Named after the holy city of Jerusalem, Salem was founded in 1626 by English merchants who took advantage of the natural harbor and the abundant fishing the area provided. Fear of Devil-worship and witchcraft swept through Salem, Massachusetts, like a plague. During the years of 1692-1693, more than 200 people, men, women, and even children, were accused of witchcraft. Words of friends, neighbors, and even complete strangers put many people’s lives in danger; 19 were hung, 1 pressed to death, and 3 including 1 infant died in jail awaiting trial. The accusations, the trials, the executions, and the events leading up to and after the deaths, kept Salem Massachusetts, on its toes in this mass paranoia.
In 1626 after puritans immigrated to Salem, Massachusetts, Salem was generally a nice place to live, a bit rough perhaps, but puritans liked it that way. The Puritans were a group of people who grew discontent in the Church of England, and worked towards religious, moral, and societal reforms. Samuel Parris was called upon to be the first ordained minister of Salem village, although the fourth minister for Salem village. Samuel Parris left sunny Barbados to come to Salem, bringing with him his wife, daughter Elizabeth Parris, niece Abigail Williams, his slave Tituba, and her husband John.
Mrs. Parris became busy with the duties of the wife of a minister. So running the house and managing the two girls and their friends; fell to Tituba. She spent hours telling the girls stories of the beautiful white beaches of Barbados. They listened enraptured as she told them of witch doctors who could tell the future and heal the sick with incense and herbs. The girls were so fascinated and asked so many questions that Tituba finally broke down and showed them how to break a fresh chicken egg from a white hen in just such a way that the egg white would be suspended in water and serve as a crystal ball used to see the future.
They kept this secret from everyone, knowing this type of behavior would not be appreciated by the puritans. Many of the girls, like Elizabeth Parris, felt the tug-of-war going on between their enjoyment of the chats with Tituba and the lessons they were learning at home and in church. The idea that they were flirting with the devil and possibly gambling with their immortal souls was troubling to some and exciting to others. Abigail Williams was more mischievous than her cousin, and she viewed the black magic and fortune telling as merely a game. While Abigail didn’t see any harm in it, Elizabeth began to be plagued with guilt and fear. The conflict raged within her and it began to have physical effects.
She was worn and weak, unable to eat, and she began to forget chores, appearing off in a dream world at times. When she awakened, she would scream. When pressed for an explanation, she would give utterance to a meaningless babbling. Elizabeth Parris was lying on the ground, her arms and legs flailing in the air, and spittle spewing from her mouth. Elizabeth was having seizures and needed a doctor. Samuel Parris sent Abigail to get Dr. Griggs, the Salem town physician. Griggs studied Elizabeth for days and then informed Samuel Parris, “I fear the evil hand is upon them.” Based upon hearsay, Samuel accused Tituba of witchcraft.
Tituba was taken to Ipswich jail. Samuel Parris hired two magistrates to investigate the witchcraft accusations. The magistrates held the first trial to condemn the accused. There were five ways for the people to claim their innocence, but most were found guilty. Despite their attempts, the accused were asked to recite the Lord’s prayer. If one could not recite the prayer, it was said that Satan was at work and blocked one’s tongue from speaking the words. Having laid out the ground rules for the investigation, the magistrates and Parris began to root out the devil in Salem.
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