Just mention 'Salem' and we immediately think of outrageous witch trials. What we know of the awful events of 1692 has probably been gleaned from random sources, so it is fascinating to read such a well-researched account of what it must have REALLY been like for the women concerned.
Marilynne Roach has an engaging style and skilfully evokes the atmosphere of the time with her italicised narratives. Her latest book is impossible to read without being drawn in to the lives of the people of Salem. The stories of the six women she focusses on really help us understand the events of the witch trials in the context of life in the 17th-century Massachusetts Bay Colony.
Most chilling is the way the legal system failed them by indulging accusers and accepting evidence of witchcraft which was was dubious at best. Witnesses later reported how they were 'frightened into false confessions, hounded until at last they did say any thing that was desired of them.'
The numbers are staggering. As well as the twenty who were executed (nineteen by slow hanging and one by being 'pressed to death') and the five women who died in prison, over two hundred people were accused of some form of witchcraft by their own neighbours. As the mass hysteria spread, seventy four people claimed to have been “afflicted” by spells.
The darker side of human nature is revealed by the fascination that Salem has had for us ever since, with a constant stream of sightseers hoping to see the spot where the "witches" were hanged. I was reminded of passing a serious car accident. You know you should look away but you can't help it. It's more than just macabre curiosity. We need to learn from the mistakes of others - and this book provides plenty to think about. Prejudice, religion, the power of superstition, the way a community can challenge our natural sense of right and wrong.
Marilynne Roach concludes with a poignant statement: 'The memory of the actual people involved in the original tragedy of 1692 can become lost, replaced by stereotypes or disregarded. They deserve to be acknowledged.'
About the Author
Marilynne K. Roach lives in Watertown, Massachusetts, less than an hour from Salem. She first visited the Salem Witch Museum in 1973 and was inspired to launch her own investigation into the history of the trials.Studying old documents written in an antique dialect, she discovered new details, including jailers invoices that revealed that the accused-witches were billed for their stay in prison. Over the course of her career as a historian and illustrator she has written several books specifically abut the witch trials, one of which is a children’s book. Marilynne was one of the associate editors of the definitive Records of the Salem Witch-Hunt and is also the author of The Salem Witch Trials: A Day-by-Day Chronicle of a Community Under Siege.
Six Women of Salem: The Untold Story of the Accused
and Their Accusers in the Salem Witch Trials