Tuesday, April 1, 2014

A Roux of Revenge by Connie Archer: Guest Author/Review

The Salem Witch Trials

The soup lover’s mystery series is set in the imaginary village of Snowflake, Vermont.  There is murder there – and revenge and betrayal and greed and all the human passions that lead to crime, but Snowflake is not haunted, even though New England may be. 

I find it impossible to think of a New England village and not remember Shirley Jackson, a writer, a mother, a master of the unreal, a professor’s wife and a self-confessed witch.  Jackson’s short story The Lottery catapulted her to fame and well-earned respect.  A native Californian, she spent much of her life in rural Vermont, before settling there permanently in her last years.  She once stated that New England inspired her to write horror.  I understood what she meant.  New England is a haunted place.  Do the ghosts of Indian Wars or the spirits of the Revolution roam the countryside?  I don’t know, but if you’ve ever read The Lottery – let me amend that – if you haven’t read The Lottery, you must, because then you can understand something terribly evil in human nature.  You can understand the Salem Witch Trials.  Not fiction – they really happened. 

Read on . . .

The world that early New England colonists inhabited was a world in which scientific thought was unknown, a world in which the unseen was as real as the physical.  When disaster struck, animals sickened, and children died for no apparent reason, an evil spirit, a demon was at work. 

It all began in the household of the Reverend Samuel Parris.  His daughter, Elizabeth, fourteen years old at the time, and his niece, Abigail Williams, began to suffer from fits and seizures, claiming that witches were torturing and tormenting them, witches who lived among them.  It was quickly decided the girls were under an “evil hand.”  Gossip spread from farm to farm and village to village until other young girls began to display the same symptoms.

Ultimately, legal charges of witchcraft were brought against (at least) 144 people, 38 of them men.  All were jailed for many months.  Fourteen women and five men were hung.  One man was pressed to death with heavy stones and four others and several infants died during the long months of captivity.

What caused the madness that swept through Salem Village and Essex County in the winter of 1692?

Many theories have been advanced – that the accusers were suffering from ergot poisoning due to a wet winter which had infected the grain, that the livestock was diseased, that the girls were angry adolescents faking their fits, or that they suffered from encephalitis. 

Mary Beth Norton, in her book, In the Devil’s Snare, has advanced an alternate theory – these young women, the judges and the community as a whole, were displaying symptoms of a post-traumatic stress disorder directly related to the brutal Indian Wars and massacres in the Maine settlements.  Most of the young women who were later to become accusers in Salem Village were all refugees of these wars.  Often destitute and orphaned, they were indentured as servants to strangers or relatives. 

What is undeniable is that the women of the time, no matter their age, occupied the lowest rungs of the social order.  Yet during the months of the witchcraft crisis, these young female accusers, overlooked, tolerated and mostly ignored, were now the center of attention.  And their claims were taken seriously!

From January of 1692 through May of 1693, a period of approximately seventeen months, mass hysteria took hold of Salem Village (now Danvers, Massachusetts).  Many of the accused fit the stereotype of the “witch,” quarrelsome older women, some with dubious reputations.  Many others who were closely related to these women -- husbands, sisters, daughters, mothers and sons -- were all vulnerable to being charged with witchcraft and consorting with the devil.  In addition to the accused women, a large number of men, influential citizens and children under the age of twelve were also accused.  The concept of a child as a witch did not contradict Puritan belief.  A witch was defined as one who had made a covenant with the devil, and since children were easily influenced, they were considered easy targets of the demon.

Sarah Osborne became one of the first three victims to be accused of witchcraft in Salem Village in February of 1692.  A widow, she was required by her husband’s will to carry over their estate to their two young sons.  Sarah, however, attempted to take possession of the property for herself and her new husband.  She ignored the recriminations of her neighbors and consequently was accused of witchcraft.  She died in prison on May 10, 1692.

Mary (Towne) Easty was accused by Mercy Lewis.  Since Mary’s sister Rebecca had been found guilty of witchcraft, it was assumed that Mary must also be a witch.  The Towne sisters, Mary, Rebecca and Sarah were residents of Topsfield, not of Salem Town or Village.  For fifty years, the boundaries of Salem had expanded northward.  Land had become scarce and bitter arguments had broken out between the residents of both towns.  Rebecca’s family was at odds with the Putnams of Salem Village over land.  The three Towne sisters, daughters and wives of Topsfield men, were accused of witchcraft by the Putnam women. 

Mary, denying her guilt, was imprisoned.  At first, because of pressure from the community, all of the accusers, except Mercy Lewis, recanted their accusations.  Mary was released from jail, but after her release, Mercy Lewis again fell into violent fits.  Mercy claimed that Mary was tormenting her spectrally and would kill her.  Mercy’s fits did not cease until Mary was returned to prison in irons. 

While in jail awaiting trial, Mary prepared petitions in which she asked for a fair trial – to plead her own cause and be allowed counsel.  She requested that others be allowed to testify regarding her good character.  Unfortunately for Mary, her petition did not change the outcome of her trial.  She was condemned to hang and went to the gallows on September 22, 1692. 

Mercy Lewis, Mary’s accuser, was born in Falmouth, Maine.  An Indian attack on September 30, 1689 killed both her parents.  At the age of fourteen, the orphaned Mercy became a servant in the household of the Reverend George Burroughs.  Mercy played a crucial role in the trials in which twenty people were executed including her former master.  Mercy, however, enjoyed a far kinder fate.  After the trials, she moved to Boston where she gave birth to a son and later married. 

