Increase Mather, Cotton's father, collected copies of Calef's book and had them burned publicly in Harvard Square, the central courtyard at Harvard College, in Cambridge, Massachusetts. This act did not diminish the book's popularity, however, and Cotton Mather was immortalized as one of the main villains in the Salem trials. In an effort to defend Mather's reputation, several of his parishioners published a rebuttal to Calef's work titled Some Few Remarks upon a Scandalous Book (1701), but it failed to redeem Mather.
Calef enjoyed the notoriety he had gained from his book. It is likely that he exaggerated some facts to catch the attention of his readers and to cast doubt on the motivations of Puritan leaders in handling the witchcraft problem. Many modern historians insist that Mather actually played only a small role in the trials, and his crime was the same as that committed by most people at the time: he had surrendered to a genuine fear of evil. Yet he did not help his own situation because he showed no remorse for the deaths of the twenty innocent people executed for witchcraft.
In spite of possibly distorting the facts, Calef made a contribution to the historical documentation of the trials by collecting a wide array of letters and testimonials into one complete volume. The real target of his critique was not the Mathers but the very basis of the trials: the notion that the devil could possess people who would then torment others by appearing to them as specters. Calef was one of the few critics who dared to attack the widely held belief system around witchcraft and to ask people to question their own participation in the trials.
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