|Salem witch examination|
Horrific events happened during New England’s seventeenth century. Five Quakers were hanged by the Puritan government of Massachusetts. Their crimes were – simply stated – demanding freedom of religion and speech. The Wampanoag, Narragansett, and Pequot tribes were largely wiped out by Puritan and Separatist armies after the Indians rose to preserve their homelands. New diseases introduced by Europeans sent the Massachusetts tribe into extinction. A Puritan struggle over religion and the governorship ejected many of their own – the rebels founded Rhode Island.
|Hanging a witch at Salem|
These acts were eclipsed by the witchcraft trials at Salem Village. Today we regard the hangings of 19 women and men, and the pressing to death of Giles Corey with revulsion, and deem the episode to be mass hysteria and temporary insanity.
In 1692 the Puritan government and clergy knew with certainty that they were battling against Satan. He had bewitched the accused, who sent their specters to torment the ‘afflicted girls’ in an attempt to force them to become witches too. Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live, saith the King James Bible. New England’s Puritans would stop at nothing to drive evil influences from their people, so they obeyed that biblical command. They also followed European law, where ‘witches’ had died by the thousands.
In Salem Village, it began with a children’s game – looking for your future husband’s face in the white of an egg. Hysteria spread, and families watched their mothers and grandmothers dragged away to prison, and then to the gallows. Driven by long-standing feuds, the accusations spread until more than 150 people were jailed. Nobody was safe, not even your innocent daughter.
|The Heretic's Daughter|
Kathleen Kent’s superb historical novel, The Heretic’s Daughter, is set against this seething backdrop. Martha Carrier, whom Cotton Mather called 'The Queen of Hell,' was an older woman who had antagonized her neighbors with her outspoken ways. She realized that her arrest was coming, so Martha bound her daughter Sarah to a promise. Before long, eleven-year old Sarah was also on trial for her life. There was only one way for the girl to survive – obey that promise.
|Martha Carrier's grave|
Ms. Kent is a direct descendant of Martha Carrier, and has brought her family and those tragic events to vivid life. The Heretic’s Daughter explores the web of tension which spread accusations from one neighbor to the next. It also probes the complex, heartbreaking bond between Martha and Sarah.
The Heretic’s Daughter is also a lyrical and agonizing tale of survival. If you ever wondered what it was like to be chained in prison, wondering whether you would soon be executed, read the ordeals of Sarah and her brothers. I was asked recently to recommend a great novel set in New England. You won’t go wrong with The Heretic’s Daughter. And now I can’t wait to read Kent’s next book in the Carrier family saga: The Traitor’s Wife.