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Paranoia, the Devil, and Witchcraft: Books on the Salem Witch Trials

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arresting a witch
Arresting a Witch. Image ID: 834520

When I was younger I was fascinated by the Salem Witch Trials, so it was a real treat when I finally went to Salem, Massachusetts, this fall to see the memorial there. I was struck by the simplicity of it. Just the names of the falsely accused and hanged carved into individual pieces of granite and I started thinking of why I was so fascinated by this period of history in the first place.

Was it the fact that so many people, mainly women, were wrongfully convicted and murdered for “consorting with the devil”? Was it the fact that almost all the accusers were young girls? That there's no definitive answers for why it happened?

Salem Village was so claustrophobic, insular and filled with paranoia, jealousy and greed. Add in the fear of an all-seeing God, that witches were real and impressionable teen girls with a flair for dramatics and you have a heady mix ripe for chaos and evil—of the human kind. Keeping all that in mind, I’ve put together a list of some of my favorite nonfiction and fiction books on the Salem Witch Trials, from NYPL’s children’s, YA and adult collections.

First, some background. The Salem Witch Trials took place in 1692 in Salem Village, Massachusetts in what is now the town of Danvers, MA about 5 miles from Salem (20 miles from Boston). It was a small, isolated community of mainly farmers. It was winter, the nights were long and the inhabitants feared that they could be hit with Indian attacks at any moment. In late January, the daughter of Reverend Parris, Betty Parris and her cousin Abigail Williams started acting strangely. They contorted limbs, convulsed and crouched and cowered in terror. Soon other young girls joined them in these strange acts. A doctor said they were bewitched. In a moment of calm, the girls named three local women as their tormentors and accused them of being witches. All that spring and summer, there were trials where the girls named their tormentors and saw devils and ghostly specters. By the time the trials were shut down at the end of October, about 200 people would be accused, 50 would confess, 5 would die in jail, 19 would be hanged and one, Giles Corey, would be pressed to death. The questions of course are why did this happen and how could it have happened? With no real answers there’s only unproven theories. You’ll have to read the accounts, the theories and stories and figure that part out for yourself.

Nonfiction

Witch-Hunt: Mysteries of the Salem Witch Trials by Marc Aronson ( Teen)
Aronson lays out all the theories. Was it a rebellious teenager? A trick gone bad? Spoiled food causing hallucinations? An undercurrent of pagan faith? Plain old fear and paranoia of the "different"? Dig into the truth and debate the facts for yourself.

The Witches

A Storm of Witchcraft: The Salem Witch Trials and the American Experience by Emerson W. Baker (Adult)
Perhaps it wasn't just one or two things that caused the trials to occur? Baker theorizes that it was a "perfect storm" of unique conditions that caused the villagers of Salem to lose it. An interesting perspective on the events of Salem and its legacy.

The Penguin Book of Witches ed. by Katherine Howe (Adult)
Full of actual first hand testimonies of the accused witches of Salem, trial transcripts, examinations of witnesses, warrants for arrest as well as transcripts for other witch trials in England and the colonies. A treasure trove for the curious!

Witches and Witch-Hunts: A History of Persecution by Milton Meltzer (Childrens)
Why were the people of Salem so afraid of witches? What are we so afraid of now? Meltzer looks at the fear and hysteria surrounding witches and witchcraft.

Witches

Six Women of Salem: The Untold Story of the Accused and their Accusers in the Salem Witch Trials by Marilynne K. Roach (Adult)
Who were the women involved and what happened to them? Here are in-depth and interweaving histories of some of the women of Salem Village, before and after the trials occurred.

Witches! The Absolute True Tale of Disaster in Salem by Rosalyn Schanzer (Childrens)
"Across the wide ocean they came..."  with these words the author begins a thorough examination of the horrors of 1692 and the history leading up to them. Contains wonderful woodcut illustrations.

The Witches: Salem, 1692 by Stacy Schiff (Adult)
Award winning author and researcher Stacy Schiff brings the witch trials to life in this brand new book. She highlights the roles of women and offers new insights into the tragic events.

Who Were the Accused Witches of Salem? by Laura Hamilton Waxman (Children)
Short on time? Part of a series on U.S. History, it explores all the key ingredients of the tragedy and the people involved.

