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In the Devil's Snare: The Salem Witchcraft Crisis of 1692 [Kindle Edition]

Mary Beth Norton

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Book Description

Award-winning historian Mary Beth Norton reexamines the Salem witch trials in this startlingly original, meticulously researched, and utterly riveting study.

In 1692 the people of Massachusetts were living in fear, and not solely of satanic afflictions. Horrifyingly violent Indian attacks had all but emptied the northern frontier of settlers, and many traumatized refugees—including the main accusers of witches—had fled to communities like Salem. Meanwhile the colony’s leaders, defensive about their own failure to protect the frontier, pondered how God’s people could be suffering at the hands of savages. Struck by the similarities between what the refugees had witnessed and what the witchcraft “victims” described, many were quick to see a vast conspiracy of the Devil (in league with the French and the Indians) threatening New England on all sides. By providing this essential context to the famous events, and by casting her net well beyond the borders of Salem itself, Norton sheds new light on one of the most perplexing and fascinating periods in our history.

From the Trade Paperback edition.

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Product details

  • Format: Kindle Edition
  • File Size: 2163 KB
  • Print Length: 448 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage (18 Dec. 2007)
  • Sold by: Amazon Media EU S.à r.l.
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B000XU8DOC
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
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  • Word Wise: Enabled
  • Enhanced Typesetting: Enabled
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #509,088 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 4.0 out of 5 stars  38 reviews
72 of 74 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars best one-volume history of the Salem witch trials of 1692 18 Sept. 2002
By CYNTHIA ABEL - Published on
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."
21 of 22 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars THE definitve work on the Salem witch crisis. 27 Jun. 2004
By Zeldock - Published on
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
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.
82 of 102 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Content: A/Form: D- 5 Dec. 2002
By Matthew Spady - Published on
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-
21 of 24 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Not A Book For Neophytes 9 Jan. 2003
By Bill Emblom - Published on
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.
17 of 19 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Context, context, context! 7 Oct. 2005
By Dr. John Switzer - Published on
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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