In Escaping Salem, why did the accusation and what followed in Stamford produce a result that was extremely different from what occurred in Salem?

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Godbeer observes that Salem has attracted far more scholarly and popular attention than other witch scares in early America. In Escaping Salem, which deals with accusations of witchcraft around Stamford, Connecticut at roughly the same time, Godbeer shows that Salem was an outlier rather than the norm. Stamford, he argues, was more typical of these scares, and in Stamford, the authorities proceeded against accusations of witchcraft with caution and even skepticism (though not in the scientific sense of the word—they did not question the existence of witches per se). The main reason the Stamford authorities were so cautious is that they were aware, through letters and other information networks, of the trials in Salem. They were specifically cognizant of the fact that many of the accusations in those trials were rooted in personal grievances, and they took that into account in their proceedings. There was a concern, based on previous precedent, that if they did not observe the requirements of the law in the proceedings, an actual witch might go free. This, it was believed, had happened in Connecticut a few decades earlier—an accused woman had been acquitted three times on charges of witchcraft. These factors caused the witch scare in Stamford, as well as other similar outbreaks, to proceed along very different lines that Salem. The real question, which is explored in many other works on Salem, is why events in that town proceeded as they did.

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Godbeer argues that the Salem trial was an abnormality. In the Stamford case, the accusations were treated with a great deal more skepticism, and there was a more rigorous judicial protocol for handling such accusations than in the Salem case. While it is true that witchcraft was seen as a destabilizing threat to society in New England, the court in the Stamford case was aware of the proceedings in Salem and wished to avoid the hysteria that had gripped that community. As a result, while the number of people accused in Stamford was great, only two were brought to trial; the court required “irrefutable” evidence to convict; at one point in the trial, unable to proceed, the matter was referred to the Connecticut assembly. Eventually, both women were acquitted.

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In Escaping Salem, the author, Richard Godbeer, writes that the Salem witch trials, which took place in 1692 (the same year as the witch trials in Stamford), were the exception--not the rule--at the time. The author writes that "Stamford townsfolk were for the most part remarkably cautious in reacting to...accusations" (page 7). The residents of Stamford did not automatically accept what the accuser stated. In addition, the officials in Stanford carefully weighed the evidence against accused people and refused to come to quick judgments. For example, the magistrates in the Stamford case did not rely only on the testimony of the person making the accusations, Kate Branch, to make their case (page 60). In addition, it is not clear whether Kate Branch was actually present at the trial to give testimony, unlike at the Salem witch trials, at which the girls who were making accusations appeared with great theatrics and threw the case into a state of chaos (page 112). In Salem, 19 accused people were hanged, while the two people accused in the Stamford trials were acquitted.

The author states that the intensity of the hysteria in Salem was not typical of witch trials at the time, though that witch hunt has come to represent what New England witch hunts were like. Instead, the more measured approach in Stamford was more typical of witch trials during the 17th century. 

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