a range of factors in the Bay colony in the 1690s, including a new charter and government, a lethal frontier war, and religious and political conflicts, set the stage for the dramatic events in Salem. Engaging a range of perspectives, he looks at the key players in the outbreak—the accused witches and the people they allegedly bewitched, as well as the judges and government officials who prosecuted them—and wrestles with questions about why the Salem tragedy unfolded as it did, and why it has become an enduring legacy.

Salem in 1692 was a critical moment for the fading Puritan government of Massachusetts Bay, whose attempts to suppress the story of the trials and erase them from memory only fueled the popular imagination. Baker argues that the trials marked a turning point in colonial history from Puritan communalism to Yankee independence, from faith in collective conscience to skepticism toward moral governance. A brilliantly told tale, A Storm of Witchcraft also puts Salem's storm into its broader context as a part of the ongoing narrative of American history and the history of the Atlantic World.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780190627805
Publisher: Oxford University Press
Publication date: 10/01/2016
Series: Pivotal Moments in American History Series
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 416
Sales rank: 194,430
Product dimensions: 5.50(w) x 8.20(h) x 1.10(d)

About the Author

Emerson W. Baker is Professor of History at Salem State University. He is the author of The Devil of Great Island: Witchcraft and Conflict in Early New England, and co-author of an award-winning biography of Sir William Phips.

Table of Contents

Introduction: An Old Valuables Chest
Chapter One: Satan's Storm
Chapter Two: The City upon a Hill
Chapter Three: Drawing Battle Lines in Salem Village
Chapter Four: The Afflicted
Chapter Five: The Accused
Chapter Six: The Judges
Chapter Seven: An Inextinguishable Flame
Chapter Eight: Salem End
Chapter Nine: Witch City?

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A Storm of Witchcraft: The Salem Trials and the American Experience 4.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 2 reviews.
Anonymous 10 months ago
I am a high school sophomore and I read this book for my research project. I really enjoyed this book and I highly recommend this for others to read. This book really opened my eyes and gave me a better understanding how the Salem Witch Trials were. Throughout middle school, I only learned the basic information about the Salem Witch Trails. Reading this book, I got to learn how it all started and the different people that had to go through this experience. I got to learn how this was one of the most gruesome events that has happened throughout history. This was an unfortunate thing that has happened especially to women, and one of the biggest things I think that we have stuck with even today is labeling. We as a society label people that seem different from everyone else. People sometimes aren’t used to new beliefs and opinions that others have and I think that people grow in fear. Not a lot of people talk about this event that has happened, and I believe that it should be brought up in schools more so people and kids can have a better understanding of what happened. Thank you for giving me a better opportunity to gain more knowledge about the Salem Witch Trials.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago