Witchy Women: Tituba

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The Salem witch trials, carried out over a 9-month period in the late 17th century (1692-1693), have become infamous in the centuries since, providing inspiration for numerous works of art, literature, film, and even TV shows. These works are not always (or even usually) concerned with the hard facts and dates associated with the event, of course, and so the details have morphed throughout time. Perhaps no one has been cast and re-cast as much as Tituba, though. Much of what we know about her directly contradicts pop culture depictions.

Local lore and constant re-tellings of the story have shaped the ways that we think about the Salem witch trials and the participants. Tituba’s was the first to be accused of witchcraft in the trials, and her elaborate confession would serve as the catalyst for further investigation and arrests in the months to come. Tituba’s confessions elevated the occurrences from an isolated event to a wide-spread conspiracy of demonic proportions.

Accounts of the Salem witch trials show that Tituba was an Indian slave living in the house of Samuel Parris, a minister in Salem, but we don’t actually know much else about her. There seems to be some disagreement as to her race–perhaps most notably in Arthur Miller’s The Crucible (1953), which records her as a “Negro slave”–but it is likely that Tituba and her possible husband, John (another slave in Parris’s home) came from Barbados with Parris, who had a plantation there and sailed from the island to Boston with two slaves in 1680.

While in Boston, Samuel Parris married Elizabeth Eldridge, a daughter of Salem. The couple had three children–Thomas, Elizabeth, and Susannah. In 1689, Parris became the minister of Salem Village, and the family moved there with Tituba and John (by most accounts, they were married during this time).

Sources disagree about what the events of the next few years were like, but by the winter of 1692, Betty Parris and her cousin Abigail Williams were having convulsions, experiencing pain, and babbling, and they had identified Tituba and two of the townswomen, Sarah Good and Sarah Osbourne,  as witches who had cursed them.  On March 1 of that year, Tituba and the other women stood before interrogators in the town meetinghouse.

Tituba was the last of the accused to be questioned that day, and special attention seems to have been paid to recording her Witchyconfessions—an indication that the court knew what was coming. Tituba’s confession was indeed one worth recording. It was lengthy and elaborate, including tales of wild beasts, a mysterious man, and numerous other women involved in practicing witchcraft, including Sarah Good and Sarah Osbourne. The testimony was used to convict the two women, and it fanned the flames of a controversy that might’ve died out otherwise.

There is an indication that Tituba later recanted her testimony and confessions, and the source indicates that Tituba reported abuse and coercion to confess from Samuel Parris. Tituba’s case did not go to trial, because the grand jury in Ipswich did not indict her. Court records do not indicate that she was questioned again. Parris refused to pay the fees required to get her out of jail, and so she stayed there for 15 months, until an unknown person bought her for the release fee. After that, records of Tituba disappear, and no one knows what happened to her.

*This post is a part of the A to Z Blogging Challenge.
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14 Comments

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  1. What a fascinating and troubling (as so many are) episode in history. I’m with timsbrannan, hoping that the story has a glint of light at the end. Until proven otherwise, I think I’ll hold on to it, naïve as it may be.
    Many of us lead lives focused the possibilities, our dreams, our wishes. Sadly, that is not the case for all. Too many spend their days on earth encountering a series of wide roadblocks and high hurdles. Thanks for sharing.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Poor Tituba is a pretty good example of the way history can change depending on who is presenting it—and of how dangerous it was (and still can be) to be a woman.

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  2. I have visited Salem and a couple of the museums. It’s a very interesting area of history, at leas to me. I’ve long had an interest in it. I think one of the things about visiting Salem is that the people there really thrive on the mystery aspect of the whole thing. Perhaps there is still fear; perhaps they are being coy. I think a lot of them really enjoy keeping things mysterious. One day, I hope to go back and spend a few days visiting the many witch themed museums and exhibits.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’d really like to visit someday. I’ve never been to that side of the country, and it’s one of the places I’d like to go. But the secret and mystery of the place makes it sound a bit like my own New Orleans. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Tituba is part of the Salem show. I believe the new season starts in October. I’m not going to be a spoiler but the John I think you’re talking about also plays a part but you’d be surprised what type of character that show has him playing.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I haven’t seen any of the show yet, but I keep intending to sit down and Netflix binge it. I’m curious about which details they’ve changed/kept and how they stretch the story out.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. A couple of years ago I visited Salem with an American friend from Boston. I was very surprised about how little is actually known about that trial and about the people involved. Even about why all that mess happened. I would have thought that, because there was a trial and there were trascriptions of interrogations, a lot more would be known.

    And when I hear of elaborated testimony transcriptions, a part of me always think they are probably not genuine. Sorry 🙂

    @JazzFeathers
    The Old Shelter – Jazz Age Jazz

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yeah, there really isn’t that much known about what happened. Record keeping wasn’t great at the time, and even of the records that were kept, many have been lost. I think we can rely on some of them because they corroborate and correspond with one another. There are also lots of ways of dating texts and such to be sure they’re actually from the time period they claim to be. Certainly they could be falsified as far as their accounts—but so could virtually any document, anywhere, anytime, and that is a very slippery slope. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  5. What a bleak story. Slavery to begin with, then accusations of witchcraft, probable coercion possibly rising to torture, perhaps other kinds of abuse, unjust imprisonment, and finally being “released” back to slavery. It’s hard for me to imagine, from my position of privilege, what this was like for her.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yeah, it’s difficult to imagine the kind of thins she must’ve dealt with during her life, things that aren’t on the official record in addition to those that were.

      Liked by 2 people

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