Archive for Tuesday, October 31, 2000

Salem’s voices heard from beyond the grave

New book provides historical perspective

October 31, 2000


— 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 witch hunt by using first-person accounts from the infamous 17th century trials that led to the execution of 20 people and the imprisonment of hundreds of others.

Hill also discusses the fears of white settlers in the Massachusetts Bay colony that led to the trials, and she examines their impact on pop culture.

"The point of this book is that people can read all the texts for themselves and decide for themselves what the truth is," Hill said.

The book, "The Salem Witch Trials Reader," relies heavily on sermon notes of the Rev. Samuel Parris, who made the first allegations. Not once does Parris ever show any doubt or remorse about ruining entire families, Hill said. Hill also modernizes the language in the writings of Parris and other first-person accounts, which are stored at local archives and museums.

The trials, which spread to communities all over New England, did not happen in a vacuum, Hill said. Settlers brought with them the beliefs of old Europe, where people had been accused of being witches for centuries. Those supernatural beliefs were personified by the constant threat of American Indians, thought of as devils.

Ultimately, Hill said she wants readers to understand the "horror and injustice" of the trials. "The way these trials were conducted was such that they were the most incredible travesty of justice to a most shocking degree," she said. "They were all presumed guilty before trial. They never had a chance."

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