Captain John Alden was a member of the Boston elite.  On May 28, 1692, he was accused of witchcraft and imprisoned.  The following year, in April, he escaped and fled to New York where high profile witchcraft defendants were welcomed and protected.  His accusers had never met him, but his connections to Maine and the Indian Wars which orphaned several of his young female accusers most likely contributed to the charges against him.

Abigail Hobbs, another survivor of the Indian massacres in Casco, Maine, was fourteen years old when she was arrested for witchcraft in April, 1692.  Her father, William Hobbs and her stepmother Deliverance Hobbs were both also charged.

After multiple interrogations, Abigail confessed to witchcraft and then accused others.  At her trial in September, she pled guilty to afflicting Mercy Lewis and for “covenanting with the Devil.”  Abigail was scheduled for execution but was granted a reprieve in January of 1693. 

John Hathorne was chosen by the Governor of Massachusetts to judge the Salem Witch Trials.  Hathorne was a prosecutor rather than an impartial judge and operated from a presumption of guilt rather than innocence.  He encouraged confessions of witchcraft and asked the accused to name others who might be witches.  He died in Salem in 1717 and never repented his role in the trials.  He was harshly criticized by his own great-grandson, Nathaniel Hawthorne, author of The Scarlet Letter.  Nathaniel changed his name from Hathorne to Hawthorne to hide the connection to his ancestor. 

There are significant gaps in the record.  Historians suspect that documents were deliberately destroyed by the magistrates and judges themselves, or by their descendants, to cover up their shameful involvement in the trials. 

By May 1693, the fever ended as quickly as it had begun. 

Five years later, one judge and twenty-one jurors formally apologized for their roles in the trials.  Twenty years later, the Massachusetts government acknowledged its responsibility in what came to be viewed as unjust proceedings.

More than three hundred years later we can only contemplate with horror the ignorance and suffering of Salem Village. Sadly, we must admit that witch hunts are far from unknown in recent history, but hopefully the real history of Salem Village will stand as a reminder of the fallibility of human nature and reason. 

And it wouldn’t hurt to read The Lottery again. 

(Just a reminder – Snowflake, Vermont is not haunted!)

If you’re interested in learning more, see:  Salem Witch Trials-Documentary Archive and Transcription Project


Connie Archer is the author of A Spoonful of Murder (http://amzn.to/1jrwKO5), A Broth of Betrayal (http://amzn.to/1kxb83c) and just released, A Roux of Revenge (http://amzn.to/1ek6vRK). 

You can visit Connie at www.conniearchermysteries.com


Twitter:  @SnowflakeVT

A Roux of Revenge (Soup Lover's Mystery Series #3)

Blurb: Snowflake, Vermont, is known for its skiing in winter—and its soup all year round, thanks to Lucky Jamieson’s By the Spoonful. Autumn brings golden leaves, pumpkin rice soup, the annual Harvest Festival…and murder.

Lucky’s soup shop is busier than usual this October, with groups of itinerant travelers in town to work the Harvest Festival. One newcomer seems to take a particular interest in Lucky’s young waitress, Janie, spying on her from across the street. Is the stranger stalking Janie?

After an unidentified man is found murdered in a van by the side of the road, simmering suspicions about the travelers are brought to a boil. But when Janie is put in harm’s way, Lucky must join forces with the travelers to turn up the heat on a killer….

Mochas, Mysteries and Meows Review: Cozies set in my home state of Vermont are quite rare so that makes this series extra special to me.

In this 3rd book in the series it's Halloween in Snowflake and the Harvest Festival is keeping everyone busy. With many strangers in town one man draws attention to himself by standing outside the Spoonful and watching Lucky's young waitress Janie. Who is he and what does he want? At the same time a man is found murdered by the side of the road. When an insurance investigator comes to town inquiring about an armored truck robbery several years ago which may have involved carnival travelers, it begins to look like the events may be related.

I was very suspicious of one character here, and I was proven to be right. But besides the mystery, this book is rich in stories about relationships, from Janie, her mother Miriam, and a ghost from their past, to Lucky, her boyfriend Elias, and an unwanted intruder in their romance. New England has a rich history which is reflected in this book, and I really enjoyed that as well. I highly recommend this series to anyone who loves culinary cozies!


Sheila Connolly said...

Thanks for your interesting discussion here. I'm descended from the Townes, and another of my ancestors, John Floyd, was also imprisoned as a witch (yes, he was a man--and was released when the furor died down). Also, if I remember the Norton book correctly (I have a copy), she also put forth a theory that there was an economic motive behind at least some of the accusations--the targets were older, widowed women who held desirable tracts of land. I agree--New England is definitely haunted!

Unknown said...

Hi Sheila - Yes, you're absolutely right. The prevailing spirit paved the way for a land grab. The population was minuscule compared to today, but the land claims of Salem Village were encroaching upon Topsfield. Your personal history is fascinating. I'd love to hear more! I've always been both intrigued and horrified by this time period. Thanks for stopping by today!

Gary Kriss said...

Early American witch hunts/trials are a favorite subject of mine just as Connie is a favorite writer of mine. Wonderful to see them together! A great summary, Connie, and I can't wait to read the book, especially since you've incorporrated another of my "favorites," the Romani. Congrats on the newest!

Unknown said...

Hi Gary- Great to hear from you! I find both of those subjects fascinating too. Plus I grew up in New England and I could really relate to Shirley Jackson's feelings. All the best!

Patg said...

WGN America will be doing an original series on Salem witches. The previews are iffy, real witches, maybe their revenge, but worth checking out to see what they have to say.
Witches. Women with power, religion will always hate that.

Unknown said...

How true! Thanks for this info, Pat. I'll have to be on the lookout for that series. It may focus on present day witches. I think Salem is making the most of its history for the tourist trade, which is fun, but ignores the reality of it all. Best of luck to you!