8 Fascinating Books About the Salem Witch Trials

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This weekend marks the first execution of the Salem Witch Trials that took place 325 years ago. Bridget Bishop, one of 19 people executed for witchcraft in the Massachusetts city, was already on her third husband by the time the witch trials began. As the assertive mistress of two taverns, she had developed a reputation for arguing with her husbands in public and had been known to throw a wild party or two at her establishments. “I have no familiarity with the devil,” Bishop told the courts. Still, it didn’t save her life.

According to History of Massachusetts: “Bridget Bishop was not the first victim accused during the Salem Witch Trials of 1692, but it is believed that officials chose to hear her case first because they felt, given her prior history and reputation, it would be an easy win. They were right and a string of other convictions and executions followed hers before the hysteria came to an end in 1693.”

The burgeoning contemporary interest in witches, witchcraft, paganism, the occult, and their links to feminism and female power inspired our list of books on the subject of the Salem Witch Trials. Let us know your recommended reads on Facebook and Twitter.

The Witches: Salem, 1692 by Stacy Schiff

Pulitzer Prize-winning author Stacy Schiff collaborated with a team of eight researchers on this dense nonfiction work on the witch trials. From the New York Times:

With her new book, The Witches, Stacy Schiff seems to have wanted to strip away the metaphors and go back to the original story of Salem. She gives us a minutely detailed chronicle of nine harrowing months in 1692, which began with the baffling afflictions of two girls (who complained of bites and pinches, and whose bodies “shuddered and spun”) and which led, in the midst of frenzied accusations of sorcery, to the killing of 20 people.

Six Women of Salem: The Untold Story of the Accused and Their Accusers in the Salem Witch Trials by Marilynne K. Roach

Learn more about the women involved in the witch trials. Author Marilynne K. Roach examines the lives of six women from the period, humanizing the victims more than our own history books. From Publishers Weekly:

This style of narrative provides an intimacy with the Salem people without feeling too fictionalized or overdone. Roach draws on a number of primary and secondary documents to illuminate every detail of the Salem witch trials, while duly paying respect to the victims of these horrific trials. She lays out the facts, but avoids speculation or further analysis. This book is easily digestible even for those who stray away nonfiction, yet readers still reap the benefits of Roach’s thorough researched and expertise on the subject.

The Heretic’s Daughter by Kathleen Kent

Author Kathleen Kent is a tenth-generation descendent of accused and executed Puritan Martha Carrier. Kent tells her family’s story with a fictionalized twist. From the Guardian:

The Heretic’s Daughter is a beautiful and profoundly moving novel, stripped of sensationalism or heavy-handed parallels about tolerance for our age. A clear and convincing evocation of its time and of a people made hard by the unimaginable hardships of their lives, it is a story inspired by personal affection and shaped with impressive authorial skill.

Damned Women: Sinners and Witches in Puritan New England by Elizabeth Reis

Elizabeth Reis explores womanhood through the Puritan understanding of femininity and sin as it relates to the trials. From Cornell University Press:

In her analysis of the cultural construction of gender in early America, Elizabeth Reis explores the intersection of Puritan theology, Puritan evaluations of womanhood, and the Salem witchcraft episodes. She finds in those intersections the basis for understanding why women were accused of witchcraft more often than men, why they confessed more often, and why they frequently accused other women of being witches. In negotiating their beliefs about the devil’s powers, both women and men embedded womanhood in the discourse of depravity.

I, Tituba: Black Witch of Salem Village by Maryse Conde

A reimagined history (with a supernatural slant) of real-life Barbadian slave Tituba, who worked for Reverend Samuel Parris, the father and uncle of two of the afflicted girls of Salem. From Shelf Love:

This book is so strong. Caribbean novels are frequently written “from the other side,” as it were; oral stories being written down, the stories of the oppressed being written as if they were victorious (a bit like Robin Hood or other trickster stories.) Maryse Condé, who is from Guadeloupe, takes on race, gender, religion, the notion of America as land of prosperity, the idea of the victim’s guilt, revenge, sexuality, and many other powerful motifs, and weaves them together in Tituba, one of the most startlingly living characters I’ve read for a long time. Tituba never accepts silence, even when it is counseled to her by those she loves and respects the most.

The Witch of Blackbird Pond by Elizabeth George Speare

Elizabeth George Speare’s 1958 Newbery Medal-winner is a children’s book, but the 17th-century-set story’s heroine is loved by readers of all ages for her strength and willingness to push the boundaries of repressive society. From Kirkus:

When young Kit Tyler comes from her Barbados home to colonial Connecticut, she is unprepared for the austerity of her uncle’s home. Kit, a staunch royalist, accustomed to the easy life of a slave-manned plantation, and her fanatic Puritan uncle are instinctive antagonists. But despite her tastes for finery, Kit is possessed with courage and conviction. Her spontaneous friendship with Hannah, an old woman whose Quaker affiliations have branded her as a witch, and her secret teaching of a young child who suddenly is stricken with a strange malady, seriously threaten her safety. For the townspeople are mistrustful of this strange girl who already has startled them with her “magic” ability to stay afloat in water. Kit’s vindication, her gradual integration into the community and the positive effect she has on those about her, combine here in a well documented novel to rival the author’s first work, Calico Captive, which received wide acclaim as a work of “superior historical fiction.”

The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane by Katherine Howe

Historical novelist Katherine Howe is related to Elizabeth Proctor (spared) and Elizabeth Howe (executed), who were convicted of being witches during the trials. From the Washington Post:

This charming novel is both a tale of New England grad-student life in 1991 and the Salem witch hunts in 1692. The year 1991 is important here because historical data were not yet entirely computerized; if you were a university researcher, your destiny was to spend the Lord’s amount of hours hunched over card catalogues to find volumes you needed in the library. It took forever and ruined your posture and your disposition. And cellphones, though extant, were owned by few. It was a time when we hovered between technologies. A little like the 1690s, when we were certainly past the Dark Ages, but the scientific method was not yet widespread.

A Storm of Witchcraft: The Salem Trials and the American Experience by Emerson W. Baker

History professor Emerson W. Baker examines the sociopolitical climate of Salem before and during the trials to offer more context for the troubling events that unfolded. From Publishers Weekly:

Baker, professor of history at Salem State College, places the trials in the larger context of American and English history, examining not only their prominent place in our collective memory, but also what made them so different from other witch trials of the era. Baker convincingly demonstrates that the trials were a pivotal point in American history and presents the mass hysteria surrounding them in very poignant terms. He ends the book with an explicit comparison between 17th-century worries about witches and 21st-century concerns about terrorists, leaving the reader with much to wonder considering how far America has really come. The scholarly tone of the writing may turn off those without a serious interest in the topic, and Baker’s approach is more comprehensive than in-depth. The premise, however is noteworthy, and the work is successful.