Witch-Hunt: Mysteries of the Salem Witch Trials by Marc Aronson
Published by: Atheneum Books for Young Readers
Review by: Dani Hoots
The mysteries behind the Salem Witch Trials has baffled scholars for many generations. What was the truth behind the witch accusations? Did people really believe that Salem was plagued by witches or was it some type of conspiracy to get rid of people that are not welcomed in society? In many cases, those who were accused were outsiders, mainly women who didn’t fit in what they considered a normal lifestyle. If you didn’t fit in, you could be seen as a witch. Salem, on the other hand, didn’t just have the stereotypical victims. It started the same, with people that didn’t fit in society, but moved to other people in society that were regular church goers and fit into the norm.
Marc Aronson does a great job going through the history of the Salem Witch Trials and proposing some questions that have come up through time.
Marc Aronson begins by giving us the introduction to the accused woman of witchcraft. Girls in the town accused Martha Carrier and said she was using demons to attack the girls. The transcript is given and to scholars now, it isn’t understood how people believed the accusers that made no sense compared to the calm Martha Carrier. Some believe that it was like a fairy tale, “the record of the world as many of our ancestors experienced it”(Aronson pg 8). These were things that people believed and feared, even if they may seem folklorish.
As explained earlier, most of the accused were women, 80% in the 16th and 17th century of England were and about the same percent was in New England as well. Witches were seen as medical helpers but also feared. They were someone who lost someone close and became angry and vengeful, not fitting in and believed to have turned to Satan for help. Cold landscapes, darkened skies, new English royalty, attacks by Native Americans, and Puritan belief all played a part in what was to come during the Salem Witch Trials. With all these things adding up, sounds and slight looks and things that couldn’t be explained were seen as curses. Aronson explains that “people accepted on faith a very different understanding of how the invisible world interacted with daily life”(pg 15). When these things seem real, they can play on how people viewed each other and things that are not understood yet. However, Salem’s story differs in that “cynical or angry or disturbed people used popular ideas about the powers of evil for their own evil ends” (pg 18).
Starting in Boston 1688 with the case of Mather vs Glover, the witch scare started. Glover was said to have bewitched a family after being accused of stealing linens. The family was said to have experience strange circumstances after the accused witch yelled things at them. During this time, a lot of Puritans who lived in Massachusetts believed in a simple life and that all the hardships they faced were for their pilgrimage. They feared being attacked by the devil at all times, an overall paranoia that could have intensified due to the massive witch hunts that were to come. With some superstition and folk magic that was brought over the Atlantic were seen as having a pact with the devil and those who did this type of magic were seen as responsible for any bad thing that happened.
To test a witch, one must be “harm[ed] by magical means”(pg 31). With the children of the family acting almost possessed, it wasn’t strange back then to blame someone of witchcraft, especially when that person threatened them. With a fear of the invisible world, people were always on the look out for anything strange.
With the Puritans seeing themselves as sinful and unworthy of the divine grace, they spent a lot of time in learning the Bible, going to Church, and trying to make themselves worthy. They feared the devil and thought he was going to try to stop them and tempt them to take away their chance of repenting and going to Heaven. With this type of mindset, the Salem families of Putnam and Porter had a fued leaving the Putnams to have little inheritance and deciding to make a new village, called Salem Village, to keep the Puritans pure from the secular world that was making its way to Salem. With Ann Putnam Jr hearing stories of wicked stepmothers, wickedness, and such things like fairytales against the Porters, along with Pastor Parris preaching of the war between good and evil, fear that devil could attack began to strengthen.
Having only pieces of what had happened, Aronson explains that during this time some people could have been getting into folk magic, the same as children nowadays playing with Ouija boards or tarot cards. One of these girls included Parris’ niece Abigail, but no records tells of what happened to her or if she was the one who was really doing magic. The children were affected in odd postures, unexplained pinches and bites that returned to normal the next day, numbness and unable to speak. Were these girls ashamed of what they did and acted out as if they were possessed? Were they just experimenting or did they know exactly what they were doing? These are all questions Aronson brings up in his novel. But one of the strange things during this time is that to find the witch, Parris used witchcraft. Did he not believe that witchcraft was of Satan and Satan is the Prince of Lies? If he believed this, why did he use witchcraft to figure out who was the witch?
Sarah Good, Sarah Osborne, and Tituba were all accused of witchcraft. Sarah Good was in her 30s, poor, a beggar, and not close to others while Sarah Osborne was living with a man after her husband’s death. Tituba on the other hand was an Indian working for John Putnam that did use voodoo-like magic. As you can see, these were the typical women who would be accused of witchcraft during this time. Only Tituba confused to witchcraft and said that the devil brought her a book and that there was a total of nine names on it, including both Sarahs, leaving people to fear more witches.
Ann Putnam was the center of everything that happened during this time. If there was a accusation, it most likely involved her. She was testified against seventeen of the ninteen hung. Did she just love the center of attention? Was she using these accusations to destroy everyone that hurt her? Was she an addicted? Not many know what her motives were or wither or not she actually believed these people to be witches.
After accusing the typical stereotype for a witch, Ann began to accuse others such as Martha Corey and Rebecca Nurse. Both of these woman were loyal church goers and Rebecca Nurse was in a wealthy marriage and respected in the community. They were investigated more thoroughly than the others due to their involvement with the church.
Another accuser was Abigail Williams. One thing that people saw was that the accusers were allowed to talk freely in the church, while before they weren’t allowed to speak out. Were these girls just suppressed and wanted to lash out in a way to be heard?
Martha Corey and Rebecca Nurse were taken to court and the accusers were too mad, too crazy for the people to listen to her honesty and reciting the Lord’s Prayer. This game was now completely out of control.
The next few chapters dealt with other cases of the accused and explained how there were no rulers in New England due to the shift of power to deal with the terror in Salem. Finally, though, Sir William Phips arrived as the governor and ordered that convicted withes must be executed. This included Bridget Bishop who some believe was an actual witch, claims of this going back twenty years before the Salem Witch Trials. My question is why wasn’t she one of the first to be tried if everyone knew her to be a witch?
Next was Burroughs, a minister who had two deceased wives, along with Daniel Andrew and John Alden. Now men were beginning to be accused, which was strange compared to many other cases in New England.
To save yourself from being hanged, you could confess to witchcraft and be freed. Some would confess but take it back in fear they would go to hell. Twenty more people were killed in those months and hung until “the blood was ready to come out of their noses”.
Next on the list was Mary Eastly who was close to stopping the trial but the madness spread like a disease and she was hung. Before being hanged, though, she proclaimed. “no more innocent blood may be shed”(pg 179). None were ever hung again and people admitted that maybe the devil took the form of the innocent, making those who were killed witches. Many admitted they were wrong except the accusers, who were quiet.
Ann apologized years later after her parents died, claiming herself as an instrument and avoided responsibility for those who were killed. Little was gained for the Putnams and none really are sure who was behind it.
Aronson ends his book in showing the different point of views scholars have taken and argued against each other throughout the years as to what really went on during the Salem Witch Trials. Some trends stayed the same, with women being accused more than men, fraud, and fear. Some even say that there could have been hallucinations due to the grains in the bread, but many believe that hypothesis to be false. However, we all know what our friends on the History Channel would say…
To conclude, this book is very well written, giving a brief overview of what happened during the Salem Witch Trials with an open point of view, not siding with any hypothesis in particular but letting the reader decide for themselves. If you are interested in any of these topics, I recommend picking this books up. I give it 5/5, being one of the best history books that I have read thus far. It is easy to understand and follow and leaves you wanting to learn more about this era of time.