Richard Godbeer's title Escaping Salem does more than describe and examine "the other witch hunt of 1692." What might the title suggest about the historical significance of witch hunts in colonial America and their applications for the future?

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Richard Godbeer's title, Escaping Salem, seems to suggest that in order to develop an accurate understanding of the Puritans, their religion, and their New England communities, we have to get away from thinking about the town of Salem and the events for which it is best known: the accusation of hundreds of people for the crime of witchcraft, the prosecution of dozens of these individuals, and the execution of twenty of them.  The events that took place in Salem in 1692 were atypical of the Puritan spirit and mentality but because it is one of the few events from the colonial era that most of us are familiar with, we tend to apply our ideas about what happened in Salem to the Puritans in general.  Godbeer encourages a more accurate and nuanced understanding of this group; therefore, we must "escape" Salem.  Furthermore, dissociating the idea of a "witch hunt" from Salem will allow us to identify more modern examples of this phenomenon.

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In Escaping Salem, Godbeer examines another witch hunt that happened in 1692, the same year as the infamous Salem witch trial. The title suggests that Salem has come to embody the idea of a witch trial in the public imagination but other witch trials occurred in colonial America, particularly in New England, at that same time. However, as Godbeer points out, the other witch trial that occurred that year in Stamford, Connecticut, was in some ways more typical of a New England witch trial than the Salem trial was. The Salem witch trial included a greater number of people accused and executed than did the witch trials in the rest of New England during the entire 17th century. In the Stamford, Connecticut witch trial of 1692, a 17-year-old servant girl named Katherine Branch fell into fits and accused six women of bewitching her. One woman fled the state, and, of the other five, only one was sentenced to death (she was also eventually acquitted). The notoriety of the Salem witch trial blinds people to the variety of ways in which Salem was an outlier with regard to witch hunts at the time. 

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The title Escaping Salem suggests that Salem was not the only place that persecuted witches during the colonial period.  Godbeer examines another instance of a witch hunt in Stamford, Connecticut, that happened that same year.  In the short book he demonstrates that witch hunts were not just unique to Massachusetts.  The northeastern colonists were people who desired to create a new society based on their religious ideals.  Their agricultural ways meant that eventually they would spread out to lands farther than Massachusetts in order that more of their male sons could own farms.  These male sons took their religious values with them, honoring the church and hard work and demonizing anyone who was "other" in this system.  In Escaping Salem the author's thesis is that Salem was not the only place that this persecution of "witches" happened, and readers today can say that witch hunts still take place in American society as we persecute others who are not like the mainstream, especially during times of social stress.  The world of 1692 had stress as more people left the initial settlements and ventured into the woods in order to have their own land.  In the past, America worried about the spread of Communism from people we marked as "other," and in today's society the fear is over different religions.  Escaping Salem is an attempt to put the witch hunt into a broader context--by looking at a similar event in Connecticut, Godbeer points out that witch hunts were not only limited to Salem.  

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