The Salem Witch Trials

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the outbreak of witch trials in Massachusetts in 1692-3, centred on Salem, which led to the execution of twenty people, with more dying in prison before or after trial. Some were men, including Giles Corey who died after being pressed with heavy rocks, but the majority were women. At its peak, around 150 people were suspected of witchcraft, including the wife of the governor who had established the trials. Many of the claims of witchcraft arose from personal rivalries in an area known for unrest, but were examined and upheld by the courts at a time of mass hysteria, belief in the devil, fear of attack by Native Americans and religious divisions.

Play on BBC Sounds website


  • Susan Castillo-Street No other episodes
    Harriet Beecher Stowe Professor Emerita of American Studies at King's College London
  • Simon Middleton 3 episodes
    Senior Lecturer in American History at the University of Sheffield
  • Marion Gibson No other episodes
    Professor of Renaissance and Magical Literatures at Exeter University, Penryn Campus

Reading list

  • Arthur Miller
    Christopher Bigsby (Harvard University Press, 2009) Google Books →
  • Salem Possessed: The Social Origins of Witchcraft
    Paul Boyer and Stephen Nissenbaum (Harvard University Press, 1974) Google Books →
  • Tituba, Reluctant Witch of Salem: Devilish Indians and Puritan Fantasies
    Elaine Breslaw (New York University Press, 1995) Google Books →
  • I, Tituba, Black Witch of Salem: A Novel
    Maryse Conde (Faber & Faber, 2000) Google Books →
  • Entertaining Satan: Witchcraft and the Culture of Early New England
    John Demos (Oxford University Press, 1982) Google Books →
  • The Scarlet Letter
    Nathaniel Hawthorne (W. W. Norton & Co, 1988) Google Books →
  • Selected Tales and Sketches
    Nathaniel Hawthorne (Penguin, 1987) Google Books →
  • The House of Seven Gables
    Nathaniel Hawthorne (ed. Milton Sterne) (Penguin, 1982) Google Books →
  • A Delusion of Satan: The Full Story of the Salem Witch
    Frances Hill (Doubleday, 1995) Google Books →
  • The Devil in the Shape of a Woman: Witchcraft in Colonial New England
    Carol Karlsen (W. W. Norton & Co, 1988) Google Books →
  • The Crucible
    Arthur Miller (Penguin, 2000) Google Books →
  • In the Devil's Snare: The Salem Witchcraft Crisis of 1692
    Mary Beth Norton (Alfred A. Knopf, 2002) Google Books →
  • Damned Women: Sinners and Witches in Puritan New England
    Elizabeth Reis (Cornell University Press, 1997) Google Books →
  • Salem Story: Reading the Witch Trials of 1692
    Bernard Rosenthal (Cambridge University Press, 1993) Google Books →
  • The Witches: Salem 1692
    Stacy Schiff (Little, Brown and Company, 2015) Google Books →
  • Many Loves and Other Plays
    William Carlos Williams (New Directions, 1961) Google Books →

Related episodes

Programme ID: b06pxp2z

Episode page:

Auto-category: 973 (History of the United States during the colonial period)

Hello (First sentence from this episode) Hello. In 1692, in the New England colony of Massachusetts, two young girls, Abigail Williams and Betty Parris, had fits, were twitching, they wouldn't wake up.