So, I know it’s been a while but I’ve been hard at work doing, you know, writerly things. Well, I am excited to finally announce the release of my latest historical fiction novel, The Hunted. The Hunted is a book set in Colonial America during the time of the Salem Witch Trials. It follows the citizens of Salem as the witch hysteria engulfs the village, placing everyone in a brutal fight for their innocence, and ultimately, their lives. In writing The Hunted, it was my hope to weave together a reasonable explanation for this otherwise unsolved mystery.
The Salem Witch Trials of 1692 were a dark time in American history. More than 200 people were accused of practicing witchcraft and 20 were killed during the hysteria. Ever since those dark days ended, the trials have become synonymous with mass hysteria and scapegoating.
It all began when a group of young girls in Salem Village, Massachusetts, began having fits and claimed to be possessed by the devil and accused others in the village of witchcraft. In the early 1600s the idea of witches and witchcraft granted by the devil was a long-standing belief in Europe from as early as the 14th century. This made it easy for people to believe, especially with the harsh conditions the colonists lived in. They were often distrustful of their neighbors and other outsiders. Additionally, religious fanaticism, power-hungry individuals, local disputes, misogyny, anxiety, political turmoil, psychological distress, and mass hysteria all contributed to the atmosphere surrounding the infamous Salem witch trials.
Sadly, many of the issues that plagued colonial Salem persist in America today. It has been 327 years since the witch trials, which seem like horrific events from a backwards past, but today, in many developing countries, witchcraft accusations remain common, while modern democracies struggle to balance the rule of law in the face of what seem like existential threats. Everyone is susceptible to hysteria when fear runs rampant, and fear comes in many forms, from witchcraft to terrorism to immigration.
Unfortunately, there are many misconceptions about the Salem Witch Trials since many of the original documents, locations and buildings have been lost to history, and historians have noted that the Puritan community seemed determined to forget the whole thing as soon as it ended. Though my book is a work of fiction, I have done my best to remain true to the facts of the trials and the people who were involved in them.
In honor of my books release, I have decided to compile a few interesting facts about the trials. Additionally, stay tuned to my blog for upcoming interviews with the characters in my book. Okay, so let’s learn some stuff!
1. Poor and marginalized members of society tended to be the victims of witchcraft accusations, but in 1692, many leading members of the colony were accused. A total of 172 people are known to have been formally charged or informally cried out upon for witchcraft in 1692. Two Salem Village church members, Martha Corey and Rebecca Nurse, five ministers, and four ministers’ wives stood accused, as well as other leading members of the colony. Even the governor’s wife, Lady Mary Phips, was called out as a witch.
2. The judges of the Salem Witch Trials appointed by the governor were well-educated. The nine judges on the trials’ panel were among the wealthiest merchants in the colony. Most had extensive experience as judges. Five had spent at least some time at Harvard, and one attended Oxford.
3. Today, the court system in the United States assumes innocence until proven otherwise; the courts in Salem appear to have assumed the opposite and “the order of the prosecutions reveals the judges’ intentions. Historians’ close readings of the proceedings suggest that the judges believed a significant witch conspiracy threatened the colony, and that it was crucial to round up any guilty members to end the crisis.
4. Historically, witchcraft tended to be a female crime; about three-quarters of the accused were women. However, even the men of the highest-status in Salem, such as ministers, were cried out to be witches. The Harvard-educated Puritan minister Reverend George Burroughs; John Willard, a kinsman of Reverend Samuel Willard of Boston’s South Church; and John Proctor, the respected farmer and tavern keeper made famous in Arthur Miller’s 1953 play, The Crucible, were all hanged together during the trials.
5. Those who pleaded “not guilty” were swiftly tried and convicted, and many were executed. The 28 people who were tried by the Court of Oyer and Terminer and who pleaded “not guilty” were all condemned to death by the judges—an unprecedented one-hundred percent conviction rate.
6. The idea of burning witches at the stake originated in Europe. Criminal codes as early as the 16th century specified witches to be burned at the stake - historians estimate that between 40,000 and 50,000 people were executed for witchcraft in Europe (it's another common myth that 9 million people were burned at the stake for being witches).
But in 17th century Massachusetts, none of the 20 people executed for witchcraft at Salem in 1692 were burned at the stake. All were hanged, except for one: Giles Corey refused to plead guilty or not guilty, so the court ordered him to undergo peine forte et dure - a truly medieval form of torture where heavier and heavier stones are placed on the victim’s chest until he enters a plea. Corey refused to enter a plea and died after two days.
The executions were certainly gruesome and unjust, but it's interesting to note that these "witches" were not burned at the stake.
Curious to learn more? If this is a topic that interests you and you are looking for a good read, than check out my latest book, The Hunted, available on Amazon in eBook and paperback formats. And be sure to check back here often for in-depth character interviews from the members of my book. Until next time, Happy Reading!