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on September 18, 2002
Every historian dealing with the Salem witchcraft episode has attempted to explain "why Salem?" in terms of their own times. Reasons why have ranged from sheer fakery to mass hysteria to land greed or medical causes. Noted historian Mary Beth Norton has throughly combed through the surviving original records to arrive at a new and convincing explanation of the infamous 1692 witch crisis: the very real fear of Indian attacks on settlements in Massachusetts and Maine. Norton explores the news and letters of the times before and during 1692 to discover that Essex County MA residents were primarily concerned with the hit and run attacks on homes and settlements by Native Americans(some with French support). She bases her thesis on what she has found in original documents, rather than use the records to support her thesis. Puritans and others had very real reasons to be obsessed with the Devil in Massachusetts as they considered Native Americans Satan's agents.... Norton's narrative is most absorbing in relating the cause and effect of Native American attacks on colonial settlements.
Two factors in Norton's work are most striking: 1)Just about everyone involved in the Salem witch episode had or knew of someone who had suffered losses in the eras now called King Philip's and King William's Wars, and 2)Nearly everyone involved was related to everyone else in some degree.
Norton rights many historical fallicies concerning the Salem witch episode(which she accurately terms Essex County witchcraft), focusing on the Andover area which had the highest concentration of witchcraft accusations and confessions, as well as Salem Town and Salem Village. Norton brings to light some "lost" information on accusers and accused as well, however noting that many documents may be forever lost due to deliberate destruction by either the originators and/or decendents of both accused and accusers, all wanting to preserve their families good names.
This fascinating and informationally dense book kept me up late two nights running to finish it. Norton also provides nearly 100 pages of notes and source materials, mostly of interest to serious amateur and professional historians, but full of interesting facts and further explanations.
The only real flaw in this best book I've encountered of the 1692 Witch Crisis(and I've read all of them, I believe) is that Norton uses the "they must have thought such and such" language of many of today's historians, rather than write "may" or "might", instead of "must"or "should". Norton does back up these "must" conclusions with evidence, however the reader may silently disagree upon rare occasion.
Altogether, this is a must-have book for those interested in "Salem 1692."
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on June 27, 2004
It is hard to imagine that Prof. Norton's narrative and analysis of the Salem witch crisis will be surpassed anytime soon. This book re-examines an episode in American colonial history that many other historians have tried to tackle. What makes Norton's book special is the care with which she has combed through the primary sources and the skill with which she sifts the data in arriving at what is, for my money, the best explanation of the Massachusetts tragedy.
As Norton points out, the Salem witchcraft episode involved many more people, and was much more intense, than any other such episode in America or England. Her central explanation for Salem's "uniqueness" is that, in Massachusetts in 1692, there was a fatal concurrence of New Englanders' belief in witchery and the supernatural, renewed war against northern New England settlements by the French and the Wabanaki Indians, and a series of military disasters for Massachusetts (including the wiping out of several villages). Although, as Norton readily acknowledges, this theory was advanced by other historians in scholarly articles in the 1980s, no one had previously attempted to flesh out the theory fully and examine the entire, sad series of events in light of it.
Not only does Norton do a fantastic job as a scholar, but she also is (contrary to what some Amazon reviewers have said) quite a good writer. I only wish all scholarly works were written with Norton's careful craftsmanship and scorn for pseudo-intellectual gobbledygook. The book also includes excellent and helpful maps, appendixes, and index. It should be noted as well that Norton is amazingly generous in her acknowledgements (in her notes and elsewhere) to all the researchers and even graduate students who gave her ideas and data. She sets a fine example for other historians.
I wouldn't think that this book would be beyond the capacity of anyone with a college education. Some of the other reviews, unfortunately, show that my estimate of the reading public may be too high. I suppose that, if you just want to be titillated and not have to think too hard, there are other books you should buy. But, if you really want to understand an important and notorious series of events in American history, then this is the book to read.
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on October 7, 2005
Professor Norton has done us a great service by refusing the prevailing myopia with which most of us analyze the witchcraft accusations of Essex County, Massachusetts in 1692. One cannot simply look at the events themselves, but must allow the gaze to expand to the social, historical, religious and military realities around those events. In the case of Essex County, they combined in a way that could be considered a ticking bomb of sorts.

