Roach (The Salem Witch Trials: A Day by Day Chronicle of a Community Under Siege, 2004) explores the lives of six women involved in the Salem witch trials.
The author’s deep knowledge of virtually every man, woman and child affected by the trials in this bizarre period tends to get in her way during the narrative. More than 200 people were accused of witchcraft in the mass hysteria, precipitated by a few pre-pubescent girls who suddenly developed seizures and blamed local women. Curiously, many of the afflicted had feuded with the accusers’ families. Tituba, a Caribbean slave, was accused and fearfully told them what they wanted to hear: that she’d signed Satan’s book. Then she named names, since they expected it, feeding the fury. Anyone with a grudge could suddenly remember an evil eye or a sudden death and cast blame. Roach gives too much background on superfluous accusations that really didn’t affect the six primary subjects. The specially called Court of Oyer and Terminer asked each of the accused the same questions over and over, ignoring pleas and even proofs of innocence. Hearings were distracted as victims collapsed upon seeing the accused. One girl was found to have brought pins to stab herself and blame the accused; no doubt this was not an isolated incident. Twenty-eight were condemned. In 1711, 22 of those were pardoned, way too late for those who had already been executed.
Had Roach been stricter in adhering to the stories of the six women, without naming all the other accused, the book would have provided better insight into a strange period. As it is, there is just too much information, too many asides, too much confusion and too many victims.