The purpose of this book is to tell the history of witchcraft and
witch-hunting in seventeenth-century New England-a history that,
as related here, emerges through the original documents. Many of
tllese documents appear here in print for the fi.rst time. Others were
published long ago by antiquarians, or in editions of colony and court
records. The story that these texts narrate begins in 1658 and extends
to the Salem trials of 1692.
This story has many dimensions. Some of the documents reveal
with compelling imlnediacy the emotions of parents as they struggle
to understand why a child has fallen ill or died. We learn of quarrels
between neighbors and of long-lasting fears that one party to a quar-
rel wants to gain revenge. Other texts describe the psychological dis-
turbance that people in the seventeenth century thought of as "dia-
bolical possession." Still others show the civil state intent on
suppressing deviant behavior. Or it may be neighbors who want to
punish someone they dislike. In most cases someone describes "pre-
ternatural" events-an apparition, a shape-changing animal, a magi-
cal pudding. There is much about religion, as when scriptural texts
are used to repel the devil. We learn of countermagic, which is always
controversial. In telling us about witchcraft and witch-hunting, the
documents illuminate the social history of New England. They capture
deep-rooted attitudes and expectations; they reveal the tensions that
underlay communal life and family relationships.
The Incidence of Witch-hunting
in Early New England
These documents are full of surprises. For many readers, the first of
these surprises may be that people were being punished for the crime
of witchcraft long before the celebrated trials at Salem. Everyone
knows something about Salem. But how many of us know that witch-
hunting figured in the social history of seventeenth-century New En-
gland almost from its founding? The early cases are slimly docu-
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