Enters the troubled world of Salem Village

Little is known about Samuel Parris's early life in England. Historians do know, however, that at some point during adolescence he moved with his family to Barbados, an island in the West Indies, where his father owned a successful sugar trading company. Parris was sent to Harvard College to study theology (religion), but he never completed his degree. When his father died in 1678 he moved back to Barbados to take over the family business, and two years later he married Elizabeth Elridge. Parris's efforts to run the company were plagued with bad luck from the outset. At one point a hurricane wrecked the warehouses, and the consistently low sugar prices steadily reduced profits. After eight years of struggling, he and his wife decided to leave the island and make a new start in Boston, Massachusetts. After failing at another business venture Parris began searching for a post as a minister in New England. Since he had not graduated from college, he knew he would not be eligible for a post in a major city.

Salem Village was the only parish that responded to Parris's application, yet he kept the community waiting for over a year while he deliberated (thought about) the offer. The delay resulted from his reluctance to lower himself socially as well as his fear of Salem itself. The village had a reputation for being a difficult place to live because of conflicts within the community. For instance, members of the Towne family were long-time enemies of the powerful Putnam clan, who were pressuring Parris to move to Salem. The feud had begun in 1639, when John Putnam started a dispute over rights to woodlands with his neighbor Jacob Towne. In retaliation (to get revenge) Towne cut down one of Putnam's trees. Putnam returned with a group of his relatives and threatened to cut down all of Towne's trees. Thus began a feud that lasted over fifty years.

Not only did family feuds run deep but Salem Village parishioners generally did not welcome outsiders and they mistreated their ministers. Since the founding of the parish in 1672 the Reverend George Burroughs and the Reverend James Bailey were both forced out of their jobs when the villagers refused to pay their salaries. (Burroughs would later be one of the twenty people executed in the Salem witch trials; see Chapter 4.)

Parris had extensive negotiations with the parish over money and property rights, asking for a high salary and a permanent title to the parsonage (the minister's home) and grounds. Despite the Putnams' assurances that Parris was a talented preacher, villagers dismissed his demands. Half of the townspeople felt he should receive minimum pay and no property rights, while the others were willing to make an investment in the new minister. In the end the Salem Village parish agreed to pay Parris the fairly large salary of sixty-six pounds a year and to give him temporary title (document stating legal ownership) to the parsonage. Many still felt this deal was too generous, however, and it later became an issue during the trials.

Parris had no choice but to accept the offer, so in November 1689 he and his wife arrived with their three children, Parris's eleven-year-old orphaned niece Abigail Williams, and the Carib (native South American) slaves Tituba (see biography entry) and John Indian. Parris took over the parish with such fervor that many villagers suspected him of being power-hungry. Unwilling to appease townspeople, he refused to ordain his deacons until they had served a probation period. He picked on respected members of the congregation and put some through public penance (punishment for sins) for seemingly ridiculous reasons.

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