Tituba was a slave in the highly religious town of Salem, Massachusetts.

After being wrongly convicted of witchcraft she ensured her survival by involving other townsfolk in her story of rituals, spells and The Devil.


Sources/Further Reading:

 Tituba's Cross-examination Court Documents

Reverend Parris' Sermon Notebook

Purloined Identity: The Racial Metamorphosis of Tituba of Salem
Village

Attributions:

The Ice Giants by Kevin MacLeod
License: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/

 

Voice in My Head by Quincas Moreira
via Youtube Free Audio Library

 

Transcript

It's the mid 17th century, and the Puritan town of Salem, Massachusetts is gripped by
witchcraft hysteria.
Innocent young girls speaking in tongues and contorting themselves into unnatural positions
have whipped the town into a killing frenzy which would claim the lives of 14 women and
five men, all sentenced to death on charges of witchcraft.
What came to be known as the Salem Witch Trials are now classified as a case of mass hysteria.
But how did this start?
Whoever could create such a frenzy within the community must have been someone in high
standing and a talented speaker, right?
What about a female black slave who barely spoke English?
This is Anthology of Heroes, and today's story belongs to Tituba, the Black Witch of
Salem.
Before I rip into today's story, just a reminder that the Anthology of Heroes Instagram page
is in full swing.
They say that a picture tells a thousand words, and lucky for you the Instagram word limit
is much less than that, so be sure to check it out.
I usually post there around three times a week with pictures related to all of our episodes
that help to illustrate the story, as well as upcoming episodes and a few history memes
to whet your whistle with.
So find us over at Anthology of Heroes, or OneWord, and say g'day.
Alright, back to the show.
In 1692, the east coast of America was home to French, Dutch, Italian, and of course English
colonies.
Far from their capitals in mainland Europe, many of these colonies were left to their
own divisors and developed their own local systems of government and rules.
Salem, which sits in the state of Massachusetts, was a Puritan town.
Far away from the grasp of the Church of England, Puritans followed a stricter and more private
form of worship.
They dressed, ate, lived, and worshipped simply.
Both men and women wore plain clothes in either white and black or white and blue.
The women wore a tightly wound cloth coif over their hair and the men a wide brim felt
fat, similar to how some Amish communities of today dress.
The Puritans believed that Jesus' crucifixion did not relieve all mankind from sin, only
a select few.
And you guessed it, the Puritans were those select few.
Despite believing they were God's chosen people, the Puritans also recognized that
they were, as humans, inherently sinful, particularly women, as they were descended from Eve, the
very first sinner.
It was the job of the Puritans to cleanse themselves of their sinful nature.
But unlike mainstream churches, they rejected the role of the priest in this, and instead
took lessons from the Bible that they had interpreted themselves.
The villagers of Salem constantly bickered with themselves and their neighbors due to
the sparsity between homesteads.
There was no real sense of unity between the residents of this village.
I'll be posting a map of the town on our Instagram page to give you a sense of the
space between different homesteads.
Disagreements over grazing rights and property lines were constant, and the villagers needed
someone to mediate these disagreements.
The villagers nominated a minister to help them with these cases, and then another, and
then another.
It seems, while realizing they needed assistance, they didn't really like the idea of paying
someone, so no one really hung around for too long.
After three underpaid ministers left an annoyance, there was not exactly a line of new job applicants.
However, this didn't stop Samuel Parris.
Parris was a Harvard-educated businessman who had recently arrived in Massachusetts
from Barbados after a hurricane had severely damaged his sugarcane business.
With him, he bought his beautiful wife Elizabeth, and rather curiously, a slave woman known
as Tituba or Tituba.
No one in Salem knew it yet, but this curious yet unassuming slave woman would put Salem
on the map, the spark that would light up the whole Puritan tinderbox.
This is all we know about Tituba's origins, and we have no real way to validate it.
It's just as likely that Samuel Parris could have purchased her at another island on the
way to Salem.
The court documents for the Salem Witch Trials introduce her as Titapa, an Indian woman's
servant to Mr. Samuel Parris, but Indian was really just a catch-all term for anyone with
a darker complexion.
Wherever she came from, Tituba would have immediately drawn a crowd in Salem.
Outsiders were an oddity, and if her skin colour did not elicit gawping stares, then
her accent or customs would have.
The clothing she wore would have likely been simple, to blend in as best she could with