If you are like me, then the French and Indian Wars exist only on the periphery of your social memory. We all heard about these wars in our school history classes as a prelude to the American Revolution. Militarily, they were a bloody mess and even George Washington is said to have performed in a way that is less than satisfactory. That's about all I remembered.

In the hands of Professor Norton, however, those wars became real to me because they became the context for the suffering of many who were intricately involved in the Essex County witch hysteria. As I read IN THE DEVIL'S SNARE, I heard of settlers on the "Maine frontier" who lost loved ones to savage brutality of the First French and Indian War and who fled from it in the hope of preserving their lives. As soon as hostilities ended these survivors returned. When war broke out for the second time they either fled again or were killed in a brutal manner.

As the author demonstrates, these pious souls believed themselves a shining example of true Christian living. Yet they came to understand themselves to be under siege by the devil. The language they used to describe him and to explain their own terror is starkly synonymous with their descriptions of the enraged native warriors who attacked their settlements, often in retaliation for being cheated and mistreated.

This is not a beginner's book. It is full of exact details, including legal, historical and social analysis. One would do well to begin elsewhere to understand the witch hysteria of 1692. But once you have the general story, turn to Norton's terrific volume for the details. It is insightful and engrossing.
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on January 8, 2003
This book may be the most exhaustive one ever written on the Salem witchcraft trials. I have read other books on the subject, but I found this one to be tough going. It is not a book for beginners. I have always wondered whether the girls were faking their seizure-like behavior, and I finally found the author's belief on the second to the last page. Author Norton believes the younger girls ages thirteen and under exhibited genuine fits for unknown causes. What about the physical causes such as bleeding and teeth marks, and what caused them? Did they injure themself? The author admits to not having an answer. Some of the older girls in their late teens and early twenties appear to have possibly taken part in collusion in their accusations of others. I guess if that is the case, and their victims were hanged for it, the girls could rightfully be accused of murder. I found parts of the book such as the trials of various ones tough going. The author has tied the witchcraft in Essex County, Massachusetts, to the Indian wars (King Philip's War and King William's War) in the area now known as Maine. If you haven't done any reading on this subject I would suggest you find one of several other books on Salem witchcraft that is available. This book would be suitable for those looking for a very detailed treatment of the subject. I based my rating of three stars on my interest level, but I'm sure those with a greater understanding of the subject would rate it higher.
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on September 17, 2002
The author centers what is indubitably one of the most scholarly accounts I have yet read on the events in Salem on a new premise: That all the events were influenced by the Second Indian War and by the protagonists harrowing experiences during that conflict. Note that this doesn't exclude other causes, such as property disputes, envy, illicit affairs and the like that others have used in the past, and which are also mentioned in this book.
I don't know that I agree completely with what Norton is saying, although she does have several valid points. Either way, the book is a magnificent chronology and analysis (albeight colored by Norton's view) of one of the most puzzling events of our nation's early history. As an added bonus, her theory and her attempt at proof made her do a much better job of fitting in the events at Salem with what was happening in the rest of the New World at that time, as well as in England. It's certainly not casual reading, but it is a must read if you are interested in the subject.
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on January 20, 2012
Dr. Norton is a thorough, careful, and painstaking historian, who has obviously researched this topic in tremendous detail, uncovering facts not previously known and painting as complete a portrait of the famous Salem witchtrials as we have yet seen. She is a very good writer, and anyone with a serious interest in the period will find something useful here. However, there are serious flaws in the book.

