Summary (Amazon): Martha Carrier was one of the first women to be accused, tried and hanged as a witch in Salem, Massachusetts. Like her mother, young Sarah Carrier is bright and willful, openly challenging the small, brutal world in which they live. Often at odds with one another, mother and daughter are forced to stand together against the escalating hysteria of the trials and the superstitious tyranny that led to the torture and imprisonment of more than 200 people accused of witchcraft. This is the story of Martha’s courageous defiance and ultimate death, as told by the daughter who survived.
Kathleen Kent is a tenth generation descendant of Martha Carrier. She paints a haunting portrait, not just of Puritan New England, but also of one family’s deep and abiding love in the face of fear and persecution.
My Review (spoilers):
Executive Summary: intense
This book was really a good read. I have never sought out media about the Salem witch trials on my own because in general, it just really makes me aggravated. But I found this book to not only cover the main story in a really well-written, pragmatic way, but also, I really liked that it had a lot of additional layers to it as well.
The book is written from the eyes of Sarah Carrier, the young daughter (age 9 at the beginning) of Martha Carrier. Martha Carrier has the unfortunate infamy of being one of the first women who was hanged during the witch hunt in Massachusetts.
In general, the story itself is not unlike most others with regards to witchcraft. A strong, independent woman, is accused of witchcraft because people are scared of her and don’t want the other women folk to think that sort of behavior is acceptable. Martha and her family moved to Andover, Massachusetts, to escape the smallpox epidemic. They live with Martha’s mother, and soon, they realize that they did not escape. Sarah’s brother Andrew was the first to show symptoms, and despite the house arrest, Sarah and her toddler sister, Hannah, were taken to their aunt and uncle’s house in the middle of the night.
While there, Sarah and her cousin Margaret become close friends. Sarah loves her aunt and uncle who are so different from her own parents. Her uncle tells colorful stories, and her aunt gives her affection willingly. Her own parents are very stoic and unemotional. When the time comes to return to Andover, Sarah is upset to leave the family that she has grown to love, and thinks it is terribly unfair that they won’t see each other any more. The separation between the family existed before the smallpox, but now is even greater. Sarah’s grandmother has died, and instead of leaving the farm to Margaret’s parents, she has instead left it to Sarah’s. Roger Toothaker, Sarah’s uncle, would later become one of the people who testified against Martha for witchcraft.
As time goes on, Sarah begins to realize that not everything is quite as obvious as she thought. Her parents, who she thought were so uncaring, do what is necessary to keep their family safe and fed. They teach the children how to stand up for themselves rather than have a parent who swoops in and takes care of them. And as for her uncle who she thought was so wonderful, she sees him drunk at the local tavern, canoodling with one of the barmaids.
When eventually Martha is to be arrested, she says that she will not run. Someone will have to pay for the injustices, and she will continue to deny any wrongdoing (as there was none). However, she instructs her family to do whatever it takes to keep themselves safe. Eventually, the four children–Richard, Andrew, Tom, and Sarah are arrested too. They tell the court that their mother made them do it, and they are eventually let go free. (They weren’t able to see their mother when she died.)
Eventually all things return to something like normal. Hannah stayed with her “adopted family” until she married. The other children married and moved to Connecticut. Their father, who was one of the executioners of the King of England during the civil war, lived to be 109. Margaret’s town was raided by Indians. Her mother was killed (her father committed suicide while in prison due to apparent guilt at getting his entire family arrested for witchcraft), and Margaret was captured and never to be heard from again.
Within five years of the trials, some formal apologies were made for what had happened, but it was too little, too late for the families of those who had been imprisoned or even killed.
Verdict: 4 stars
I found the writing and the nuances throughout the book to be the best part of it. It certainly made the book come alive and feel more real. There were a few parts that were a bit unnecessary (the anti-climactic “red book” for one), but as a generality, it was a great story. It makes me thankful to live in a time where we have the sense (scientific discovery perhaps?) to not fall into that sort of hysteria (although I’m not fully convinced that a similar thing couldn’t happen again). Also it’s a great glimpse into how actions can be misconstrued and also that you can’t always judge a book by its cover.