The Book, Cat, & Cat Book Lovers Almanac

of historical trivia regarding books, cats, and other animals. Actually this blog has evolved so that it is described better as a blog about cats in history and culture. And we take as a theme the advice of Aldous Huxley: If you want to be a writer, get some cats. Don't forget to see the archived articles linked at the bottom of the page.

October 18, 2013

October 18, 1679

For more than a year in Salem, 1692 to 1693, a small community suffered from a certain hysteria. Even today, it is only in the last few years, has eye-witness testimony about external events, been shown to be faulty. Imagine a community shot through with the debris of religious conflict. Imagine a young girl, 11 years old, pleasing her parents by her accusations against their rivals in the village power hierarchy. Imagine the isolation of a community clinging to the edge of a hostile wilderness. Imagine a really cold winter. 

No, it still doesn't make sense does it? But it happened. Ann Putnam, (October 18, 1679 to 1716) the girl we referenced above, with her play mates, accused more than one hundred people of witchcraft. They hung nineteen people, and more died as a result of the trials. The end of these troubles came about with some thoughtful analyses. Here is one summary:

By early autumn of 1692, Salem's lust for blood was ebbing. Doubts were developing as to how so many respectable people could be guilty. Reverend John Hale said, " It cannot be imagined that in a place of so much knowledge, so many in so small compass of land should abominably leap into the Devil's lap at once." The educated elite of the colony began efforts to end the witch-hunting hysteria that had enveloped Salem. Increase Mather, the father of Cotton, published what has been called "America's first tract on evidence," a work entitled "Cases of Conscience," which argued that it "were better that ten suspected witches should escape than one innocent person should be condemned." Increase Mather urged the court to exclude spectral evidence. Samuel Willard, a highly regarded Boston minister, circulated "Some Miscellany Observations," which suggested that the Devil might create the specter of an innocent person.

Cats entered the trial testimony a good bit. The following details I got from The Salem Witch Trials: A Day-by-day Chronicle of a Community Under Siege (2004) by Marilynne K. Roach
[William Arnall]...  jogged toward a nearby fence and came face to face with a large cat. Fearing this cat was the witch he called his dog but the dog headed in the opposite direction. Arnall struck with his stick and the cat streaked under the fence and out of sight.

and here is another cat incident reported in the trials:

Sarah Cole's husband grew more and more nightly torments made him afraid to sleep in his own home. Once he spied a large cat staring at him through the front door and chased it into a cornfield near the house. John saw no more of the beast but the cornstalks rustled and waved as if blown by a strong wind. 

I quote these because they sound accurate -- cats behaving like cats. 

Ann Putnam later repented publicly for her testimony. She said Satan was responsible for her mistakes. 

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