First, there is way too much detail for the average reader. Norton seems to have left almost nothing out; we get a discussion just about every character involved in the period, and one's head is soon swimming with all the different people, events, accusations, confessions, etc. It is the job of a good historian to sift out the important data from the rest so that we can get an understanding of the period without getting lost in too much detail. But for anyone but professional historians of the period or those with a fanatical interest in the events, 300 pages of nonstop facts, dates, and people is simply too much information.

Even more troubling however is Norton's attempt to provide a unified explanation of one of the more bizarre and troubling period in US history. There is, she suggests, some deep connection between the witch trials and the Indian wars on the northern frontier of New England, mostly in Maine. She points out that many or most of the people involved in the trials had some sort of connection to the Indian violence, many of them being refugees. This in itself is not particularly surprising or new, and in fact for most of the 17th century, there was no shortage of Indian violence. But Norton insists there is something more going on here. She sees deeper parallels between the Indian attacks and the witch scare. Satan, she notes, is regularly described as a "black man," and in the period Indians were often described as black. Further, the Indians were often called 'devils' or 'devilish.' And Satan and the witches were associated with the woods, just like the Indians, and the devil threatened to tear people to pieces, just as the Indians did to captives.

But are these parallels really significant? Consider the idea of Satan as a black man. In fact, the book also shows that Satan is regularly described not merely as a black man, but as a black man with a "high-crowned hat." Now, this does not sound too Indian to me, and it illustrates how Norton plays fast and loose with the evidence, suppressing the fact of a top hat when trying to make her point. Moreover, in England Satan was also regularly described as "black," even though there were no Indians there. Similarly, calling Indians or indeed any enemy 'devilish' is hardly surprising, nor does it tell us much except that enemies are considered evil. And the fact that Satan is connected with the woods is hardly news, and traces back to the New Testament (Jesus gets tempted in the wilderness). As for being "torn to pieces," this was a common phrase in the 17th century just like today. In short, these connections are so weak, they can't bear anywhere near the weight of Norton's thesis.

But what is Norton's thesis, precisely, other than that there is some vague sort of connection between the witch crisis and the Indian wars? Norton holds this back from us until the final chapter. Then she drops the bomb: her explanation of the witch hunt is that the leaders of the New England community couldn't face the fact that they had failed so miserably to prevent Indian attacks, that they blamed Satan and a witch conspiracy rather than admit their own failings (299). At the same time, Norton thinks, the common people felt betrayed by their leaders, and thus were prone to believe that their leaders were also in league with Satan (301). And this gave them a sense of empowerment: by fighting witches, the people felt they were defending New England far more effectively than their male leaders (303) (it is by the way unclear how these two distinct explanations fit together).

These are extraordinary claims, and it is fair to ask for strong evidence that (a) the leaders encouraged or permitted the witch hunt to deflect responsibility for their own failings (b) the young female accusers persecuted witches so as to feel they were in control of their own fates. Unfortunately, there is little if any evidence for either of these; the evidence as explained above doesn't show more than the most minimal connections between witches and Indians, and certainly doesn't support these strong theses.

Norton tries to defend her position by claiming that the people "readily conflated visible traitors with invisible attackers" (301). Her evidence: that two of the accusers claimed that they saw in a vision spectral meetings attended by both Indians and witches. More significantly, by identifying the Indians as "sachems," that the witches attending this sabbath had equivalent status in colonial society. Therefore, it was the colony's leaders that were to blame.

Really? The evidence consists of just 2 accusations, and the fuzzy inference that since in a vision the Indians were of high rank, the witches present must also have been of high rank, and therefore the colonial leaders were satanists as well as in league with the Indians. This is meager and wispy-thin evidence at best (never mind the fact that most witchcraft accusations were not made against the leaders anyway but against commoners).

