Author of New Book Says Salem Witch Hysteria Not Caused by Ergot of Rye

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The author of a book due out at the end of August casts doubt on a new theory that ergot of rye caused young women hallucinations in 1692 Salem, Massachusetts, and that this led to the witch hysteria that rocked the community.

A Witch in the Family

For centuries people have wondered what caused the Salem Witch hysteria of 1692 that led to the hanging deaths of nineteen Massachusetts Bay Colony residents. And no wonder. Until now, no one has been able to come up with a satisfactory answer. The most recent theory to surface is that ergot of rye may have been behind the madness. But Stephen Hawley Martin, author of a new book called “A Witch in the Family” (Oaklea Press, 2006) doesn’t think so.

“It’s true ergot of rye can cause hallucinations and bodily contortions, but other symptoms of this type of poisoning weren’t present. For example, it can lead to gangrene and ultimately the amputation of limbs. The witch hysteria went on for eight or nine months and so did the symptoms the girls were having, yet gangrene never set in.”

Martin is the seven-times-great grandson of one of the women hanged, Susannah North Martin, and grew up hearing about the Salem witches. He spent many months researching the tragedy for his new book.

“Ergot of rye develops when there is a combination of moist weather, cool temperatures, and delayed harvest in lowland crops,” Martin said. “The girls didn’t show symptoms until late in January, months after the harvest. Why would it have taken so long, and why didn’t others start having hallucinations until March?”

Martin thinks he knows what really happened in Salem, and he reveals this in his new book, which will be available from Amazon on July 15. The online bookstore is taking orders now. Search 189253844X.

The full title of Stephen Hawley Martin’s new book is “A Witch in the Family: An Award-winning Author Investigates His Ancestor’s Trial and Execution.” It is being published by The Oaklea Press and can also be purchased at

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