During the trials Parris aggravated tensions in the village by persecuting his parishioners and delivering sermons that encouraged anti-witch hysteria. In an especially damaging gesture, he excommunicated (expelled from church membership) accused witches Martha Corey and Rebecca Nurse, prominent members of the community who were eventually hanged (see Chapter 4 and primary source entry). When the elderly Nurse was in jail Parris gave a fiery sermon, "Christ Knows How Many Devils There Are," which contributed to the evidence against her. He also harassed relatives of accused witches. Parris's notes from that period show that he hounded Nurse's husband Sam to attend church when they missed even a single sermon. In the case of the Nurses, Parris clearly had political motivations: Nurse's maiden name was Towne, thus placing her in the anti-Putnam and anti-Parris camp, although there is no evidence that she was ever directly involved in the conflict surrounding Parris's appointment.
Parris also had a confrontation with Nurse's sister, Sarah Towne Cloyce, when Cloyce abruptly left a worship service, slamming the door behind her. From the pulpit Parris accused her of being yet another witch spreading evil among the good Christians of Salem. Her defenders asserted, however, that she had suddenly been taken ill and that a gust of wind had slammed the door as she left in haste. Cloyce was later arrested and found guilty of being a witch. As the trials continued through spring 1693, many were afraid to stop going to Parris's services and waited until the trials were over to drop out of the parish, but others risked being accused of witchcraft and simply stayed home.
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