“The Time When There Was So Much Talk of the Witchcraft in This Country”: Gossip and the Essex County Witchcraft Crisis of 1692



The so-called Salem witchcraft crisis of 1692—more appropriately termed the Essex County witchcraft crisis because of its wide regional reach in northern New England—is an iconic event in American history, one that has been used by modern playwrights and novelists alike to make statements not only about the seventeenth century but also about their own times.1 Yet the familiar narrative of Salem witchcraft is incomplete because of the particular emphasis of past scholarship: even though formal charges were filed in 1692 against at least 144 people, studies have focused on only a relatively small number of accused individuals.2


Term Paper Grand Jury Judicial Proceeding Legal Record Property Dispute 
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  1. 3.
    See, for example, such books as Paul Boyer and Stephen Nissenbaum, Salem Possessed: The Social Origins of Witchcraft (cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1974)Google Scholar
  2. Bernard Rosenthal, Salem Story: Reading the Witch Trials of 1692 (new York: Cambridge University Press, 1992)Google Scholar
  3. Peter C. Hoffer, The Devil’s Disciples: Makers of the Salem Witchcraft Trials (Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1996)Google Scholar
  4. and Frances Hill, A Delusion of Satan: The Full Story of the Salem Witch Trials (new York: Doubleday, 1995). and See also such recent novels as Suzy Witten, The Afflicted Girls: A Novel of Salem (Los Angeles, CA: Dreamwand Books, 2009) and Katherine Bygrave Howe, The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane (new York: Hyperion, 2010).Google Scholar
  5. 4.
    On the background of these charges, see DS, 22–23, 30, 44–47, 70–71, 73–74. Boyer and Nissenbaum, Salem Possessed, focus on the accusation of Rebecca Nurse but do not stress the property dispute with the Townes; see 147–151. The most detailed study is Persis W. McMillen, Currents of Malice: Mary Towne Easty and Her Family in Salem Witchcraft (Portsmouth, NH: Peter Randall, 1990).Google Scholar
  6. 23.
    See Elizabeth Reis, Damned Women: Sinners and Witches in Puritan New England (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1997)Google Scholar
  7. on why women might confess to witchcraft and Chadwick Hansen, Witchcraft at Salem (new York: G. Braziller, 1969) for the argument that some people were practicing witchcraft in 1692.Google Scholar
  8. 27.
    Deodat Lawson, “A Brief and True Narrative of… Witchcraft, at Salem Village… (1692),” in ed. George Lincoln Burr, Narratives of the Witchcraft Cases, 1648–1706 New York, 1914), 160Google Scholar
  9. RSWH, 173 (quotations). See also DS, 70, 74–75. Several members of the colony’s governing council conducted the examinations on April 11; it is not clear who was asking the questions.Google Scholar

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© Kathleen A. Feeley and Jennifer Frost 2014

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