17th Century New England, with special emphasis on the Salem Witchcraft Trials

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Some of the interest in this set of webpages on the topic of 17th c. Colonial New England, with special emphasis on The Salem Witchcraft Trials of 1692, has to do with Arthur Miller's play, The Crucible, and the 1996 movie of it starring Daniel Day Lewis and Winona Ryder, but my interest in the subject has to do with my roll as Associate Editor and Project Manager of the new book of scholarly transcriptions of all the primary sources of the legal records of the witchcraft prosecutions in 1692 and 1693, Records of the Salem Witch-Hunt. I have put a lot of help finding on-line primary sources at this site.

Additionally, my great-x10-grandmother was Rebecca Nurse (one of many thousands of such descendants, btw, so it's not that big a deal...). The idea is obviously nothing new -- the trials and executions have long fascinated writers, historians, and tourists to Salem. (Forget that silly wax museum if you do come to Salem -- go see the real documents at the Essex-Peabody Museum, or in the summer take a tour of Rebecca Nurse's actual house over in Danvers, formerly called "Salem Village," where the nastiness all really started.)

If you are more interested in the historical aspects of the events than in Miller's fictional rendition (I've written up a comparison of the facts and his fiction and a included links to sites about The Crucible but I my primary interest is NOT this play), you can find a pretty good annotated bibliography here of what's available. This list represents the pile of books here next to my reading chair and my bed. As I read them, I will add a few lines to annotate the listing -- so if there's nothing after the entry, I may not have gotten to that book yet, or it was long enough ago that I've forgotten. So far, the Anderson, Cronon, and all of Boyer & Nissenbaum's have been the most valuable to me.

If my bibliography is too scholarly for you, you may also be interested in looking through the set of annotated links (look on the right side of this page) to various sites on the Web which have some real content, including notes about which sites have good image files worth downloading for school projects on the subject, but it is my observation that the Internet is not a good place to do real research. You will find a lot of poorly written, poorly researched materials, and very little in the way of solid primary sources. My advice is to use the Internet to poke around and find good leads to information and to make contact with human beings who share your interests, but there is nothing currently on-line which can compare to a library for doing research.

Please don't write to me about Arthur Miller's play for an English class paper on the play -- I really prefer investigating what actually happened historically. Even though Millers characters share names and basic life stories with real people, Miller made up their motivation and used them artistically to make his own points.

I have compiled these links to help people who are doing research on the web on the topic of the Salem Witch Trials of 1692, and by extension anything to do with 17th Century Colonial New England. Because I get a lot of requests from students in primary and secondary schools for help on this topic, I have paid special attention to include links to resources for young people who are working on projects for school, but many of the links are to areas of general interest to people of all ages.

I maintain, however, that the Internet is not the research tool many people think it is. Most of the information lacks depth, and there are many inaccuracies on-line. Always consider the source! (A great site for guidelines for evaluating on-line materials can be found at Widener University's Wolfgram Memorial Library.) The best use of the Internet as a research tool is as a place to start getting ideas and making contact with other humans. A library is still your best source of research materials. If you do use materials you find on the Internet in your research, it is important to cite them properly. If you need help, please refer to A Brief Citation Guide for Internet Sources in History and the Humanities, by Melvin E. Page, Humanities-on-Line and History Department, East Tennessee State University.

Britannica.com Internet AwardBest of the Net, September 1999

The Links

My link collection currently contains 280 links, which are cross-indexed in the following 25 categories and checked for 404 errors ("File Not Found") on a regular basis. The titles and my descriptions of the sites are searchable.

  • Archeological Exploration [8 links] -- A dedicated group of historians/archeologists have done a lot to explore the phsyical remains of the imprint the people in the 17th century have left behind.

  • Resources at this Website [16 links] -- These are my own personal contributions to the web, mostly transcriptions of primary sources. The Holy Grail of the Web: Original Content.

  • Audio/Video Programs [7 links] -- Streaming audio and video of various radio/TV programs and interviews with historians.

