Abigail Williams

Salem Witch Trials - Key People

Bridget Bishop Hanged at Salem
Bridget Bishop hanged as a witch at Salem in 1692. Briggs. Co. / George Eastman House / Getty Images

Known for: accuser in the Salem witch trials of 1692; one of the first two girls "afflicted"
Occupation: servant?
Age at time of Salem witch trials: 11 or 12
Dates: about 1680 - ?

Family, Background: Abigail Williams, who lived in the home of the Rev. Samuel Parris, has often been called a "niece" of Rev. Parris. Called "kinfolk" in some early sources. "Niece" may have been a general term for younger female relative.

Who her parents were, and what her relationship was to Rev. Parris, is unknown. She may have been a household servant.

Abigail Williams and the Salem Witch Trials

Abigail Williams and Elizabeth (Betty) Parris, daughter of Rev. Parris and his wife Elizabeth, were the first two girls in Salem Village to exhibit behaviors in mid-January of 1692 which were soon identified as being caused by witchcraft by a local doctor (presumably William Griggs) called in by Rev. Parris.

Abigail and Betty were joined by Ann Putnam Jr. (daughter of a neighbor) and Elizabeth Hubbard (a niece of William Griggs who lived in the Griggs home with the doctor and his wife) in their afflictions and, then, in accusations against individuals identified as causing the afflictions. The Rev. Parris called in Rev. John Hale of Beverley and Rev. Nicholas Noyes of Salem, and several neighbors, to observe the behavior of Abigail and the others, and to question Tituba.

Abigail was a key witness against many of the early accused witches, including the first ones identified, Tituba, Sarah Osborne, and Sarah Good, and later Bridget Bishop, George Burroughs, Sarah Cloyce, Martha Corey, Mary Easty, Rebecca Nurse, Elizabeth Proctor, John Proctor, John Willard and Mary Witheridge.

Abigail's and Betty's accusations, especially those on February 26 after the making of a witch's cake the day before, resulted in the arrest on February 29 of Tituba, Sarah Good and Sarah Osborne. Thomas Putnam, An Putnam Jr.'s father, signed the complaints as the girls were minors.

On March 19, with the Rev. Deodat Lawson visiting, Abigail accused the respected Rebecca Nurse of trying to force her to sign the devil's book. The next day, in the middle of the service at Salem Village Church, Abigail interrupted Rev. Lawson, claiming she saw Martha Corey's spirit separate from her body. Martha Corey was arrested and examined the next day. A warrant for the arrest of Rebecca Nurse was issued March 23.

On March 29, Abigail Williams and Mercy Lewis accused Elizabeth Proctor' of afflicting them through her specter; Abigail claimed to see John Proctor's spectre as well. Abigail testified that she had seen some 40 witches outside the Parris house in a ritual of drinking blood. She named Elizabeth Proctor's specter as being present, and named Sarah Good and Sarah Cloyce as being deacons at the ceremony.

Of the legal complaints filed, Abigail Williams made 41 of them. She testified in seven of the cases.

Her last testimony was June 3, a week before the first execution.

Joseph Hutchinson, in trying to discredit her testimony, testified that she had said to him that she could converse with the devil as easily as she could converse with him.

Abigail Williams After the Trials

After her last testimony in the court records on June 3, 1692, the day that John Willard and Rebecca Nurse were indicted for witchcraft by a grand jury, Abigail Williams disappears from the historical record.

Motives

Speculation about Abigail Williams' motives in testifying usually suggest that she wanted some attention: that as a "poor relation" with no real prospects in marriage (as she would have no dowry), she gained much more influence and power through her accusations of witchcraft than she would be able to do any other way.

Linnda R. Caporael suggested in 1976 that fungus-infected rye may have caused ergotism and hallucinations in Abigail Williams and the others.

Abigail Williams in The Crucible

In Arthur Miller's play, The Crucible, Miller depicts Williams as a 17-year-old servant in the Proctor house who tried to save John Proctor even while denouncing her mistress, Elizabeth. At the end of the play, she steals her uncle's money (money which the real Rev. Parris probably did not have). Arthur Miller relied on a source that claimed that Abigail Williams became a prostitute after the period of the trials.