her Puritan neighbours.
Later exaggerations have addressed something like an exotic foreign shaman, complete with
coloured feathers, talismans, and gold bangles, but this was always certainly not correct.
Nevertheless, that's the picture we've used for our cover art, as it's the most iconic
one.
We've got a picture of Samuel Parris on our Instagram.
I must say he bears a striking resemblance to one of the guys from the rock band Queen,
so I would definitely go check that out.
The picture, not Queen.
Samuel Parris did not prove to be much of a minister.
He made little progress in resolving the growing list of boundary disputes, and he was a bit
too flashy for Puritan tastes.
By the time he'd purchased gold candlesticks for the town hall, most of the villagers had
already turned against him.
Most concerningly, his sermons went down a much darker route than the previous minister's.
Every Sunday, Reverend Parris' voice reverberated through the small wooden churches.
Witches and devils were amongst his favourite topics.
The devil was everywhere, and everyone needed to suspect everyone.
Quote,
There are such devils in the church, not only sinners, but notorious sinners, sinners more
like the devil than others, so here in Christ's little church.
See what I mean?
In fact, his sermon from March the 27th, 1692, he mentions the devil 54 times.
Talk about fanning the flames.
Much like a Monty Python sketch, accusations of witchcraft were thrown at someone for virtually
any reason.
It was common to blame the devil also for outbursts of anger.
Accusations like this were not usually taken seriously, but as they were so common, it
constantly reinforced to the townsfolk that this did happen.
The devil was real, and he was working in very real ways.
With accusations like this swirling around, a minister bent on dividing the community,
and a black woman swaggering around town with a foreign accent, you can guess what happened
next.
Reverend Parris' niece, Betty, 9, and her friend Abigail Williams, 11, were two fairly
ordinary children from the village.
Like most kids, if adults told them not to do something, that would probably make them
want to do it more.
And who can blame them?
Imagine living in Salem, the monotonous life of chores and worship repeated every day.
By the way, Puritans did not celebrate traditional Christmas holidays like Christmas or Easter,
so they didn't even have that to look forward to.
Anyway, Betty and Abigail would frequently cut chores and sneak away together to play
with a Venus glass.
A Venus glass was a wide-bottomed glass cup that, according to superstition, would allow
someone to ask questions about their future.
We've got a picture of it on our Instagram page.
One of the girls, it's not recorded which, took the Venus glass and an egg, and after
separating the yolk from the white, they slowly poured it into a glass and asked the spirits
what will their future husband's job be.
To the horror of the girls, the egg white slowly formed the shape of a coffin.
Slowly spooked, the girls stopped playing around and heading home.
Though they didn't tell their parents, they did mention this story to friends of theirs.
A few days later, Elizabeth began acting strange.
Previously a well-behaved and quiet young girl, she began hiding under furniture, screaming
at the top of her lungs with no warning, and barking like a dog.
Over the next few days, she fell into fits of convulsion, similar to that of an epileptic
fit.
Her friend Abigail soon began to do similar things.
Both families turned to a doctor, perhaps this was growing pains or the onset of puberty,
but the physician William Griggs ominously concluded that there was no earthly reason
for the girls to act like this, and referred the family to a priest, John Hale.
Upon attending the households, the priest was shocked, and wrote after the events saying
quote, these children were bitten and pinched by invisible agents, and their arms, necks
and backs turned this way and that, and never returned again.
He went on to say, sometimes they were taken dumb, their mouths flopped open, their throats
choked, their limbs tormented.
Modern speculations of the reasons for the children acting out this way usually revolve
around stress, asthma, epilepsy, boredom, or a combination of these.
However a more interesting theory says that the bread the children had eaten may have
been infected with a fungi that would produce similar symptoms.
However it started, word of the possession soon spread through the town, and the girls
friends also began fitting.
The warning from Reverend Paris' sermons had finally come true.
This new gossip burned through the conservative town quickly.
The devil was out and proud in Salem.
But where did he come from?
Who bought him here?
Eyes turned back to Tituba and her husband, quick sidebar, Tituba was married to another
slave known as John Indian, who we have even less information on.
Despite the village's fear of witchcraft, there was also a degree of fascination with
it, and one of Reverend Paris' close neighbours, Mary Sibley, decided she knew a foolproof
