Winter in the Parris home

Tales of voodoo by the fire

During the winter of 1691-92 the Parris household became the center of witchcraft accusations. Living in the home were Parris's nine-year-old daughter Elizabeth (called Betty), his eleven-year-old niece Abigail Williams, and two other children. Betty was a quiet, obedient child known for her deep fear of the devil, which no doubt came from hearing her father's fiery sermons. Abigail, on the other hand, was a bolder, more impulsive girl who felt protected by her connection to God through her uncle. Also living in the house were the Parrises' two slaves— Tituba (see biography entry), an older Caribbean woman (half African, half Carrib Indian), and her husband, John Indian, a Car-rib Indian. Tituba took care of the girls and did most of the indoor chores, while John Indian helped Samuel Parris with outdoor tasks. Tituba, Betty, and Abigail spent most of the time cooped up

Salem Village in the seventeenth century was a small but busy settlement.

Reproduced by permission of the Corbis Corporation (Bellevue).

inside doing chores together. All three escaped the boredom of their daily lives by taking short breaks when Parris and his wife were out socializing with other parishioners. To pass the time Tituba and the girls would sit by the fireplace and tell stories. Tituba captured the girls' imaginations with fantastic tales of voodoo (a form of magic) tricks, spells, and charms she learned while growing up in Barbados. Although the Parrises had forbidden Betty and Abigail to discuss voodoo, they encouraged Tituba's stories and savored the often frightening details.

Salem Village in the seventeenth century was a small but busy settlement.

Reproduced by permission of the Corbis Corporation (Bellevue).

Fear and Tituba's circle

As the storytelling sessions became more intense, Betty and Abigail—both God-fearing Puritans—began to worry that they were committing evil. In this era even children were made to feel the heavy weight of obedience and sin. From an early age they had heard sermons that were meant to inspire fear in adults as well as children. An excerpt from another of

Mather's books, The Good Education of Children, 1708, is typical of the messages aimed at the minds of young Puritans:

Do you dare to run up and down on the Lord's day? Or do you keep in to read your book? They which lie must go to their father the devil, into an everlasting burning; they which never pray, God will pour out his wrath upon them; and when they beg and pray in hellfire, God will not forgive them, but there they must lie forever. Are you willing to go to Hell to be burnt with the devil and his angels? Oh the Hell is a terrible place, that's worse a thousand times than whipping. (From Earle Rice, Jr. The Salem Witch Trials. p. 23.)

Not only were Betty and Abigail under intense pressure from their Puritan faith, they also had to endure the burden of living in Samuel Parris's household. They were surely aware of the controversy about his status in the community, and they must have known that the family would become poverty-stricken if Parris lost his income. The pleasure they took in Tituba's stories also gave them a sense of doom, which they felt powerless to fight. Fear and fascination led the girls to confide in a few friends, who too began attending the storytelling sessions. Tituba's new listeners included Ann Putnam, Jr. (see biography and primary source entries), the twelve-year-old daughter of Parris's main supporters. Other girls in the group were Mary Walcott, the sixteen-year-old daughter of Captain Jonathan Walcott; Elizabeth Hubbard, the seventeen-year-old great-niece of the village physician, William Griggs; Susan Sheldon; and Elizabeth Booth. Also coming to the Parris fireside were nineteen-year-old Mercy Lewis, who lived with the Putnams, and Mary Warren, a twenty-year-old servant in the village tavern run by John Proctor (see biography entry).

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