October Resource of the Month: The Salem Witch Trials: Legal Resources

Happy Halloween! This month, we are featuring legal resources related to the Salem Witch Trials.

What is The Salem Witch Trials: Legal Resources?

The Salem Witch Trials: Legal Resources is a web exhibit that includes a select bibliography of law-related books, journal articles, databases, documents, archival resources, websites, and blog posts related to the 17th century witchcraft trials in Salem, Massachusetts. There is also a growing section on illustrated law books, art, movies, and other works related to the Salem Witch Trials.

According to one of these sources, in one of the earliest attempts at banning books, Governor William Phips tried to forbid publication of books related to the Salem witch trials. In October 1692, he explained in a letter to William Brathwayt(e) of the Privy Council:

“I have also put a stop to the printing of any discourses one way or another, that may increase the needless disputes of people upon this occasion, because I saw a likelihood of kindling an inextinguishable flame if I should admit any public and open contests.” (1)

Despite Governor Phips efforts, books, articles, and other works about, and interest in the Salem witchcraft trials, continue to the present day. The legal research opportunities (and challenges) abound, with many interdisciplinary and intersectional prongs. To support this ongoing interest, we created the Salem Witch Trials: Legal Resources web exhibit.

How do I access The Salem Witch Trials: Legal Resources?

This resource resides at the University of Chicago Library webpage. Choose the "Collections & Exhibits" drop-down menu, then the separate link for Web Exhibits. Or you can access directly through this link.

How do I use The Salem Witch Trials: Legal Resources?

The web exhibit is divided into two parts. The first section, "Related Resources", is a list of representative works in multiple formats (including some of the most widely owned books in U.S. libraries). It's a good place to search for possible starting points as well as what some might consider the best sources on the Salem Witch Trials generally, and specifically focused on related legal issues.

The second section, "The Salem Witch Trials: Illustrated" is a work in progress. That section includes picture books intended for a juvenile audience, for researchers interested in what children are learning about these trials (how current public opinion is being formed and the legal process conveyed), and as part of our special collection of illustrated law books. It will also feature special topics such the Salem Witch Trials through race, gender, and ethnicity lenses, beginning with illustrations of Tituba, an enslaved woman and one of the accused, who may have been Black or Native American.

If you have questions, please feel free to request a research consultation or contact us at Ask a Law Librarian.

(1) See Rebecca Beatrice Brooks. “Salem Witch Trials: Primary Sources.” History of Massachusetts Blog, July 7, 2018. Note that the author does not includes a footnote citation, so cite-checking needed to locate the Privy Council letter or Governor Phips' order related to banning books on the Salem Witch Trials.