Essays in Honour of Gabriele Müller-Oberhäuser
Edited By Simon Rosenberg and Sandra Simon
Signing the Diabolical Pact: Aspects of Supernatural Written Communication in Records of the Salem Witch-Hunt, 1692–1693
Matti Peikola, University of Turku
Documents from the Salem witch-trials testify to a richly imagined written culture related to making a pact with the Devil. This paper discusses the materiality of the pact as described by suspected witches and magistrates, suggesting some influences that may have shaped their accounts.
In 1692–1693, legal action was taken against at least 144 Massachusetts men and women suspected of practising witchcraft; 19 of them were executed and one tortured to death.1 The events leading to the trials began in Salem Village in February 1692, the accusations soon spreading to nearby Salem Town and many other adjacent communities.2 A Court of Oyer and Terminer was appointed to handle the situation, but political pressures led to its dissolution after a few sessions. A new Superior Court of Judicature was then authorized to deal with the cases of a large number of confessed witches and other suspects who remained in prison. The last trials were held in May 1693. Unlike the trials ← 35 | 36 → conducted under the Court of Oyer and Terminer, the 1693 trials did not result in executions and the imprisoned suspects were eventually released.3
The almost 1,000 surviving documents associated with the trials and their aftermath represent a number of text categories, from formal legal instruments such as indictments, summonses and warrants to letters and petitions addressed to the court by the defendants or their supporters.4 The largest single category consists of witness...
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