Salem Possessed: the Social Origins of Witchcraft

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Salem Possessed: The Social Origins of Witchcraft, Paul Boyer and Stephen Nissenbaum, Cambridge, MA, Harvard University Press copyright 1974.

The purpose of this book was to examine the history and social life of Salem Village to try to figure out what was the cause of the events that occurred there. I believe that the authors achieved their objective at least they did to me. 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 agricultural community. Boyer and Nissenbaum argue that this polarization of interests between the town and the village created a similar divide within the village itself. One faction, led by the Putnam family, most identified itself with the traditional agricultural activities of the village and consequently supported the village minister, Samuel Parris, and the drive for greater autonomy from Salem Town. The opposing faction, led by the Porter family, identified itself with the mercantile town, near which most of the Porter faction lived. In opposition to the Putnam faction, the Porters opposed the minister and wanted greater association with the town of Salem. The bitter and contentious disputes between the two factions within Salem Village both before and after the witchcraft outbreak, demonstrate a pattern of communal conflict which transcended the events of 1692. These same fault-lines, according to Boyer and Nissenbaum, explain the pattern of witchcraft accusations. The same villagers, who stood with the Putnam's to support Parris and petition for an independent church for the village, show up as complaints on witchcraft indictments in1692. Similarly, many of the accused witches in Salem belonged to the Porter...
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