House of Ann Putman Jr, Off Dayton Street, Danvers, MA, where Mercy Lewis was indentured, ca. 1891
The real Mercy Lewis lost her family to an Indian raid when she was just a child in Maine. In fact it is believed she may have seen them all killed and carried that gruesome memory with her to Salem. An orphan, the only way she could survive was to be indentured as a servant, first to the Reverend George Burroughs, who was also executed in Salem as a witch, and later the family of Thomas Putnam, where she met Ann Putman, Jr. (Lucy in this book). She had virtually nothing and could only survive on her wits and her employer's good graces until her term of indenture was over, which typically lasted seven years. She would have no prospects for marriage until she was free. If she had a child while indentured, her length of term would be increased. Witten endows Mercy with herbalist and midwife skills and introduces the possibility that what happened with those crazy Salem kids might have been drug-related (from a hallucinogenic plant). It's not a bad twist to take. Her hypothesis may be right or wrong, or possibly partly the truth. It's why Salem still fascinates — it's about human nature, the not-so-nice side of people. It didn't take much for fear and accusations to take root, whether drug or mischief-fueled.
Literary license is okay in a historical novel to some extent, but I had some major questions and quibbles while reading The Afflicted Girls. Witten changed the most well-known of the accusers, Ann Putnam, Jr.'s, name to Lucy — maybe to differentiate her from her mother, who also was an accuser. But it actually made it more confusing for me, waiting for the real Ann Jr. to show up. Also, a scene at Gallows Hill had a cherry-picked assortment of the accused. There was also a daring jail escape, which was beyond fictional becoming pure fantasy. Considering how meticulously she had tried to depict the Village in earlier chapters, it seems strange to get some of these most famous facts wrong. The author's note stated that the book started as a screenplay, so some of these changes may have been made in that light, to bring her most flamboyant "characters" together in one big scene. But there is so much inherent drama and pathos in the true story that it seems unnecessary to tinker so much with the facts. Sometimes it felt as if there were parts that were written for the book, and added scenes put in to sex things up.