The Salem Witchcraft Trials: A Legal History

August 5, 2015 - Comment

In late seventeenth-century New England, the eternal battle between God and Satan was brought into the courtroom. Between January 1692 and May 1693 in Salem, Massachusetts, neighbors turned against neighbors and children against parents with accusations of witchcraft, and nineteen people were hanged for having made pacts with the devil. Peter Charles Hoffer, a historian

In late seventeenth-century New England, the eternal battle between God and Satan was brought into the courtroom. Between January 1692 and May 1693 in Salem, Massachusetts, neighbors turned against neighbors and children against parents with accusations of witchcraft, and nineteen people were hanged for having made pacts with the devil.

Peter Charles Hoffer, a historian long familiar with the Salem witchcraft trials, now reexamines this notorious episode in American history and presents many of its legal details in correct perspective for the first time. He tells the real story of how religious beliefs, superstitions, clan disputes, and Anglo-American law and custom created an epidemic of accusations that resulted in the investigation of nearly two hundred colonists and, for many, the ordeal of trail and incarceration. He also examines life during this crisis period of New England history a time beset by Indian wars, disease, severe weather, and challenges to Puritan hegemony to show how an atmosphere of paranoia contributed to this outbreak of persecution.

Hoffer examines every aspect of this history, from accusations to grand jury investigations to the conduct of the trials themselves. He shows how rights we take for granted today such as rules of evidence and a defendant’s right to legal counsel did not exist in colonial times, and he demonstrates how these cases relate to current instances of children accusing adults of abuse.

The Salem Witchcraft Trials, a concise history written expressly for students and general readers, contains much new material not found in the author’s earlier work. It sheds important light on the period and shows that our horror of these infamous proceedings must be tempered with sympathy for a people who gave in to panic in the face of a harsh and desolate existence.

Comments

Carolynn ni Lochlainn "nilochlainn" says:

Great acccount, fascinating history 0

Amazon Customer says:

My 7th greatgrandma The book centers more on the social and philisophical aspects leading up to the many trials which is a little dull. However it mentions my grandmother (7th great) which just fasinates me completely. Our family has artifact dating back to the 1690’s so it is interesting to see what one man surmises was the reason these poor, innocent women (and a few men), were tortured and hanged. The author, unwittingly I’m sure, lays a great deal of the blame on the religious leader attempting to increase…

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