  • Best Sites on The Internet [47 links] -- These are the sites which have really impressed me for the accuracy, depth, and quality of the materials available. My criteria are wholly subjective: if I find myself saying "Wow!", it gets a star!

  • Connecticut [9 links] -- Sites specifically about Connecticut

  • Daily Life [9 links] -- Information on how people lived their daily lives during that time period in New England

  • On-Line Discussions [19 links] -- One of the best uses of the Internet is to put people with similar interests in touch with one-another, with web-based bulletin boards, electronic mailing lists, and Usenet newsgroups.

  • Essays [48 links] -- This is a general category for any kind of writing about the period by people today.

  • Frequently-Asked Questions [9 links] -- Check these if you have questions -- someone has probably already asked it!

  • Genealogy: Charts and Biographies [23 links] -- If your interest is your ancestors, these links go to sites with genealogical and biographical information.

  • Hollywood: Movies and History [11 links] -- Movies are currently the most compelling medium for telling tales about ourselves and our history, but the truth often gets lost in the pursuit of box-office receipts.

  • Images & Facsimilies [48 links] -- This is a very helpful collection of links for anyone who needs to add some graphics to a paper or report. There are images of items from daily life in the 17th c., as well as paintings, portraits, maps, and even manuscripts and entire rare books, page by page, from the period. Please note: respect all copyrights and obtain permission to reproduce copyrighted images.

  • Literature Inspired by this Period [24 links] -- Information about various later authors and their literary works which were inspired by events and people in colonial New England -- among them, Arthur Miller (The Crucible) and Nathaniel Hawthorne (The Scarlett Letter and "Young Goodman Brown").

  • Increase & Cotton Mather [14 links] -- Increase Mather (1639-1723) and Cotton Mather (1663-1728) , father and son, were two of the most prominent Congregational clergymen of the period, and made influential public responses to the witchcraft trials.

  • Museums, Libraries, Memorials & Historical Societies [30 links] -- There are a lot of places around New England which have historical collections and exhibits about the 17th century. This is not a definitive list, but includes a lot of the hilites.

  • Native American Indians [25 links] -- New England was inhabited long before any of the white English colonists began to invade. The full story cannot be told if this part of the population is overlooked or ignored.

  • New Hampshire [8 links] -- Information about my home state of New Hampshire during the 17th century

  • Plimoth Plantation, the Mayflower, and the Pilgrims [11 links] -- What resource about colonial New England would be complete without materials about the original settlement of pilgrims in Plimouth?

  • Primary Sources [63 links] -- These are texts of writings from the 17th century -- including court papers and first-person accounts of events. Some of the texts are embedded in page somewhere, but they are useful to be able to find.

  • Quakers, Anabaptists, Antinominians and Other Heterodoxies [12 links] -- Although the original Puritan settlers came to the New World for "religious freedom," it is evident from their oppression of Quakers, Anabaptists, and Antinominians that the Puritans' own religion was the only one people were really "free" to practice without fear of imprisonment, torture, and/or banishment.

  • References & Bibliographies [14 links] -- Most of these links are to lists of books and other kinds of references which you would look up in a library -- which frankly is a better place to do research.

  • Teaching Materials [18 links] -- These include syllabi, lecture notes, discussion questions, and suggested activities for use in both history courses and American Literature courses, especially those which cover Arthur Miller and Nathaniel Hawthorn.

  • Timelines [16 links] -- These links are generally lists of dates, which might be helpful in placing various events relatively in time.

  • Witchcraft [109 links] -- These links have to do with historical perceptions of witchcraft in Europe and the Americas, including methods of detection and the people who were persecuted, not with modern-day Wicca.

  • Sites For Young Researchers [17 links] -- These sites contain materials which look especially useful to me for K-8 students who are just starting out learning about history -- basic reference materials and images for reports.



This page was last updated 01/22/12 by Margo Burns, My email address..