Silencing the Women: The Witch Trials of Mary Bliss Parsons by Kathy-Ann Becker

7197cvrMary Bliss Parsons was born nearly four centuries ago, amidst a tumultuous period for Great Britain.  The monarchy’s grip on everyday life was so tight that, famously, groups of religious refugees travelled overseas to the New World, where – it was thought – colonialism would afford individuals more freedom, if not necessarily more comfort.  The Parsons family was Puritan, and heavily abused by the British government, so they had no choice but to join the exodus from England.  Arriving in Massachusetts, Mary and her family were given a plot of land bordering the American wilderness. And, while this wasn’t a huge departure from their old life, since farming had been the family’s livelihood back in England, even the most mundane chore became a Herculean task on the frontier.  Food and supplies were more difficult to come by, and animals and Native Americans were constant threats to the colonists’ well-being.  If that weren’t enough, imagine yourself as a teenaged girl trying to navigate her way to womanhood, while fighting off the paralyzing fear of dying from hunger or random attack!  Yet despite all the uncertainty and hardship of life in the wilderness, Mary experienced true beauty: finding her own voice, becoming a member of the community, experiencing the natural wonder of untouched field and forest – these were things she earned in the New World.  But, as Mary would soon learn, good things can turn rotten in only a small moment.  After the witch hunting craze struck Massachusetts, Mary found herself at odds with friends and neighbors, one of the countless girls accused of practicing dark magic.  Relying on her faith in God and her own family to see her through her trial, Mary bided her time in prison.  But would mere faith be enough?

Becker started this story after learning she was a tenth generation descendant of Mary Bliss Parsons.  She and her parents engaged in countless fact-finding missions to uncover Mary’s tale, and Silencing the Women is the wonderfully moving result of both Becker’s passion and hard work.  Arranged in passages which alternate between Mary’s past – at home in England, and later in the New World – and the present – mainly, Mary in prison – Silencing the Women is a well-researched and especially well-written homage to the many men and women who eked out rude lives during the beginning of our country’s history.  This story will appeal to fans of historical fiction, American history, gender studies – really, the list goes on!  Hopefully, Becker will continue to unearth other stories, finding their hearts and bring them to avid readers everywhere.

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