On June 2nd 1692, the first case of the Salem Witch Trials took place against Bridget Bishop. After the court found Bishop guilty, she was hanged eight days later on June 10th. Following Bishop’s trial, thirteen women and five men were also sentenced to death after being found guilty of witchcraft over the subsequent months.
These trials occurred months after the initial events of the Salem Witch Trials began. In January 1692, Reverend Samuel Parris’s daughter Betty and his niece Abigail Williams appeared to have fallen ill. The girls displayed erratic, frightening behavior: producing strange noises, cowering under furniture, and cradling their heads. When medicine and prayer failed to treat Betty and Abigail, the only other explanation the residents of Salem could attribute was witchcraft. News of the girls’ illness reached surrounding towns in Essex County and other villagers begin exhibiting similar and more severe symptoms. Eventually victims began blaming others of witchcraft, providing any evidence they could find against the accused. By the end of 1692, around 150 people from all over Essex County were jailed on the account of witchcraft.
On the 329th anniversary of the first trial, here are five books (three nonfiction, two fiction) about this tragic, unforgettable event in American history:
1. A Storm of Witchcraft: The Salem Trials and the American Experience (Emerson W. Baker)
The Salem Witch Trials are explained within the greater context of the historical events (religious and political) leading up to, and occurring simultaneously as, the events of 1692. Baker also examines many of the most well-known historical figures who played integral parts in the Salem Witch Trials, including the accused, the accusers, government officials, and judges.
2. Six Women of Salem (Marilynne K. Roach)
Rather than taking a “bird’s eye” view of the Salem Witch Trials, examining the historical event through a broad lens of social, political, and religious contexts, Roach invites readers to learn about living through the Salem Witch Trials from the perspectives of six different women. Roach reminds readers that while names and individuals are often reduced to “stock characters” and “stereotypes” when learning about history, these individuals nonetheless “deserve to be remembered” and emphasizes that “modern readers can benefit from such historical intimacy.”
3. Witches! : The Absolutely True Tale of Disaster in Salem (Rosalyn Schanzer)
Although intended for older children and teenagers, this compelling, detailed, and fascinating work will educate and grip the attention of adults too. Encompassing scratchboard illustrations and primary sources, Witches! teaches young readers about the Salem Witch Trials in an age-appropriate, yet truthful manner. The hauntingly beautiful illustrations add an emotional element to this work, reminding readers of the horror, sadness, and paranoia that plagued the residents of Salem during the late 1600s.
4. The Crucible (Arthur Miller)
No list of Salem Witch Trial reading recommendations would be complete without this classic play. Featuring the historical figures who lived during the trials, The Crucible imagines what occurred during the trials and what the relationships among those involved may have looked like. Miller’s work also serves as an allegory about mass hysteria, McCarthyism, and the use of witch-hunt tactics to accuse (and expose) possible Communists during the 1950s.
5. The Heretic’s Daughter (Kathleen Kent)
This compelling fictionalized account of the Salem Witch Trials follows a young woman named Sarah and her family, who arrive in a New England town already suffering from paranoia and superstition. The family watches as the hysteria unfolds, breaking up friendships and relationships and disarraying everyday life. When Sarah’s mother Martha is accused, she asks Sarah to “commit an act of heresy” in order to protect their family. The lie might save Sarah, but will undoubtedly spell out death for Martha.