J. L. BELL is a Massachusetts writer who specializes in (among other things) the start of the American Revolution in and around Boston. He is particularly interested in the experiences of children in 1765-75. He has published scholarly papers and popular articles for both children and adults. He was consultant for an episode of History Detectives, and contributed to a display at Minute Man National Historic Park.

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Sunday, November 07, 2010

Salem Revisits Colonial Witchcraft, 18 Nov. and 16 Dec.

Now that Hallowe’en is past, Salem can turn to its real history of witchcraft—or, rather, to the real history of the witchcraft hysteria that began in Salem Village, now Danvers, and spread through Massachusetts.

The Old Town Hall Lectures in Salem series has two upcoming presentations related to that 1692 scare and its repercussions.

Judge Sewall’s Apology
Thursday, November 18, 2010
Illustrated lecture and book signing with Richard Francis

The Salem witch hunt has entered our vocabulary as the very essence of injustice. Judge Samuel Sewall presided at these trials, passing harsh judgment on the condemned. But five years later, he publicly recanted his guilty verdicts and begged for forgiveness. This extraordinary act was a turning point not only for Sewall but also for America’s nascent values and mores.

Witchcraft and Conflict in Early New England
Thursday, December 16, 2010
Illustrated lecture and book signing with Emerson (“Tad”) Baker

In 1682, ten years before the infamous Salem witch trials, the town of Great Island, New Hampshire, was plagued by mysterious events: strange, demonic noises; unexplainable movement of objects; and hundreds of stones that rained upon a local tavern and appeared at random inside its walls. Town residents blamed what they called “Lithobolia” or “the stone-throwing devil.” In this lively account, Emerson Baker shows how witchcraft hysteria overtook one town and spawned copycat incidents elsewhere in New England, prefiguring the horrors of Salem. In the process, he illuminates a cross-section of colonial society and overturns many popular assumptions about witchcraft in the seventeenth century.
America’s Revolutionary unrest started over seventy years after the Salem witch scare, about as long as it’s been for us since the Great Depression. But the specter of those events still lingered, as I discussed back here and here. And now it’s the basis of a tourist economy!

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