Even less convincing is Norton's conclusion that the leaders fomented the witch crisis to deflect responsibility for their failings. Again, this is sheer speculation about the psychology of the leaders without any evidence. And it ignores the fact that the impetus for the witch hunt came from the lower classes, who did all the accusations and testifying. Indeed, Norton presents evidence that the leaders in good faith believed that there really were witches; she quotes Mather as saying that it is inconceivable that there could have been so many actual confessions if there were no witches. And recall this is an age where it was universally accepted that satan and witches were real. To suggest that the leaders opportunistically used the trials merely to protect their reputations is to slander them without evidence. Does she really think that they deliberately allowed innocent people to be killed just because they can't admit their faults? Or that they were unconsciously motivated to do so (how would she know?). The fact is, the witch craze was a community-wide hysteria, not one somehow invented by the rulers to protect themselves.

Furthermore, the theory ignores the obvious objection: witch trials had been going on in Europe for a much longer time and on a massively larger scale (19 witches were executed in the Salem trials; in Europe, some 50,000 people were executed over several hundred years). We don't need this speculative and amateurish psychology to explain the European witch trials, so why would anyone think it provides the key to explaining the Salem events? The most one could say is that the anxiety created by the Indian attacks created a climate conducive to hysteria and irrational accusations. This is fair enough, though hardly a radical new idea. And every society faces serious threats, yet why did this society descend into this sort of hysteria? It is hard to avoid concluding that Norton's populist political leanings lead her into drawing far more dramatic and unsupportable conclusions: that the true meaning of the events is that white male patriarchal ruling class is a failure, and that the witch hunts were a form of democratic empowerment of young females who felt that they were better able to defend the community than their male elders (even if they did so in a delusional way that resulted in 19 innocent people being killed). But it is hardly a radical or even plausible new theory of the witch hunts.
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on December 4, 2002
When I saw this book reviewed in a national newspaper, I thought, that's a book for me: the Salem witchcraft affair never ceases to fascinate me and this author has an interesting hypothesis. Clearly, Ms. Norton has a detailed grasp of her subject matter, as well as keen lateral thinking. She has put the accusations, examinations and trials into their social context, drawing compelling parallels between events on the frontier (Indian raids) with those in Salem (bewitched young women). The amount of research apparent in this book is staggering. It is all very interesting stuff.
Alas, this book is so dry (to use another reviewer's word -- and would that I'd read his review before buying the book) it is barely readable. Just a few pages into the first chapter and I realized I'd made a big mistake, but I decided to sweat it out for awhile to see if it got any better. It didn't. Finally on page 100, I gave up and skimmed the rest, reading passages here and there to confirm that it was more (and more) of the same. The summary chapters at the end were a little better -- but not much.
The main problem is that Ms. Norton has taken an interesting idea and flogged it to death. The book could have been half its length and had a greater impact: less, in this case, would have been much more. Second, the constant quotes interrupt the flow of the text, and, to be blunt, Ms. Norton's text needs all the help it can get when it comes to flow. (Ms. Norton also seems to have passive-construction disease. "As was discussed previously" is dull in a doctoral dissertation, in a book intended for mass consumption -- and this one was, I assume -- it's sudden death.)
