Records of the Salem Witch-Hunt

Published by Cambridge University Press
Hardcover (2009): ISBN 0-521-66166-8 - Available for Order at Amazon.com
Paperback (2013): ISBN 978-1107689619 - Available for Order at Amazon.com

A chronological collection of new scholarly transcriptions
of all the extant original legal records
of the witchcraft cases in Massachusetts in 1692-1693.

Bernard Rosenthal, General Editor

Associate Editors

Gretchen A. Adams
Margo Burns
Peter Grund
Risto Hiltunen
Leena Kahlas-Tarkka
Merja Kytö
Matti Peikola
Benjamin C. Ray
Matti Rissanen
Marilynne K. Roach
Richard Trask

Project Manager

Margo Burns

Records of the Salem Witch-Hunt

This book represents the first comprehensive record of all legal documents pertaining to the Salem witch trials, in chronological order. Numerous newly discovered manuscripts, as well as records published in earlier books that were overlooked in other editions, offer a comprehensive narrative account of the events of 1692-93, with supplementary materials stretching as far as the mid - 18th century. The book may be used as a reference book or read as an unfolding narrative. All legal records are newly transcribed, and errors in previous editions have been corrected. Included in this edition is a historical introduction, a legal introduction, and a linguistic introduction. Manuscripts are accompanied by notes that, in many cases, identify the person who wrote the record. This has never been attempted, and much is revealed by seeing who wrote what, when.

Contents

  1. List of facsimile plates;
  2. General introduction, by Bernard Rosenthal;
  3. Legal procedures used during the Salem witch trials and a brief history of the published versions of the records, by Richard Trask;
  4. Linguistic introduction, by Peter Grund, Risto Hiltunen, Leena Kahlas-Tarkka, Merja Kytö, Matti Peikola and Matti Rissanen;
  5. Editorial principles;
  6. Chronological arrangement, by Bernard Rosenthal and Margo Burns;
  7. List of the records of the Salem witch hunt;
  8. The records;
  9. Timeline: Court of Oyer & Terminer and Superior Court of Judicature;
  10. Biographical notes, by Marilynne K. Roach;
  11. Works cited;
  12. Acknowledgements;
  13. Index.

Reviews

Paul Boyer, co-author with Stephen Nissenbaum of Salem Possessed: The Social Origins of Witchcraft: "Few events of American history continue to grip our imagination as does the Salem witchcraft outbreak of 1692. This monumental new work of collaborative historical scholarship presents nearly a thousand legal documents relating to that outbreak, freshly edited with scrupulous care and introduced with a series of helpful essays. In this definitive assemblage of the episode's legal records, human anguish, terror, confusion, and grim certitude constantly break through the legalese. Records of the Salem Witch-Hunt will be welcomed not only by legal scholars, linguists, American Colonial historians, and students of witchcraft, but by all who continue to be drawn to the dark events that unfolded in a New England village more than three centuries ago."

John Murrin, Princeton University: "Bernard Rosenthal and his exceptionally talented, international team of associate editors have produced the most comprehensive and carefully edited collection of legal documents from the Salem witch trials ever published. Unlike the three-volume collection of The Salem Witchcraft Papers, edited by Paul Boyer and Stephen Nissenbaum, who used the typescript prepared by the Works Progress Administration during the New Deal, the Rosenthal team has gone back to the original manuscripts and, in the process, corrected a number of serious errors of transcription. They have included more than thirty new documents either never published before or only printed in part. Unlike the earlier compilations that followed the practice of seventeenth-century courts in organizing the documents on a case-by-case basis in alphabetical order, this volume proceeds in chronological order, which permits the user to see on any given day how the larger crisis unfolded and how accusations against the victims were interrelated. Noting that scholars have disagreed sharply about the trials, Rosenthal declares that 'This edition will not settle these differences, but if it succeeds it will give the reader the most comprehensive, most carefully and consistently transcribed record ever produced of the Salem witch trials, as well as a chronological ordering of the documents.' His team has achieved this extraordinary goal."

Mary Beth Norton, author of In the Devil's Snare: The Salem Witchcraft Crisis of 1692: "Bernard Rosenthal and his international editorial team have produced an extraordinarily useful new edition of the Salem witch-trial records. Notable not only for its accurate transcriptions and revelatory chronological organization but also for its helpful general introductions and detailed annotations of individual documents, this volume will open new realms of inquiry to scholars and interested non-specialists alike. A truly remarkable editing achievement, it signals a great step forward in witchcraft studies."

