Tituba and The Salem Witch Trials of 1692

The Accused and Accuser

Circa 1692, The trial of George Jacobs for witchcraft at the Essex Institute in Salem, Massachusetts

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Tituba was among the first three people accused of being a witch during the Salem witch trials of 1692. She confessed to witchcraft and accused others. Tituba, also known as Tituba Indian, was an enslaved person and servant whose birth and death dates are unknown.

Tituba Biography

Little is known of Tituba's background or even origin. Samuel Parris, later to play a central role in the Salem witch trials of 1692 as the village minister, brought three enslaved persons with him when he came to Massachusetts from New Spain—Barbados—in the Caribbean.

We can guess from the circumstances that Parris enslaved Tituba in Barbados, probably when she was 12 or a few years older. We do not know if the enslavement of Tituba was the settlement of a debt, though that story has been accepted by some. Parris was, at the time he was in New Spain, not yet married and not yet a minister.

When Samuel Parris moved to Boston from New Spain, he brought Tituba, John Indian, and a young boy with him as enslaved persons forced to work in a household. In Boston, he married and later became a minister. Tituba served as a housekeeper.

In Salem Village

Rev. Samuel Parris moved to Salem Village in 1688, a candidate for the position of Salem Village minister. In about 1689, Tituba and John Indian seem to have married. In 1689 Parris was formally called as the minister, given a full deed to the parsonage, and the Salem Village church charter was signed.

Tituba would not likely have been directly involved in the growing church conflict involving Rev. Parris. But since the controversy included withholding salary and payment in firewood, and Parris complained about the effect on his family, Tituba probably would also have felt the shortage of firewood and food in the house.

She would also have likely been aware of the unrest in the community when raids were launched in New England, starting up again in 1689 (and called King William's War), with New France using both French soldiers and local Native Americans to fight against the English colonists.

Whether she was aware of the political conflicts around Massachusetts' status as a colony is not known. Whether she was aware of Rev. Parris' sermons in late 1691 warning of Satan's influence in town is also not known, but it seems likely that his fears were known in his household.

Afflictions and Accusations Begin

In early 1692, three girls with connections to the Parris household began to exhibit strange behavior. One was Elizabeth (Betty) Parris, the 9-year-old daughter of Rev. Parris and his wife.

Another was Abigail Williams, age 12, called "kinfolk" or a "niece" of Rev. Parris. She may have served as a household servant and a companion to Betty. The third girl was Ann Putnam Jr., who was the daughter of a key supporter of Rev. Parris in the Salem Village church conflict.

There is no source before the latter half of the 19th century, including transcripts of testimony in the examinations and trials, that supports the idea that Tituba and the girls who were accusers practiced any magic together.

To find out what was causing the afflictions, a local doctor (presumably William Griggs) and a neighboring minister, Rev. John Hale, were called in by Parris. Tituba later testified that she saw visions of the devil and witches swarming. The doctor diagnosed the cause of the afflictions as "Evil Hand."

A neighbor of the Parris family, Mary Sibley, advised John Indian and possibly Tituba to make a witch's cake to identify the cause of the initial "afflictions" of Betty Parris and Abigail Williams.

The next day, Betty and Abigail named Tituba as a cause of their behavior. Tituba was accused by the young girls of appearing to them (as a spirit), which amounted to an accusation of witchcraft. Tituba was questioned about her role. Rev. Parris beat Tituba to try to get a confession from her.

Tituba Arrested and Examined

On February 29, 1692, an arrest warrant was issued for Tituba in Salem Town. Arrest warrants were also issued for Sarah Good and Sarah Osborne. All three of the accused were examined the next day at Nathaniel Ingersoll's tavern in Salem Village by local magistrates Jonathan Corwin and John Hathorne.

In that examination, Tituba confessed, naming both Sarah Osborne and Sarah Good as witches and describing their spectral movements, including meeting with the devil. Sarah Good claimed her innocence but implicated Tituba and Osborne. Tituba was questioned for two more days.

Tituba's confession, by the rules of the court, kept her from being tried later with others, including those who were eventually found guilty and executed. Tituba apologized for her part, saying she loved Betty and meant her no harm.

She included in her confession complicated tales of witchcraft—all compatible with English folk beliefs, not voodoo as some have alleged. Tituba herself went into a fit, claiming to be afflicted.

After the magistrates finished their examination of Tituba, she was sent to jail. While she was imprisoned, two others accused her of being one of two or three women whose specters they'd seen flying.

John Indian, through the trials, also had a number of fits when present for the examination of accused witches. Some have speculated that this was a way of deflecting further suspicion of himself or his wife. Tituba herself is hardly mentioned in the records after her initial arrest, examination, and confession.

The Rev. Parris promised to pay the fee to allow Tituba to be released from prison. Under the rules of the colony, similar to rules in England, even someone found innocent had to pay for expenses incurred to imprison and feed them before they could be released. But Tituba recanted her confession, and Parris never paid the fine, presumably in retaliation for her recantation.

After the Trials

The next spring, the trials ended and various imprisoned individuals were released once their fines were paid. Someone paid seven pounds for Tituba's release. Presumably, whoever paid the fine had become Tituba's enslaver.

The same person may have enslaved John Indian; they both disappear from all known records after Tituba's release. A few histories mention a daughter, Violet, who remained with the Parris family.

Tituba in Fiction

Arthur Miller includes Tituba in his 1952 play, "The Crucible", which uses the Salem witch trials as a metaphor or analogy to 20th century McCarthyism, the pursuit, and "blacklisting" of accused Communists. Tituba is depicted in Miller's drama as initiating witchcraft as play among the girls of Salem Village.

In 1964, Ann Petry published "Tituba of Salem Village", written for children 10 and older.

Maryse Condé, a French Caribbean writer, published "I, Tituba: Black Witch of Salem" which argues that Tituba was of Black African heritage.  

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Lewis, Jone Johnson. "Tituba and The Salem Witch Trials of 1692." ThoughtCo, Jan. 5, 2021, thoughtco.com/tituba-salem-witch-trials-3530572. Lewis, Jone Johnson. (2021, January 5). Tituba and The Salem Witch Trials of 1692. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/tituba-salem-witch-trials-3530572 Lewis, Jone Johnson. "Tituba and The Salem Witch Trials of 1692." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/tituba-salem-witch-trials-3530572 (accessed June 1, 2023).