Fiction

Tituba

I, Tituba: Black Witch of Salem Village by Maryse Conde; translated by Richard Philcox (Adult)
A reimagined history of Tituba, the Barbadian slave of Reverend Samuel Parris, the minister of Salem Village. Raised by an old woman and taught herbal healing and how to communicate with the spirit world, Tituba uses her skills to help the Parris family but is misunderstood by the Puritan villagers and is accused of witchcraft. Often a footnote to history, here she proudly tells her story of survival.

The House of Seven Gables by Nathaniel Hawthorne (Adult/ Teen)
Set in Salem, a house has become evil—cursed and haunted by its dead. The house was seized by Colonel Pyncheon from Matthew Maule, who he tried and executed for being a witch. However, before his death Mr. Maule cursed Pyncheon and all his descendants to lives of misery and horrible deaths. Now 150 years later, descendants Clifford and Phoebe must try and break free from the burdens and tragedies of the past.  Author Hawthorne was a descendant of a judge of the witch trials and he also visited the Salem house he based the book on.

Deliverance

Wicked Girls by Stephanie Hemphill (Teen)
"We are not chosen to see. We have been choosing who we see."  —Mercy Lewis
It all started as a simple way to past the long winter nights, to tell each other's fortunes and guess at who their husband's would be but in the hand's of jealous queen bee Ann Putnam it becomes much more. Told in verse, we get the stories of accusers: Ann Putnam, her beautiful servant Mercy Lewis and her cousin Margaret Walcott.

Deliverance from Evil by Frances Hill (Adult)
As Salem descends into the madness of 1692, Reverend George Burroughs, a young eccentric, minister - formerly of Salem and now living in Maine—stands accused of being the witches' leader. His wife Mary and friend, Capt. White, must move heaven and Earth to prove him innocent.

The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane by Katherine Howe (Adult)
While clearing out her grandmother's house, Ph.d student Connie finds a hidden key wrapped in a piece of parchment with the name "Deliverance Dane" written on it. She discovers that Deliverance was a herbalist and wise woman who lived in Salem Village in 1692 but what is her connection to the family and the house and why is Connie suddenly having nightmarish visions of the trials? Author Howe is a descendant of two accused Salem witches.

Witch child

The Heretic's Daughter by Kathleen Kent (Adult)
Sarah is only 10 years old when she witnesses her mother Martha Carrier and her three older brothers arrested on charges of witchcraft. Martha will not lie to save her own skin but she tells her children to—anything to keep them from the hangman's noose. But why were Martha and her family accused—could it have something to do with a property dispute with an uncle? A story of family, sacrifice and betrayal. Author Kent is a descendant of accused/ condemned witch Martha Carrier.

Witch Child by Celia Rees (Teen)
In 1659 England, Mary Newbury witnesses the hanging, for witchcraft, of the woman who raised her. To keep her safe from accusations, she is whisked away by a beautiful stranger, who puts her on a boat bound for Puritan Massachusetts. She's told to never speak of her childhood or "abilities" and to be a good Puritan girl. This is her diary.

Blackbird Pond

A Break with Charity by Ann Rinaldi (Childrens)
It begins in 1706 with Susanna English looking back at what happened during those fateful days of 1692. She knew there was wickedness happening in the Parris's kitchen, the girls playing a dangerous game—she's intrigued but repelled at the same time. However, she didn't speak out instead she got caught up in all the drama, and then it was too late to save her family and the village of Salem.

The Witch of Blackbird Pond by Elizabeth George Speare (Childrens)
In 1687, after her father dies, Kit Tyler travels from her island home of Barbados to Puritan Connecticut to live with her Aunt. When she defies the community and befriends a wise woman, many consider a witch, she is put on trial for witchcraft. One of my all time favorite books!

Father of Lies by Ann Turner (Teen)
Lidda hears voices and has visions but in 1692 Salem, that can get you hanged. She knows the other girls are lying but to expose them she might expose herself.

Comments

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To clarify, Danvers is about

To clarify, Danvers is about 5 miles away from Salem. The modern day towns of Salem, Danvers, Beverly and Peabody comprised Salem Village. These towns are all about 20 miles north of Boston. Great list of books!

oops!

I did mean Boston! I will fix it!

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