A Storm Of Witchcraft: The Salem Witch Trials And The American Experience By Emerson W. Baker
Emerson W. Baker’s latest non-fiction book, A Storm of Witchcraft: The Salem Witch Trials and The American Experience, discusses one of the most interesting and most studied events in U.S. history. The novel opens by explaining a small wooden chest found as an artifact in the Peabody Essex Museum located in Salem, Massachusetts. The chest was probably carved as a wedding gift for the Quaker couple Joseph and Bathsheba Pope in the 1670s, who end up playing a large role in the events in Salem, but not in the role you would think, being accused of practicing witchcraft but in fact they were accusers, who held the deaths of both Rebecca Nurse and John Procter on their hands. The author focuses on the how and why the Salem Witch Trials began but is sure to explain that you cannot pinpoint an exact reason why this mystery occurred, “What happened in Salem was a perfect storm.”
The witchcraft accusations began when villagers, who were mostly young women, started complaining of being haunted by a specter or curse and feeling the sensation of needles poking into their skin. The community of Salem began to look for answers as to why these women were suffering from demonic doings, which led to the Salem Witch Trials that ended with 19 women and men hanged and many others who died in prison. Baker addresses the vast range of factors that may have caused this mystery to occur from religious disagreements, political conflicts, dishonest judges, government and charter changes, to the lethal frontier war. To this day, historians are still questioning the Salem tragedy. The Puritan government, already fading in the Massachusetts Bay, was truly tested and ended up feeding the public’s suspicions in their efforts to shut them down. The author makes a point that this was the final change for the colonies in history from Puritan communalism to independence. Finally, Baker ends the book by challenging readers to put the past into perspective of our lives today with a moral derived from history. In the final pages of the book, Baker states, “change the word witch to terrorist and we can perhaps better appreciate the complexity of the problem that the people of Salem … faced in 1692.”
The background of this book is mostly set in 1692 but the author includes first-hand sources of people who experience the Witch Trials that year but wrote and published their accounts in later years. For example, in 1695, Thomas Maule, a Salem Quaker, published his opinion on the trials and in the simplest words, he denounced them. Geographically, the book takes place in Salem, Massachusetts but Salem was broken up into Salem proper and then the adjacent community was known as Salem Village or Salem Farms. The time period that this text deals with is the Colonial America Period that took place from 1492-1763. The author of A Storm of Witchcraft: The Salem Witch Trials and the American Experience, Emerson “Tad” W. Baker II, has a clear fascination with witchcraft and the mystery of the 1692 Salem Witch Trials. Baker is an archeologist and a professor of history at Salem State University. In addition to this book, he is the author and co-author of 4 books, 2 others based off of witchcraft and he has even developed an app that is connected to a map with marked locations of the events that led up to the Witch Trials, including pictures and information. The author chose to write about this topic because, like most historians, they are captivated by times of crisis and change. There is a definite viewpoint and Baker provides readers with information that is not swayed by historical bias.
In Baker’s work of non-fiction, the author presents the event and time period with strong opinions and answers for the unsolved questions backed by facts and logic. The whole book is Baker trying to crack every piece of the puzzle that took place in 1692 and I think that is why most readers enjoy the novel because it is a real-life mystery case. Applying my knowledge of the author and what I learned from the book, I can absolutely say that my book was not written in the time period of which it deals with because the author was born in 1958 but the Salem Witch Trials took place in 1692- a 266-year difference, so it would be impossible. I think that in terms of U.S. history and the culture of this nation this book explained a very interesting but very factual approach where we can take the past and apply it to the present. Personally, I strongly dislike reading historical or non-fiction books because I find no interest in the past at all. Despite this, the last few sentences of Emerson W. Baker’s novel threw me completely off and just took me by surprise. I was falling asleep and just trying to finish the last pages until I read the quote I had mentioned previously, “change the word witch to terrorist and we can perhaps better appreciate the complexity of the problem that the people of Salem … faced in 1692.” For some reason, this comparison really had me thinking about how insanely correct the author is. The book helped me make connections to my trip to Salem, Massachusetts in 7th grade and going into the witchcraft museums with the real story and the facts of what happened that fateful year. This story is an important part of history in the U.S. because as I had said earlier, the trials concluded the Puritan government system and began to introduce the Yankee independence. It is believed that they exemplify how much damage ignorance, the public, and hysteria can cause on top of showing how fragile the society was when faced with conflict. In addition, some also argue that there are many reasons as to why the events in Salem where crucially important for democracy’s birth in America. The complete collapse of religious belief and the state and government’s religious bias proved to be catastrophic in Salem.
In conclusion, Emerson W. Baker’s non-fiction novel, A Storm of Witchcraft: The Salem Trials and the American Experience, is brilliant, informational, and a must-read for those interested in the Salem Witch Trials.
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