Third, interspersing 17th Century spelling with 21st Century spelling is jarring and, after about ten pages, REALLY annoying. It is clear that Ms. Norton has read these texts, she doesn't need to dazzle us with that fact; it would have been preferable for her to either paraphrase (with proper notations, of course) or, when a quote was absolutely necessary to illustrate a point, to update the spelling.
Take this example from page 90: The fishermen, too, hurried to leave, "supposinge it not boote to stay here against such a multitude of enemyes." (not boote?) or this one: Frontier dwellers accurately predicted the consequences of Waldron's deceit, anticipating "Suddain Spolye" that would leave them "in a More danger[ous] Condision" than before. WHAT? The first time I read the latter sentence, I thought Suddain Spoyle was a Native American whose introduction I'd missed.
Oddly, on page 92, Ms. Norton quotes one James Roules who uses 20th Century spelling. Was Mr. Roules living in a forward time warp or did Ms. Norton update the spelling in that passage, and, if the latter, why not throughout?
I hope that the "other Americanists and the other women in the Cornell history department", to whom Ms. Norton dedicated this book, enjoyed it. But, Ms. Norton, writing an erudite and detailed study for one's colleagues on the history faculty is quite a different animal from writing for those of us (dare I say it?) in the real world, who, if your book is going to be a financial success, are your audience.
Does that mean the material has to be dumbed-down? No, not in the least. But, neither is it necessary to hide an excellent hypothesis behind pages of adademic balderdash and blather.
Content: A/Form: D-
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VINE VOICEon November 8, 2003
I agree with other reviewers who said this was not an easy read. The book is heavily footnoted and filled with quotes rendered in late-17th century English. And, of course, the subject matter is disturbing and unsettling. Nevertheless, I'm glad I read it.
This book focuses on the infamous Salem witch trials...one of the more unfortunate periods of early American history. But unlike other books on the subject, it focuses on a previously overlooked aspect of the trials--how the ongoing French and native american raids against English settlers likely influenced both the accusers and accused.
The fact is, many of the individuals involved in the trials had either experienced loss of property or family members during a raid, or had in some way profited (or been suspected of profiting) through dealings with native americans. The psychological toll of these skirmishes must have been heavy...and given the difficulties that some of the young accusers experienced (one girl lost over a dozen family members in a single raid) it's no wonder that they may have started taking their anger out against potentially guilty citizens in the only way left open to them.
This is a well-researched book filled with a lot of details about the period. And whether you agree or disagree with the author's conclusion, she does raise some points that are difficult to ignore.
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on May 1, 2013
"In the Devil's Snare" is a captivating new look at a phenomenon that has horrified and captivated generations of Americans: the 1692 Salem witch trials. Mary Beth Norton tries to set the record straight on much of the lore surrounding the case. The "Salem" witch crisis actually centered in Salem Village, now Danvers. Its tentacles reached into many Essex County towns in northeast Massachusetts: Topsfield, Haverhill, and Andover, where more accused witches lived than in Salem itself. By quoting extensively from extant trial records, Norton lays bare the methods used at the trial, which relied so extensively on "spectral" evidence - the reports, from the afflicted girls, that the unseen spirits of the accused were tormenting them. Norton showed the Salem Villagers to be fractious lot, quarrelling with each other over property lines and with their own ministers. And she deals a blow to the common understanding of the start of the crisis. There is no evidence that Tituba, slave of minister Samuel Parris, was responsible for telling Parris's daughter and niece stories of dark magic. And to deny her modern readers any feeling of superiority over the Puritans, Norton tells us that the verdicts and deaths were repudiated by many of the participants just a few months or years after the end of the crisis.

