The Witches: Salem, 1692 by Stacy Schiff
It began in February of 1692. An exceptionally cruel winter was ravaging the coast of Massachusetts, when one dreary day Salem’s then vapid and irredeemable parishioner, Samuel Parris, began to witness his 9 year-old daughter Elizabeth along with his 11 year-old niece, Abigail Williams, commence to uttering peculiar sounds, throwing things about the room and contorting into strange positions. Not long after, another girl, Ann Putnam, age 11, began to experience similarly bizarre episodes with other young women in the village soon following suit. The girls complained of being pinched and pricked with pins, yet physicians could find no physical evidence of any ailment. Eventually, under pressure from local magistrates, the girls attributed their affliction to the witchery of three women: Tituba, the Parris' Caribbean slave; Sarah Good, a homeless beggar; and Sarah Osborne, an elderly impoverished woman. Panic spread quickly, involving even the most educated of men as well as prominent politicians in the colony. Daughters accused mothers, who in turn accused grandmothers, who accused neighbors and ministers. Husbands implicated wives; nephews their aunts, and so on. With much haste, the inquisitional madness and communal hysteria reached feverish heights. Then, less than a year later, just as quickly as it had begun, the mayhem came to an end. But, not before fourteen women and five men were convicted of witchcraft and hanged in the town of Salem, with one more - a man who refused to plead guilty - being crushed to death, in a town a few miles away. Though only a brief episode in history, the impact of the trials would be significant. And, in curious ways, they would come to shape the future of the republic. The Witches is Stacy Schiff’s detailed chronicle of nine harrowing months in 1692, which began with the baffling afflictions of two and led, in the midst of frenzied accusations of sorcery, to the brutal killing of twenty.