Witches Aren’t just for Halloween



Circa 1665 dates unknown

Tituba was originally from an Arawak village in South America. She was captured as a child and taken to Barbados, and sold into slavery.  The Reverend Samuel Parris purchased her when she was 12 to 17 years of age.  Parris was an unmarried merchant, and there is speculation if she may have been his concubine.  She was not an African slave as often reported, but still a slave.  

In 1680 Parris moved his household to Boston, Massachusetts; this included another Indian slave named John.  While in Boston, Parris became a minister, married Elizabeth, and started a family.  In 1689 Tituba and John were married, and the families moved to Salem.  It is believed that Tituba had only one child, Violet.

Puritan Salem was not the place to be different or a slave, and Tituba was both.  She would have been a person of suspicion in this repressed community, no matter what the scare would have been. Elizabeth Parris, the Pastor’s wife, had a lot of responsibility but was often ill. Tituba stepped in and ran the house, and raised the three children, Thomas, Betty, and Susahanna.

In the evening, she would entertain Betty and her cousin Abigail Williams with fortune-telling games and stories of magic from the Caribbean.  These activities were strictly forbidden by Puritan code, and word spread thru the neighborhood girls.  Soon there were several a circle girls coming over for the banned storytelling. 

In the winter of 1692, Betty, Abigail, and Ann Putnam began exhibiting odd behavior with twitching, fits, and babbling.  They accused Tituba of baking a witch cake with rye and Betty’s urine and feeding it to the dog. The dog was described as a familiar or the witch’s helper, and a spell would be broken by eating the cake. By breaking the spell and reveal the witches.  The girls were pressed to identify their tormenters, and they identified three social outcasts, Sarah Good, a homeless beggar, Sarah Osborne, an elderly woman, and Tituba.  Tituba initially denied practicing witchcraft, but Reverend Parris beat her and demanded that she confess.  He promised her freedom if she cooperated.  She was examined for three days by the local magistrate, and she admitted to practicing witchcraft and named other witches in the village.  She was imprisoned but not put on trial.   From here, the hysteria takes off like a rumor through a high school.  In the end, twenty were hanged, one, Giles Corey, pressed to death under rocks, and five others died in jail. The list included Dorcus Good, a four-year-old chained to the prison wall for months. The insanity ended when the county Magistrate and the respected Reverend Increase Mather intervened and stopped the trials. They also demanded the release of the remaining prisoners.

Parris did not keep his promises to Tituba. He refused to pay the fees to release her.  She was confined for 13 months and was only released when someone paid her fees and then bought her. This person may have also bought John because Puritans were not likely to split a married couple. She was then removed from Salem, and we lost track of her.  Tituba’s daughter Violet stayed with the Parris household until the Reverend died in 1720.

The released accused were forever affected by poor health due to the horrendous prison condition and haunted by the memory of the accusations.  Only one girl Ann Putnam stood before the church in 1706 and asked for forgiveness.

In the research, I found my familial connection to Elizabeth Winslow-Curwin, while researching my book Saints, Strangers and Rosehip Tea, she is the daughter of Susanna Jackson-Winslow and the stepmother of the judge and the sheriff who were deeply involved in the hysteria.