But Norton's main thesis, one which she trots out whenever the opportunity presents itself, is that the Salem crisis cannot be understood, and indeed can be explained nearly wholly, by setting in the context of the precarious situation that New England's 17th-century colonists held vis-a-vis the Indians. There is a great deal to be said about this perspective. The colonists were settled along the coast, in seaside villages up and down the New England seacoast. The Indians were literally in the backyards of the townspeople, whose small numbers and flimsy garrisons provided scant protection against raids. The godly Puritans, whose mission was to bring Christianity to the benighted savages and their demon-possessed land, could hardly be faulted for seeing Satan's power lurking in the dark forests, along with his bronze-skinned minions. Add to this a world view that accepted every victory as grace from God and every defeat as a chastisement, and you have the perfect formula for a deep and abiding paranoia, bordering on madness. At the time of the crisis, the colonists were in the midst of a second great war with the Indians. Towns like Cocheco (Dover, NH) and Oyster River (Durham, NH) and the Maine towns of Wells, York and Falmouth were attacked by Indians and the French allies. Houses were burned, livestock stolen and residents killed, mutilated or enslaved. The refugees, among whom were future witchcraft accusers, ended up in places like Salem.

Norton is strongest when presenting us with information about the trials. She quotes extensively from the trial transcripts. She even identifies curiously missing entries in the transcripts and in the diaries of the Salem judges, suggesting their own embarrassment at their participation or that of their families. She traces the crisis of the English monarchy during the period, when fallout from the Glorious Revolution (in which monarchy had been restored after years of Oliver Cromwell's Puritan rule) rearranged the power structure of the colony, as well as the status of its charter. And she shows how the crisis's days were numbered when the accusing girls started to accuse the wealthy and the high-ranking of being in league with Satan. It was one thing to accused some mumbling crone wandering the back roads of Salem. It was quite another to accuse the wife of the governor.

In spite of Norton's confidence in her thesis that the roots of the crisis lay on the frontier, I couldn't shake the feeling that I was not getting the whole story. It was not until far into the book that Norton mentions, in passing, that some of the accused were browbeaten into confessing by their captors. In fact, many of the confessed witches of Andover soon recanted, making it clear that they had been intimidated into admitting their guilt. Norton also withholds an important facet of 17th century New England: that Puritan communities relied on consensus, with the entire community working toward a particular point of view, steamrolling the opinions of individuals. Both of these facts undermines Norton's Indian War thesis. This suggests that, at most, Norton could claim a "perfect storm" of conditions, including paranoia about Indian raids, that precipitated the crisis. Nor does Norton explain the mechanism by which so many young women began their litany of accusations that ensnared neighbors and a former minister. Though Norton poo-poos claims of other writers that the girls were victims of ergot poisoning, or were involved in a land-grab, her own claim--that the girls' fits were induced by the trauma of seeing their families butchered--has few legs to stand on. Certainly, some of the girls had frontier connections. But others had none. What was their angle? Were they all caught up in the mania of being important, in a culture where children and women had little status? Were some of them insane? Could guilty consciences (over adolescent dabblings in the occult) have caused psychosis? Or was this all a sham perpetrated by the girls for their own reasons? Even, diabolically, just for fun?

