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Book Review of A Delusion of Satan

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Frances Hill. A Delusion of Satan. United States: first Da Capo Press edition, 1997; second Da Capo Press edition, 2002. Frances Hill wrote A Delusion of Satan in 1995. It’s a non-fiction book recounting the gruesome details of the witch-hunt hysteria and trials in Salem Village, which is now Danvers, Massachusetts. Hill is an author from London, England who has written three other non-fiction books about the Salem witch trials titled The Salem Witch Trials Reader, Hunting for Witches, and Such Men Are Dangerous. The majority of A Delusion of Satan takes place in 1692 but the author also writes about events taking place from 1689 to 1706. Hill’s main point is to give an accurate narrative of what happened during the Salem witch trials and how horribly and unfairly the wrongly accused people were treated. She also gives background information on all of the people involved and tries to explain why the accusers, or the “afflicted,” accused innocent people of being witches and let them be imprisoned or put to death by hanging.

Hill’s point of view about the trials and hysteria is explanatory along with some underlying disgust about how the people were treated so unfairly and were put to death for false accusations based on the word of several girls who were probably hysterical and delusional from the Puritan lives they lead, just looking for some entertainment which then got out of hand, or were helping themselves or their families get rid of enemies; or maybe it was all of the above. But one thing Hill makes clear is that none of the accusers had actually been bewitched like they claimed to have been. The importance of the book is for the truth to be told about the horrible things that were done to these innocent people and the injustice that was served. The judges and magistrates took the word of the accusers over the innocent people just because the accusers were young girls. The book tells the story of when the Parris’s first moved to Salem Village with their daughter Betty (9 years old) and their probably orphaned niece Abigail Williams (11 years old) and their servants Tituba and John Indian. Samuel Parris was ordained the minister of Salem Village church.

Hill then goes into detail of how Betty, Abigail, and their neighbor friends Ann Putnam, Mary Walcott, Mercy Lewis, Elizabeth Hubbard, and more over time all started having strange fits and become “afflicted.” They accused Tituba, Sarah Good (a beggar who would curse at people if they refused her), and Sarah Osborne (had legal issues with the Putnams and was ill) of being witches and said they were the ones who bewitched them. They were the first three to be accused of witchcraft and were sent to prison. Over time they blame a lot more people including church members and higher up people in the social class. Tons of people go to prison and are basically tortured in dungeons. Then on June 10 Bridget Bishop is the first person the be to hanged on Gallows Hill and following are 19 more people who were sentenced to death by hanging except Giles Cory who was pressed to death instead. Some others who were accused of witchcraft died in prison. What finally ends the Salem witch trials is when the afflicted accuse governor William Phipps’ wife of being a witch. He stops imprisonment and in may of 1693 orders the release of all of the people accused of witchcraft that were still in prison. The girls weren’t actually afflicted nor were they possessed.

They also didn’t see or hear things like they claimed, and if they did it was because they were delusional. It was easy for young girls to become hysterical back in those times because of the pressure of the Puritan society for them not to sin in any way. It was also a possibility that they may have just been seeking attention and once they got some attention, they didn’t want to stop and things just got way out of hand so they couldn’t turn back and therefore became hysterical and delusional. Or their parents and family members may have pressured them to get rid of their enemies once the fits and accusations began and that’s why so many people were accused. Hill wanted to make give an accurate account of the happenings of the Salem witch trials and I believe she did so. The way she wrote the book was like she was telling a story, not just writing down information like in a history book. That made it much easier to read and way more enjoyable. The book flowed really well the way she wrote it and I honestly didn’t want to put the book down once I started reading it. This also made it easier for me to absorb the information and I learned a lot from this book.

The second page of the book has a map of Salem Village and the surrounding area in 1692; this helps give the reader a better idea of how far away each person lived from each other and why it took so long to get places because they had to travel miles to each parsonage or farm and it also shows why the children weren’t able to socialize very often. Another important thing about the map is that it shows where the trials took place and where Gallows Hill is, which is where the people were hanged. It’s really interesting to be able to see it all mapped out like that rather than trying to imagine it. There is then on page 229 The Salem With-hunt Death Toll that lists the dates and name of the people hanged for witchcraft in 1692 and then a list of people who were accused that died in prison. There are also a few pages in the middle of the book with pictures of Samuel Parris, Cotton Mather (author of Memorable Providences Relating to Witches and Possessions, 1689; son of minister Increase Mather), and Samuel Sewall (one of the magistrates of the Court of Oyer and Terminer, 1692). There are pictures of legal documents, buildings, and monuments.

On page XII is The Putnam Family of Salem Village that is a family tree of the Putnam family. This family is rather larger and a lot of them have the same names, so this family tree makes it easier to keep track of who is how and how each person is related to one another. Hill also wrote a Key Persons Involved section on pages 219-224 that gives the details of exactly what each person’s involvement was in the Salem witch trials, which reinforced everything that she had previously written but was just more simplistic and made the book a lot easier to follow because it’s all laid out there for the reader. After that is a Chronology section on pages 225-228 that puts the main events in chronological order starting from 1689 when the Parris family moves to Salem village. The section ends with the year 1706 and with probably the most important sentence of the book, in my opinion, which is, “Ann Putnam makes an apology in Salem Village church for causing deaths of innocent people and says it was due to a ‘great delusion of Satan.’” (228) Hill titled her book after this line, yet she has it tucked away in the back of the book in this section.

But it’s almost as if that makes the sentence even more profound. It also helps prove that the whole affliction and bewitched-ness that these girls were suffering from was all made up and for Ann Putnam, it was delusion that caused her fits. The way Hill wrote the book and has it all laid out with the sections that simplify all of the information, and the maps, pictures, and lists, makes this the best non-fiction historical book I’ve ever read. It was so easy to follow and super interesting. I would recommend this book to everyone. I have a much clearer and better understanding of the Salem witch-hunts, trials, and hysteria now than I’ve ever had before. Hill accomplished her goal of explaining the occurrences and letting it be known how horribly and unjust those innocent people were treated.

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