Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Salem Witch Trials



Like her master, Tituba was concerned about what was going on in the Parris household. She felt genuine affection for little Betty Parris and her cousin Abigail Williams, but not knowing that insanity was a Parris family curse, she was more afraid that her own actions had brought this affliction on Miss Betty. Life was difficult for Tituba in Massachusetts, especially in winter. She was born and raised in Barbados where it was so hot that even the plantation slaves were expected to rest much of the day so as not to exhaust themselves in the heat. But here in Massachusetts it was colder than she had ever imagined. Even in the summer it was chilly, as the virgin forest kept the sun from breaking through. Also, the cold meant there was no excuse not to do work.

Drawing of Tituba telling a tale in the Parris home
Drawing of Tituba telling a tale
in the Parris home

The Rev. Parris wasn't a bad man in her opinion. In the privacy of her own shack he let her keep the white cloth, flowers and tin statues which represented her altar to Obatala, the creator of humanity and owner of the world in her Yoruba faith. He respected her ability to create salves out of native plants and the way she nursed young Betty when she fell ill. Most importantly, Parris was good about leaving her alone. She had assigned duties, but the minister was so busy with his parish that he seldom noticed if the floor was swept or the linens changed. Mrs. Parris was equally busy with the duties of the wife of a minister. The Puritans believed in looking in on their neighbors, not out of kindness, but more out of a half-hearted concern for their souls, and no one was more active in the community than Mrs. Parris. So running the household and managing the two girls and their friends fell to Tituba. She made the most of it. She spent hours telling the girls of the beautiful white beaches of Barbados and the sugar cane so sweet and plentiful. They listened enraptured as she told them of the witch doctors who could tell the future and heal the sick with incense and herbs. The girls asked so many questions about magic and witches and fortune-telling that she finally broke down and showed them how to break a fresh chicken egg from a white hen in just such a way that the egg white would be suspended in water and would serve as a crystal ball to reveal the future.

This was risky business, of course and all the girls knew it. It was a secret they kept from everyone outside their own small circle, for they knew if they were discovered the strict Puritan code would require a whipping, followed by hours of prayer and days of fasting. That made it all the more exciting for them, Tituba included. The secrecy lent truth to the tales Tituba wove. The clandestine meetings that took place in the parsonage while the reverend and his wife were out served as an outlet for these repressed young women who were going through the pains of puberty without any other ways to relieve the stress. Most of them lived in close quarters with extended families, often sharing beds with siblings. Privacy was anathema to Puritans, because in private, people sinned. Discussions about changes to their bodies and minds were uncommon, and many questions remained that could only be discussed in secret with friends.

Many of the girls, like Betty, felt the tug-of-war going on between their enjoyment of the chats with Tituba and the lessons they were learning at home and in church. The idea that they were flirting with the Devil and possibly gambling with their immortal souls was troubling to some and exciting to others, depending on their understanding of predestination. The Puritans believed God had decided their fate long before they were born, so whether or not they were to be saved was unrelated to their conduct on Earth. That did not provide an excuse to do whatever one pleased, of course, because God had handed down rules for living on Earth and to go against God's will now would surely invite Divine retribution.

Abigail was more mischievous than her cousin, and she viewed the black magic and fortune telling as merely a game. While Abby didnt see any harm in it, Betty began to be plagued with guilt and fear over the shenanigans. Shy and submissive, Betty was not one to stop the voodoo and she was afraid to go to her father to confess. The conflict raged within her and it began to have physical effects. She was wan and weak, unable to eat, and she began to forget chores. Betty appeared to be off in a dream world at times, and when awakened would scream and being pressed for an explanation would give utterance to a meaningless babbling.

Bettys behavior was bound to point back at Tituba, the slave thought. After all, it was she who taught the girls about fortune telling and how to find the name of their future husbands by looking into the egg white. Tituba was the one who spun the yarns about voodoo and the spirits who inhabited the trees and rivers. She only half-believed them herself, but to the impressionable young ladies of Salem, such tales seemed not only possible, but also likely. After all, Ann Putnam the Younger was an expert in the Book of Revelations, thanks to her mother's obsession with Doomsday, and Ann was unequivocal in her support of Tituba's claims.

When Sarah Cole, wondering "what trade her sweetheart would be" saw the coffin suspended in the pseudo crystal ball, all hell had broken loose with the girls. It was at that time that Betty started acting strangely. Tituba was worried that there was witchcraft at work.

Master Parris would never allow it and would be angry if he found out, but Tituba tried to capture the demon by baking a witch cake of rye flour mixed with the urine of Betty and Abigail. She fed the cake to a dog in hopes the cur would lead her to the person who was bewitching the girls, but the dog just wandered around aimlessly, then took off into the woods after a rabbit.

Standing before a bucket of water for washing dishes, Tituba was weighing her options when from another room in the parsonage, she heard what sounded like a banshee on the loose.



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