Book Rev of Salem possessed

Boyer, Paul, and Stephen Nissenbaum. Salem Possessed. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 1974. When one hears the word Salem, many unpleasant images are conjured in that persons mind. One may think of the misplaced fervor of the Puritans, one may call to mind the lack of justice in the trials, or one may even be appalled by the tragic deaths of nineteen individuals and the imprisonment of hundreds of others. However, instead of focusing on just the unpleasant images of the witch trials, Paul Boyer and Stephen Nissenbaum focus on the events leading up to them. The formation of the township in 1672, the decrease in the average landholdings, and the transition to a mercantile society are discussed at length, as are many other issues. Using church archives that include tax assessments, community votes, and lists of local officials, Boyer and Nissenbaum have been able to compile a civil and religious record of this infamous community that could help explain the notorious witch trials of 1692. In using first hand sources that no other historians have used to any great extent, these authors offer the definitive picture of life in Salem during the later part of the seventeenth century. According to Boyer and Nissenbaum, troubles between opposing factions were problematic from Salem Villages founding in 1672. Originally an extension of the urban Salem Town, Salem Village came into being when the farmers of this rural area, fed up with the distance to the city center, formed their own parish. Many people within the Village still attended church in the town and did not associate with the Villagers, however. These people were considered outsiders and were some of the main targets in 1692. Another main point made clear by these two men was the decrease in the size of landholdings. In a style reminiscent of Peter Laslett, Boyer and Nissenbaum show how property conflicts and the distribution of w…

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