Every year around Halloween, hundreds will flock to Salem, Mass., curious about the Salem Witch Trials. And while the holiday sheds some light on the trials, what Margo Burns wants people to realize is that in 1692, these were real people with real stories.
Burns has long researched the events that were documented during the Salem Witch Trials and spent 10 years compiling primary sources into a book, Records of the Salem Witch-Hunt, that was released five years ago. Next Friday, Burns will be addressing some of the highlights of the trials at the Deerfield Town Hall.
Bernie Cameron, part of the Deerfield Democratic Town Committee, worked with other organizations in town to help bring Burns to Deerfield to share her knowledge of the trials.
“[Burns has] done a lot of primary research on the Salem Witch Trials and she has a lot of copies of documents explaining who was to be put to death, and arrest logs,” Cameron said. “It involves New Hampshire people as well.”
Burns’s interest in the trials was sparked when she discovered a connection in her ancestry.
“[Burns is] the 10th generation of Rebecca Nurse, who was one of the oldest to be accused of being a witch and be hanged,” said Cameron.
Burns will talk about Nurse, as well as some other well-known people on trial, including Eunice Cole, Rachel Fuller and Isabelle Towle from New Hampshire.
“That’s the joy of primary sources — then you know who was actually there,” Burns said.
At the time of the trials, the legal system heavily documented everything, which helped Burns in her research.
“In order for them to give evidence, it had to be in writing — that’s why we have so many documents,” Burns said. “It’s fantastic to have it all written out. I love having the manuscript in my hand and seeing the documents. It’s so real.”
Burns will explain things like why a lot of the documents were written in different colored inks and what that might have meant for those who were accused.
She’ll also talk about some of the reasons behind the trials that people may not have heard about before, including political battles between Massachusetts and Maine.
“[The trials were] also part of a diversion from other things that were happening at the time to do with politics, and they tried to divert the public’s attention,” Cameron said.
Burns hopes that people will walk away with a new sense of understanding of the trials.
“The truth is stranger than any fiction. I want to show people how it happened, to get from rumor to hanged,” she said. “The story in the middle is what most people don’t know — how they got from point A to point B.”
As seen in the March 27, 2014 issue of the Hippo.