New Book Bridges Gap between 'Mayflower' and '1776'

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Few realize the enormous impact of the Salem witch hunt. Had it not been for the backlash against what happened in 1692, New England might today be a theocracy with Puritanism as its official religion.

The remarkable sales achieved by Nathaniel Philbrick's "Mayflower" and David McCullough’s "1776" indicate the high level of interest that currently exists throughout America in the history, events, and attitudes that came together to shape this nation. But an important event that propelled many of our forefathers to embrace the Age of Reason, as well as the enormously important concept of separation of church and state, falls in the gap between the history recounted in these two best sellers. That event was the Salem witch hysteria which took place in the Massachusetts Bay Colony. Now, a new book by prizewinning author Stephen Hawley Martin called "A Witch in the Family" bridges the gap.

“Not many people realize that until the late seventeenth century, Massachusetts was a theocracy with Puritanism as its official religion,” Martin said. “The vast majority of people believed in an invisible realm of spirits and that Satan was real. Even the legal system in Massachusetts assumed this. In fact, witchcraft was a capital offense punishable by death because witches were believed to be working for Satan and against the godly.”

Between February 1692 and the fall of that year more than 150 were accused of witchcraft, about 50 confessed, 19 were hanged, one was crushed to death, and four died in prison. Almost no one was safe from being accused.

Martin said, “It wasn’t long after the witch hunt was over that most people realized what a terrible mistake had been

made. This led many to embrace the philosophy of Thomas Hobbs, that only the material universe is real. Many others simply became disenchanted with religion. Just imagine. If the witch hunt hadn’t happened, history might have turned out quite differently. Today, New England might be a theocracy like Iran or other countries in the Middle East.”

The standard explanation for what happened in Salem is that certain people were accused as witches by malicious young women out to settle old family scores. Some even believe they may have done it just for fun –– others that it was for financial gain. But could these so-called “afflicted” really have faked their extraordinary symptoms? Martin, the seven-times-great grandson of one of the women hanged, doesn’t think so. One of the afflicted vomited blood in the courtroom in front of the judges and other eyewitnesses. Some had deep skin lesions that appeared to have been made by human teeth. Others coughed up pins.

A number of theories have surfaced in the past, but most would agree no fully satisfactory explanation has been put forth –– until now. Martin provides evidence that contrary to most accounts written in the eighteenth, nineteenth, and twentieth centuries, witchcraft was being practiced in seventeenth century New England.

“My goal is for people to understand what really happened, and what really happened is not what most of them think,” Martin said. “I offer an explanation for the Salem witch hysteria that’s never before been put in print. I think most readers are going to find this book to be truly spellbinding.”

Published by The Oaklea Press, the full title is "A Witch in the Family: An Award-Winning Author Investigates His Ancestor’s Trial and Execution." It can be purchased at the publisher’s web site, http://www.OakleaPress.com, or at Amazon.com. Search ISBN 189253844X.

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