L. B. Gimelli, emeritus, Eastern Michigan University: "The Salem witch trials of 1692-93 have fascinated scholars and the general public for generations, and this work will surely stimulate that interest. Editor Rosenthal (author of the acclaimed Salem Story, CH, Ju1'94, 31-5997) and his associates have assembled in one volume all the known legal documents that are relevant to the trials. These include items such as arrest warrants, depositions, and interrogations of alleged witches. The arrangement of the documents in chronological order helps readers interested in the entire sweep of the Salem witch episode. A comprehensive name index and biographical notes should prove helpful to readers interested in a case-study approach. Three essays provide useful guides to the collection. Rosenthal's introduction presents an excellent overview of the Salem tragedy and places it within the context of the times. It is especially valuable for its critique of the ways in which the authorities dealt with the charges and their acceptance of spectral evidence. The author also deals with the major interpretations put forth by scholars who have sought to explain the bizarre behavior of the girls who initiated the controversy. Another essay explains the legal procedures followed during the trials and links them with English precedents. A unique feature of the book is the essay on linguistics, which provides background on the evolution of American English and functions as a guide for readers who might need help in deciphering archaic words or phrases, as well as other nuances of 17th-century American English. This volume supplants The Salem Witchcraft Papers (1977), edited by Paul Boyer and Stephen Nissenbaum. Extensive notes and an excellent bibliography enhance the worth of this work, which belongs in all major public and university libraries. Summing Up: Essential. All levels/libraries." (Choice: Current Reviews for Academic Libraries, October 2009, Vol. 47 No. 02)

The American Genealogist: "The witch trials held in Salem, Mass., in 1692 are among the major mythic experiences of the American psyche....These records are essential for any genealogist interested in northern New England. They provide explicit statements of relationships not found in other primary sources, as well as evidence from which scholars may infer the possibility of other family connections....This is a publication of the greatest significance that should be obtained by any individual and library interested in colonial New England and its history and geography."


Comments from the "Salem Forum" in the July 2008 issue of the William and Mary Quarterly:

Jane Kamensky, Brandeis University, author of Governing the Tongue: "Records of the Salem Witch-Hunt [is] a superb new edition of the legal records of Massachusetts witchcraft prosecutions in 1692-93. This documentary resource, more than a decade in the making, supersedes Paul Boyer and Stephen Nissenbaum's 1977 Salem Witchcraft Papers, which was based largely on the Works Progress Administration's transcripts dating from the 1930s, which in turn relied on a nineteenth-century compilation that repeated errors Cotton Mather, among others, had introduced more than two centuries earlier... [This] crack team of historians, editors, and linguists have gone back to the original manuscripts with renewed zeal, fresh eyes, and great care. Numerous refinements result. The editors found new documents, purged old mistakes, and solved lingering puzzles. Using digital photography to bolster their old-fashioned paleographic detective work, they identified the handwriting of the two dozen men responsible for recording most of the documents. Knowing each clerk's hand allowed them to sequence the legal proceedings more fully than was previously possible. Indeed chronology is the main organizing principle of Records of the Salem Witch-Hunt, which asks scholars to understand the Essex County witch hunts as they unfolded in time -- as the people involved experienced them -- rather than on a case-by-case basis, as older documentary editions presented them.Historians make for poor predictors of the future, yet it seems safe to venture that the new Records of the Salem Witch-Hunt will quickly become the authoritative source for research on Salem and a great many other topics besides."

Mary Beth Norton, Cornell University, author of In the Devil's Snare: The Salem Witchcraft Crisis of 1692: "I applaud the decision of the editors of Records of the Salem Witch-Hunt to adopt a chronological organizational scheme... And now other readers will be able to see what I saw as I read the documents and wrote [my] book: the way in which the witchcraft crisis ebbed and flowed over time and how events built to an initial crescendo in mid- to late May 1692, with others following in mid- to late July and in late August to early September. Because of the care with which the editors have identified scribal hands, the specific roles played by men such as Thomas Putnam and the Reverend Samuel Parris will now also be open to further analysis."

John Demos, Yale University, author of Entertaining Satan: "A new and improved Records of the Salem Witch-Hunt surely deserves loud applause. Indeed this edition of the records could well prove invaluable..."

Carol Karlsen, University of Michigan, author of The Devil in the Shape of a Woman: "Records of the Salem Witch-Hunt ... promises to be a wonderful addition to the scholarly resources on the 1692-93 Salem trials.... [T]hey have corrected earlier errors; clarified confusing language; added all court documents discovered since Boyer and Nissenbaum published the Works Progress Administration's typed transcripts; identified the many original recorders of handwritten manuscripts, noting the timing and idiosyncrasies of their entries; and sorted out the order of court appearances of accused witches and their accusers and defenders. We can now have greater confidence in the sequence of events in Salem because each legal document appears in chronological order. What's a scholar not to like about such an updated collection?"

Paul Boyer, University of Wisconsin, and Stephen Nissenbaum, University of Vermont, authors of Salem Possessed: The Social Origins of Witchcraft: "They have discovered new documents, caught transcription errors, retrieved misfiled records, reunited separated documents, and restored to their proper place many of the miscellaneous 'Additional Documents' of earlier editions of the witchcraft records. ... Their long-awaited work will facilitate a reconstruction of the legal history of the outbreak at a level of detail that has hitherto been difficult if not impossible. Students of Salem witchcraft, legal historians, and American colonial historians generally can only applaud the publication of this monumental work. It will clearly supersede all previous editions, including our own now out-of-print Salem Witchcraft Papers..."


This page last updated February 18, 2014, by Margo Burns, mburns @ salemeditors.org