American History to 1887

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Paul Boyer and Stephen Nissenbaum's Salem Possessed explores the pre-existing social and economic divisions within the Salem Village community, as an entry point to understand the accusations of witchcraft in 1692. According to Boyer and Nissenbaum, the village split into two factions: one interested in gaining more autonomy for Salem Village and led by the Putnam family, and the other, interested in the mercantile and political life of Salem Town and led by the Porter family. Boyer and Nissenbaum's deft and imaginative look at local records reveals the contours of communal life in colonial New England and provides a model through which to understand the witchcraft accusations as part of a larger pattern of communal strife. Such a tight focus on communal and social causes for the events of 1692, however, loses sight of the religious, gendered, and individual forces that played equally pivotal roles in the outbreak.

Paul Boyer and Stephen Nissenbaum's Salem Possessed: The Social Origins of Witchcraft redefined the standard for the possibilities social history offers to understand the events and people of early America. Through a painstaking and creative look at local records such as legal records, the Salem Village record book, the minister's book, and tax records Boyer and Nissenbaum discovered a long-standing pattern of contentious behavior of which the witchcraft accusations in 1692 was just one episode. Their analysis provides an invaluable insight into the social history of New England generally, and the factions of Salem Village that led to the tragic events of 1692, in particular.

Boyer and Nissenbaum's explanation for the outbreak of witchcraft accusations in Salem hinges on an understanding of the economic, political and personal issues which divided village long before 1692. At bottom, geography and history divided Salem Village and Salem Town. Situated in the interior from the bustling mercantile town of Salem, Salem Village remained primarily an...
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