Witch-Hunt: Mysteries of the Salem Witch Trials by Marc Aronson.
Athenuem Books for Young Readers/Simon & Schuster: NY, 2003.

In the wake of terrorism fear, two historians have given a fresh recounting of the events of the Salem witch trials of 1692, Aronson and Mary Beth Norton. Norton has given different facts to consider. Aronson's book is mostly a compilation. There has also been new interest in the subject, since there was a 300 year anniversary not too long ago. Surprisingly, there have been new things to consider, though the history is mostly new to me. It isn't a topic discussed at much length normally.

My impression had been mostly of the unyielding Puritanical religion, no real history. I was exposed to Arthur Miller's The Crucible in high school, read it recently, and wanted to look at a historical context for comparison. When I saw Aronson's book at the library, I grabbed it, because I have liked other books by him.

Aronson has done some summarizing of past historians and discusses the play as well. The history is different from the play in details. What is the same is the control of the accusatory group in the events - the accusing of people on an opposite social side of events, group hysteria which the judges feared and couldn't really explain, the anger turned on people who protested the situation, and the fact that it took well respected citizens being hanged to stop the insanity. Aronson points out that this subject continues to be of interest for the same reason that Arthur Miller wrote his play. It is a warning regarding allowing a mob-like group to accuse citizens for prosecution, conviction and execution with little evidence; it is a warning against allowing faith, instead of reason, to determine guilt. In Arthur Miller's case, the warning was about McCarthyism. In our times, there are a number of prejudices being stirred up. And yes, so much fear to go with it.

The Tea Party group seems to be an almost all inclusive list of grievances looking for prosecution. Aronson's book predates the Tea Party people, so he does not say this. I think they are very much a mob that cannot rule through reason, so they are threatening everyone else instead, playing on common fears to gain political control. There was this element in the witch and communist trials, and I think it is not coincidence that the label of communism is being thrown around again.

To get back to the book, Aronson speaks of a particular family with supporters which made up most of the accusers. He also talks about the sheriff making arrests, who had three relatives on the panel of judges. He mentions some accused that were never arrested. He discusses political unrest of the times which may have influenced behavior of the citizens, ministers, and judges. He points out one particular woman whose calmness and logic impressed the judges and was instrumental in changing the prosecution of the cases, bringing them to a final swift conclusion. Aronson also references parts of The Crucible that are fiction, but points out the significance of the play other than that it is how the subject is usually introduced. While most people don't know about the real events, it is good to remember that this occurrence is a glaring example of why our laws include a separation of Church and State.

related-witchcraft trials, Salem, Massachusetts, 17th century history, United States colonial period, British colonies, rule by religious group

"The horror inspired by hanging witches helped to insure that Puritan laws, and ultimately the doctrines of any faith, would not set the rules by which all peoples in what was first British North America and later the United States would live...There was simply too much danger of using faith to destroy innocent people." from Witch-Hunt by Marc Aronson

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