Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Salem Witch Trials

Fanning the Flames

Tituba assumed she was dead the minute she was taken in chains to the jail in Ipswich. She had confessed to sorcery to her master, and mercy was certainly not a Puritan trait. Her fears were deepened when Sarah Good and Sarah Osborne were arrested and brought to jail with her. If they were jailing good, church-going Puritans on the word of those girls, what chance did she, a savage in their eyes, have?

Unwittingly, Tituba's fear and resentment worked to her advantage. Since she was going to be hanged, she decided, she might as well not hang alone. So when she was brought before Corwin and Hathorne for examination, she confessed to being a witch.

For three days, the slave spun a tale of midnight gatherings in the forest whereupon the witches of Salem cast spells and summoned demons and familiars to do their work. She told of how Sarah Good and Sarah Osborne had taught her the black arts and how they brought death and misery on their enemies.

Mistress Good is very strong and pulled me to Mr. Putnams whereby I was made to hurt the poor child, she confessed. She took me with her on her pole. I do not know how we got there, for I never saw trees or a path, but presently we were at Putnams.

Tituba told the enthralled congregation of Goodwife Goods control over a wolf, a yellow bird, and a thing all over hairy. As if to confirm Titubas story, Ann Putnam stood and pointed at the rafter where Goods yellow bird was perched. That no one but the afflicted girls could see the yellow bird was of little consequence. It was evidence after all. "With her slave's adaptability, her only weapon, she caught at every cue the magistrates offered and enlarged upon it," historian Marion Starkey wrote.

Then Tituba asked for forgiveness. She expressed how sorry she was that she had been forced to hurt the girls, but after all, she was under the control of a witch, as well. Corwin and Hathorne accepted Tituba's confession and ordered her back to jail. She didn't know it at the time, but her confession saved her life. Eventually, Sarah Good would be hanged, Sarah Osborne would die of illness in prison, but Tituba was later released to Parris.

While Tituba's confession spared her own life (and did little to help the others), it made the people of Salem wonder just how large was the witch's coven in their midst. Although the three women named by the girls were already in jail awaiting trial, no one in Salem was foolish enough to think the Devil had been thwarted. More investigation was certainly required.



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