In the Devil's Snare

In the Devil's Snare

The Salem Witchcraft Crisis of 1692

Book - 2002
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In January 1692 in Salem Village, Massachusetts, two young girls began to suffer from inexplicable fits. Seventeen months later, after legal action had been taken against 144 people--20 of them put to death--the ignominious Salem witchcraft trials finally came to an end. Now, Mary Beth Norton--one of our most ad-mired historians--gives us a unique account of the events at Salem, helping us to understand them as they were understood by those who lived through the frenzy. Describing the situation from a seventeenth-century perspective, Norton examines the crucial turning points, the accusers, the confessors, the judges, and the accused, among whom were thirty-eight men. She shows how the situation spiraled out of control following a cascade of accusations beginning in mid-April. She explores the role of gossip and delves into the question of why women and girls under the age of twenty-five, who were the most active accusers and who would normally be ignored by male magistrates, were suddenly given absolute credence. Most important of all, Norton moves beyond the immediate vicinity of Salem to demonstrate how the Indian wars on the Maine frontier in the last quarter of that century stunned the collective mindset of northeastern New England and convinced virtually everyone that they were in the devil's snare. And she makes clear that ultimate responsibility for allowing the crisis to reach the heights it did must fall on the colony's governor, council, and judges. A vivid, authoritative historical evocation and exploration that will alter forever the way we think about one of the most perennially fascinating and horrifying events in our history.
Publisher: New York : Alfred A. Knopf, 2002.
ISBN: 9780375407093
Characteristics: 436 p. ;,25 cm.


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Sep 24, 2014

A refreshing view on the Salem Witchcraft Crisis in that Norton does not limit her scope to that of Salem Village. She widens the view to include Maine and reflects on how the Second Indian War may have been a differentiating factor in how the Salem crisis played out.

Nov 25, 2013

Almost everything Americans know about the Salem Witch Trials is from Arthur Miller's "The Crucible," which is really about McCarthyism. I'm teaching the play to high school students and wanted to get a little more historical context. Norton's book is thoroughly researched, but also a little exhausting for the common reader. She admirably refrains from modern judgement, but I also would have liked a little more commentary. Still, it's an important book for anyone interested in this fascinating/terrifying period in our history, and I did learn the John Proctor, unlike the character in the play, was in his 60s.

Dec 05, 2009

I didn't so much read this as dip in and out of it. It's a meticulously researched book written by yet another descendant of an accused witch in Salem and its surrounding areas. Mary Beth Norton is an academic at Cornell (I think) and is also descended from some of the accusers and judges. (They were all pretty much intermarried; there weren't that many of them as they had only been in America for three or four generations in 1692.)

Norton addresses the existing theories for the cause of the hysteria, and adds one of her own: nearly everyone involved had some sort of connection with the Indian Wars of the time, which had resulted in slaughters and kidnappings to the north in Maine.

A good book for learning more about the historical context of this famous witch hunt.

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