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Salem Witch Trials

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Hist 111 A

September 18, 2011


Richard Godbeer's book Escaping Salem is about a witchunt that happened in Stamford, Connecticut in 1692. The book focuses on a servant girl, Katherine Branch, and she started to have convulsions that the townsfolk believed were to be caused from witches. The young seventeen-year-old girl received cold pricks in her skin throughout her body and she would have visions of other women in the town tormenting her. The women that Katherine saw in her visions would be accused and tried for witchcraft.

Godbeer's main argument throughout the book Escaping Salem is to relieve the stereotype of people back then that they didn't just accuse and then condemn. That there was an actually process that they went through to accuse people of committing a crime. Eyewitnesses were called in and questioned, magistrates talked to the townspeople to see what they thought of the accused. It's very difficult to prove that somebody actually is a witch so the magistrates came up with seven rules that had to be met in order for a person to be called a witch. One of the rules was about the Devil's mark, if a women was a witch that she would have an abnormality of some kind that would have to be unnatural. Rules like this help with Godbeer's argument because a woman to be proven to be a witch and not just assumed to be one.

When Katherine Branch's fits first began she the Wescot family didn't just assume that she was bewitched. They tried to figure out if there was a natural cause to this or if she was just making the whole thing up. The Wescot's also burned some feathers of the under Katherine's nose to see if she was bewitched. Godbeer uses this information to help prove his point that early New Englanders weren't always so quick to judge.

Godbeer used old court cases from the hearing on Mrs. Clawson and Mrs. Disborough to help with his story. He took the old cases, updated the spelling and the grammar from those cases and he made a story out of them. All of the old documents that he found were in the Wyllys Papers at the John Hay Library and Brown University and the Samuel Wyllys Papers at the Connecticut State Library. The trial papers that Godbeer used were his primary source, but he also had a lot of secondary sources form other historians that wrote about the witchunt in Stamford, Connecticut.

Since Godbeer used the actual court cases from 1692 it is strength for his work. But since those cases are so old and Godbeer updated the spelling and grammar he could have stretched it to what he wanted to say making it somewhat of a weakness. The argument that Godbeer makes is very strong that people weren't just killed because of someone's assumption of them. The sources that he used were also strong in his work. He didn't



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