Announcing publication of "Witches, Rakes, and Rogues: True Stories of Scam, Scandal, Murder, and Mayhem in Boston , 1630-1775" by D. Brenton Simons, chief operating officer of the New England Historic Genealogical Society.
The book is available from Commonwealth Editions in a cloth edition with dust jacket for $24.95. Click here to see the book jacket and find more information: www.BostonWitchcraft.com
As Boston celebrates the 375th anniversary of its founding in 1630, D. Brenton Simons presents a new vision of the town's early history. When most people think of Boston between its founding and the height of the American Revolution, they probably imagine a procession of Puritan ministers in black followed by patriots like Paul Revere on horseback. In his new book, Simons will change a few minds and shock a few others. "Witches, Rakes, and Rogues: True Stories of Scam, Scandal, Murder, and Mayhem in Boston, 1630-1775," demonstrates convincingly that the narrow, twisting streets of colonial Boston were crawling with suspected witches, murderers, impostors, con men, and other blackguards. Bostonians may have been prayerful, but they were also prurient and violent. Here are more than twenty true---but long forgotten---tales from Boston 's past.
While the Salem witchcraft trials of 1692 are well-known to the public, few people realize that colonial Boston experienced a series of witchcraft trials and other demonic episodes throughout the seventeenth-century. Four local women---Ann Hibbins, Margaret Jones, Alice Lake , and Mary Glover---were tried in separate cases, convicted, and executed for the crime of witchcraft. Other women were charged with witchcraft and several narrowly escaped punishment. "Mary Hale and the Death of a Bewitched Mariner," for example, tells the strange tale of a troublesome matron charged in 1680 with causing the agonizing death of her granddaughter's former beau. Mrs. Hale, the matriarch of a family of witchcraft suspects, was eventually acquitted. Even less known today are tales of "diabolical possession" which plagued the town in its first hundred years. In 1693, for example, a group of reputable Bostonians swore that they had witnessed a young woman, Margaret Rule, levitate in midair during the throes of a satanic encounter. The last such episode occurred in 1741, when Martha Robinson alarmed the town with her frenzied diabolical outbursts.
By digging deep into the city's records, Simons also reveals a veritable rogues' gallery, and even uncovers the truth about Boston's first documented serial murder in "Murder by Arsenic: The Ill-Fated Greenleaf Children." He gives accounts of brazen impostors who came to town plotting to swindle---or seduce---unwitting town folk. In separate incidents in 1699, three men arrived in Boston posing as ministers, only to be unmasked as con men. Some of the town's most daring crimes were committed by women. In 1762 Miriam Fitch attempted to swindle---and possibly kill---three of the town's leading merchants by promising to direct them to a horde of gold coins. Instead, she trapped them in the basement of a mill as a menacing tide flooded the dark compartment.
Simons also reveals some family skeletons and other skirmishes in Boston 's colonial gentry: scandalous affairs, acrimonious divorces, the kidnapping of two wealthy heiresses in 1736, an extortion attempt against Governor William Shirley, and the successful defense by John Adams of a man widely believed to have murdered three men at sea. The little-known suicide by arsenic poisoning of Governor John Winthrop's widow is examined and a deadly duel fought on the Boston Common in 1728 is given new life. In each of these stories and others, Simons provides insightful and well-documented narratives that will engage, surprise, and entertain any reader.
"Great stories, astonishing characters, dastardly (often quite amusing) deeds ... the research is as deep as the stories are fascinating; in sum, a remarkable achievement!" --- John Demos , Samuel Knight Professor of History, Yale University
"What an astonishing cast of characters Brenton Simons has pulled out of prim and proper Boston !" --- Jane C. Nylander, author of "By Our Own Snug Fireside."
"A fascinating set of tales, well told and based on extensive research. This book will please all readers interested in early New England " --- Mary Beth Norton , author of "In the Devil's Snare: The Salem Witchcraft Crisis of 1692."
D. Brenton Simons is chief operating officer of the New England Historic Genealogical Society (www.NewEnglandAncestors.org) in Boston . A graduate of Boston University , he is the author of two previous books and a fellow of the Massachusetts Historical Society. He currently appears as a guest narrator on "The Boston Audissey, See the Sites: Hear the Legends," an audio walking tour of Boston on CD.
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