Escaping Salem Book Review
Escaping Salem Book Review Escaping Salem : The Other Witch Hunt of 1692, by Richard Godbeer. New York: Oxford University Press, 2005. In the city of Stamford year of 1692 there begins numerous odd events that are hard to make sense of or even explain for that matter. In colonial times the state of Connecticut isn’t automatically associated with any evil doings or witchcraft, but this wasn’t always the case for Stamford in the county of Fairfield. Richard Godbeer’s totally neutral very detailed explanation and description of the Salem Witch trials gives us a needed insight of colonial period law and the running of the court systems.
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The story begins in 1692 of the household of Daniel and Abagail Wescot. Katherine Branch was their seventeen-year-old maidservant that was defiantly going through either very dangerous evil possessions or was giving the town of Stamford a show they would never forget. On two specific periods Katherine described the Devil himself taking form of a black calf and a white dog. Katherine started to illustrate signs of some sort of possession from the Devil himself or as we find out later by actual witches.
On many occasions Katherine would have horrific fits where she would cry out her guilty parties’ names that were causing her to go through these agonizing times but also moan, appear paralyzed, and sometimes have terrifying convulsions. Daniel Wescot was no stranger to the behaviors Katherine was exhibiting. It was not long before that the Wescots own daughter exhibited similar behaviors and insanity. Times at the Wescot household became very hard to manage because of the daily duties that needed to be attended by the family, but now this new addition of care needed by Katherine.
At first the Westcots had a midwife to help the situation which worked for a while, but as time went on she needed to be watch upon at all times. At this point the Westcots had to ask for a helping hand from their neighbors so they could work or just to get away from the intense fits Katherine was exhibiting. The change in the story is when Katherine was able to name the two people guilty for these insane acts and behaviors Katherine was enduring. At this point Daniel filed a complaint with the court and wanted the two prosecuted hanged for what they did to their sweet Katherine.
The two that Katherine so clearly described were Elizabeth Clawson and Mercy Disborough, these were the two tormenting her at this point in time. Connecticut’s courts where ran by governor Williams Jones who advised the people of Stamford that without actual evidence of wrong doing by these women it would be extremely difficult to indict them both. The case would get dismissed until October 1692 where Mercy Disborough was found guilty but Elizabeth Clawson free of any charges. Some of Mercy’s activists stood by her side and forced the courts to have an additional case where all charges would be dropped against her.
Godbeer’s insights on early American colonial times on how the court systems handled such crimes, gives us a big view on how problems where dealt within the courts. Not only do we see clearly the conclusion form the verdicts but how the people dealt with the madness of witchcraft. After this period any episodes that resembled witchcraft where dealt with the upmost respect and advisory. Not only do we get a view of colonial legal actions but a taste of early America religion and how important it was to their everyday lives.
One can most defiantly appreciate Godbeer’s narrative insight on early American colonial existence but also admire his use for actual court transcripts and legal documents dated from that actual era. Escaping Salem has exceeded all goals on describing the panic of witchcraft in early America, with capturing the legal side of this era and combining the two in a very comprehensible manner. An addition to the liberated style of writing I would defiantly recommended this book to anyone wanting to learn about early American history in an enjoyable and effortless approach.