Sunday, September 1, 2013

Salem Witch Trials: Accusers and Accused

Although by the end of the witch trials in Salem, many women and a few men were accused, Roach has chosen to focus on six women who were involved in the earliest accusations: Tituba, the slave who actually did perform some magic in the Parris house in the hopes of aiding the two girls who were apparently possessed; Ann Putnam, whose daughter Annie and her maid Mercy Lewis were active accusers and suffered fits; Rebecca Nurse, who was
accused by Ann Putnam and hung as a witch. The other three women were Mary English, Mary Warren, and Bridget Bishop.

The early chapters focus on the background of each of the women. I found it fascinating to know who they were before they became involved in the rather sordid business of the witch trials. This section is written as though it were fiction, but it's well researched. The middle of the book focuses on the trials. It contains verbatim testimony and descriptions of the actions of the women both inside and outside the court room. The final section parallels the opening giving the history of these women after the trials.

I found the book fascinating. Roach was able to make the women real. The accusers were as terrified as the accused. The accounts of the way the witness were led to name the witches and the way the court browbeat the accused women into confessing is astonishing. It's an excellent picture of life in the small, litigious, community.

I recommend this book if you're interested in the history of the witch trials, or if you want a picture of life in colonial America. It's well worth reading for both reasons. I did find the middle rather tedious, not because of the skill of the author, but because the trials were so similar. Roach did try to break it up with some fictionalized sections to relieve the tedium. Her fiction sections are one of the highlights of the book.

I reviewed the book for Net Galley.