The book left me with many unanswered questions. But it did spur my to seek out the sites of many of the scenes in the books - some of which, like house of Samuel Parris and the location of the Salem Meeting house - still exist far from the commercialized and folly of today's Salem, built on the tourist fascination with witches and hanging trees. "In the Devil's Snare" did not resolve the mysteries surrounding the Salem witch crisis. But Norton's book, in spite of its claims of finding the missing link to the puzzle, has expanded the means by which investigators can approach the problem. The Indian Wars of the late 17th century must now be seen as a critical link between the God-fearing intentions of our Puritan forebears, and the devilish madness they unleashed on themselves in 1692.
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on April 19, 2004
This week, as Halloween approaches, thousands of tourists will descend upon Salem, Massachusetts, a town that has become synonymous with witches, broomsticks and all things spooky. For obvious commercial reasons, Salem officials have embraced this image despite the fact that few people today actually believe that any of the nineteen alleged witches who were hanged in Salem in 1692 actually practiced witchcraft. Instead, thanks to Arthur Miller's play The Crucible, as well as movies and countless books, the hysteria that swept through late seventeenth-century Salem and the trials and executions that followed have become a metaphor for all legal prosecutions run amok. Salem's witchcraft crisis is viewed by many as an instance when fear, ignorance, and intolerance led normally sober-minded Puritans to turn on one another in an accusatory delirium.
Although historians uniformly agree that the Salem witchcraft trials were a tragic miscarriage of justice, there are still sharp disputes over what actually happened in Salem in 1692. The devil, as it were, is in the details. What, for example, caused the fits and seizures that afflicted Salem's young women and led the village's doctor to conclude that Satan had possessed them? Some scholars have suggested that the girls suffered from encephalitis, or from hallucinations caused by ergot fungus that poisoned the town's wheat. Others have asserted that the accusers were attention starved delinquents who simply faked most, if not all, of their ailments.
Scholars also have asked why it was that Salem's leaders were so willing to believe the accusations of witchcraft leveled by a group comprised mostly of teenage girls. Salem was, after all, a rigidly patriarchal society in which young women had minimal status. Why were the girls' increasingly outrageous allegations, including those made against some of Salem's most reputable citizens, treated with such credulity? Because, many historians have concluded, Salem was a town that had long been divided by bitter religious, political and property disputes. Salem's citizens were eager to accept charges of witchcraft, these scholars conclude, because they had long suspected the worst of their neighbors.
With "In The Devil's Snare," Cornell historian Mary Beth Norton, steps into the fray. Norton believes that many previous accounts of the Salem crisis have focused too closely on Salem itself. To truly understand what happened there, she argues, one has to recognize that Puritans throughout New England during this time were living in a state of fear. Between 1688 and 1692, Norton writes, the Puritan colonies had suffered a series of bloody military setbacks at the hands of the French and their Native-American allies. Indian raids had destroyed a number of prosperous Puritan villages along the Maine coast and the attackers had shown little mercy towards women, children, and non-combatants. Stories circulated quickly throughout Massachusetts that described the gruesome carnage and Puritan families, as a result, lived in a world filled with tales of torture, disembowelings, and crushed skulls. Several of the key accusers in the witchcraft trials were refugees from the Maine frontier and, as Norton suggests, it is easy to imagine why they believed that Satan was near.
The Puritans lived in a pre-Enlightenment, pre-industrial society where, Norton writes, the "visible and invisible world often intersected". "When they encountered harmful events that otherwise seemed inexplicable," she notes, "New Englanders often concluded that a malevolent witch had caused their troubles." In normal circumstances, however, formal legal allegations of witchcraft against specific individuals seldom arose and when they did authorities treated them with caution. But in the "supercharged" atmosphere of 1692, the fits experienced by the young women led many to fear that the colony faced the devil's assaults on the frontier and within Salem itself. When the afflicted girls proceeded to accuse prominent men such as John Alden and George Burroughs of both bewitching them and conspiring with the Indians "the assaults from the visible and invisible worlds became closely intertwined in New Englanders' minds."
Norton is not the first historian, of course, to note that the Indian raids made the Puritan colonists unusually apprehensive. But what Norton has done that other historians have not is carefully assemble a substantial body of evidence that reveals that the residents of Salem explicitly linked the Maine massacres with the witchcraft allegations. Because Salem residents thought that the devil was attacking on two fronts simultaneously, Norton concludes, the judges in the witchcraft trials operated on a wartime footing. Their job, they believed, was to root out and destroy witches at home who were aiding Satan's armies on the frontier. During the witchcraft trials they zealously pursued this goal, ignoring key common law protections for the accused, and treating the defendants as if they were guilty unless proven innocent.
In the process of mustering her evidence, Norton also debunks some of the myths that have surrounded the witchcraft affair. She, for example, fully exonerates Tituba, the Indian slave who some chroniclers have alleged led the young women of Salem in Barbados-influenced witchcraft ceremonies. The girls, so the story goes, slipped into a guilt-driven hysteria after Salem adults learned of their behavior. But Tituba, Norton found, was neither a devotee of voodou or from the Caribbean. Instead, Norton cogently argues, the accusers implicated Tituba first because she was an enslaved Native-American living amidst a population then acutely afraid of Indian attacks.
"In the Devil's Snare" is a compelling, meticulous, and convincing account of one of the most disturbing episodes of the colonial period. Norton's conclusion that a fear of outside threats led Salem's leaders to overzealously pursue supposed domestic enemies is both new and important. And although she cautions that the witchcraft trials can only be fully understood when viewed within the context of their times, many readers will nevertheless find that a cautionary message for the present day resonates throughout the pages of her book.
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