Fits and hallucinations

The final months of 1691 were a tense period in the Parris household. Not only was Parris's position in the community uncertain, but Elizabeth Parris was frequently ill. When she was well enough to go out, the Parrises were usually away from home on parish business. Thus the children spent most of their time with Tituba, who entertained them with stories about voodoo (magic) practices in Barbados. These forbidden tales contrasted starkly with the Bible stories and ser mons the children were accustomed to hearing from Parris. As a strict Puritan, he considered all pleasure to be sinful and he tried to keep absolute control over the children. In January 1692 Parris's nine-year-old daughter Elizabeth (called Betty) and her cousin Abigail started behaving strangely and talking incoherently (in a confused and unclear way). (Records hint that there was deep psychological distress in the Parris children even before the witch trials.) The following month Tituba and John Indian baked a "witch cake" containing the girls' urine and fed it to the family dog in an attempt to identify whether or not any witches were casting a spell on them.

Soon, other girls in the neighborhood, including Ann Putnam, Jr. (see biography and primary source entries), had joined Betty and Abigail in having fits. They accused three women—Tituba, Sarah Osborne, and Sarah Good—of bewitching (casting a spell upon) them. In early March the women were taken to the meetinghouse for questioning, and during the investigation Tituba confessed to practicing witchcraft. Tituba, Good, and Osborne were all put in jail. By the end of May thirty-seven people had been arrested as suspected witches.

In the meantime Samuel Parris had taken control of the situation in his household. Alarmed that the devil had come into the very heart of the religious community, Parris knew events could easily be turned against him. His own slave, Tituba, had already admitted to being a witch, so he manipulated the crisis to his advantage by encouraging the girls to accuse other townspeople of practicing witchcraft. His plan was to divert attention away from his family and target members of the community whom he thought were trying to destroy him. In mid-March Parris sent Betty to live with the family of Stephen Sewall in Salem Town. (Sewall was the brother of Samuel Sewall, one of the judges in the Salem trials; see biography and primary source entries.)

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