The Place: SALEM, MASSACHUSETTS. The year: 1692. Against the backdrop of a Puritan theocracy threatened by change, in a population terrified not only of eternal damnation but also 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 episode: transcripts of the examinations of suspected witches, eyewitness accounts of "Satanic influence," and the testimony of those who retained their reason and defied the madness. Always drawing on first-hand sources, 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.
"America’s possession obsession really goes back to 1692, when twenty men and women suspected of witchery were killed in Salem, Massachusetts. THE SALEM WITCH TRIALS READER (Da Capo), compiled by Frances Hill, gathers commentaries by such luminaries as Increase Mather, Arthur Miller, and Nathaniel Hawthorne, whose great-great-grandfather was involved in the witch-hunt. Hill’s compendium reminds us that sometimes those driven to cast out demons are the ones who are truly possessed."
The New Yorker
"Which sticks must be laid, and in what pattern, on the political and cultural and social bonfire in order to start a blaze like the Salem witch trials or the McCarthy hearings or, as Frances Hill points out in her introduction, the McMartin Pre-School case in California, in which seven people were acquitted of Satanic child sex abuse? Between June 10 and Sept. 22, 1692, 19 people were hanged for witchcraft, and one was pressed to death. . . . This book contains excerpts from such texts as the 1608 "A Discourse on the Damned Art of Witchcraft" and the first book on witchcraft, written in 1486, "Malleus Maleficarum" (Witch Hammer). Excerpts from Parris' sermons and letters and various court documents, as well as excerpts from historians explanations (from Cotton Mather to Elaine Breslaw's 1996 book on Tituba), provide at least a taste of every ingredient in this American episode."
Los Angeles Times
"The voices behind the Salem witch trials have come alive, but they aren't meant to conjure up a Halloween haunting. British author Frances Hill has written a book that provides a genuine historical perspective on the witchhunt by using first-person accounts from the infamous 17th century trials that led to 20 people being executed and hundreds of others sent to prison."
The Miami Herald
". . . it is easy to marvel at this intriguing collection of excerpts. . ."
Library Journal, New York, NY
"An invaluable resource."
Karen Armstrong, author of A History of God
"Superb . . . edited with intelligence and imagination."
Susan Cahill, editor of Wise Women
"Must reading for anyone interested in early American history."
Alan Schaffer, Clemson University