way to find out what was causing this, a witch's cake.
Apparently this was a well-known recipe, a witch's cake was a small patty made from
rye, ash, and urine of a possessed victim.
Doesn't this just prove that the stereotype of a nosy Christian neighbour is literally
timeless?
Honestly this woman sounds like Helen Lovejoy from the Simpsons, doesn't she?
Anyway the story goes that once the cake was made it could be fed to a dog, as dogs were
apparently close companions of witches, and with any luck the dog would lead them to the
witch.
As the possession started with Betty, her urine would be needed, and Tituba, the family
slave, would have the easiest access to this.
So Mary Sibley approached Tituba and instructed her to collect the urine and bake the disgusting
cake, which she did.
For whatever reason the cake idea didn't work, and unfortunately for Tituba she was
now inseparable from the accusations.
Tituba's rank as a societal outcast as well as a dark skin made for easy accusations.
She had no friends in Salem, the Paris family owned her, and their concern for a well-being
was similar to how one would value an animal.
If she was not around her chores would be done by someone else, which was an inconvenience
but only that.
We don't know how her husband John felt about the accusations, chances are they were
the only solace the other person had, as a completely alien town whirled with rumours
of crimes that they may not have even fully understood.
As mentioned before, the Puritans of Salem had a morbid curiosity with the occult, and
a well-known 15th century book on demonology, the Malleus Maleficarium, or Hammer of Witches,
was on the lips of many gossipy town folk.
Word on the street was that Tituba had enticed poor Betty and Abigail into the occult by
reading them tales from this book.
The book itself was written by a German priest and focuses on the different ways Satan may
attack victims and how to prevent it.
The cover looks like something out of a satanic cult, very cool, I'll be posting a picture
of it on our Instagram page.
Despite the fact that Tituba very likely couldn't read and almost certainly did not have access
to this book, the accusations continued and intensified.
Along with Tituba, Betty and Abigail claimed that two other women had also bewitched them,
Sarah Osborn and Sarah Goode.
Like Tituba, these women were social outcasts.
Sarah Osborn was a widow who remarried an Irish Protestant and had upset Salem customs
by taking land of her late husband and blocking his children from it.
Sarah Goode was dirt poor due to the debts of her first husband, and also had a history
challenging Puritan views on Christianity.
With the investigation in full swing, Sarah Goode's husband was interviewed, followed
by her four-year-old daughter, yes, four years old.
Her husband, William, seemed no friend to her, confessing that his wife had acted evilly
towards him in the past.
Her four-year-old daughter, whom probably heard the tales of witchcraft herself, said
that her mother had given her a snake and that it had sucked blood from her finger before
showing the interviewees a small bite on her finger, likely a flea bite.
Four-year-old Dorothy was arrested and taken into custody for fraternizing with familiars,
that is servants of the devil.
Yep, we're arresting four-year-olds, that's how far we've come.
The web of accused gradually increased.
Martha Corey, a woman with a mixed blood and illegitimate son, made the mistake of questioning
the legitimacy of the claims and was thrown in with them.
Sarah Wildes was known as a bit of a flirt, which in Puritan times probably means she
had the audacity to smile when a man talked with her.
Well, she had previous run-ins with the law as well, after being charged with wearing
a silk scarf.
Yes, that's an actual crime.
So she was accused of witchcraft by her ex-in-laws, who held a grudge against her for remarrying
after the death of their son.
Another villager, George Burrows, used to perform something of a party trick by lifting
a musket with only one of his fingers.
The accusers against him reckoned that such a feat of strength was not possible without
the aid of Satan, and he was accused.
Wilmette Reid was merely an irritable woman, and despite apathetic claims from her neighbours
that she was quote, more bitch than witch, she found herself accused.
Ah, Puritan love.
The list literally goes on and on, each accusation as baseless as the last.
All in all, over 200 people were accused, and the insular village of Salem was the talk
of the town across the American colonies.
Tituba, Sarah Osborn, and Sarah Goode were the first to attend the trial.
Both Sarahs vehemently denied the wrongdoing, but Tituba took the curious step of confessing.
Not confessing to witchcraft explicitly, more that she did indeed have contact with the
devil.
A quote from a cross-examination has her saying, I think yesterday I being in the lento chamber,
I saw a thing like a man, that told me serve him, and I told him no, I would not do such
a thing.
Throughout her cross-examination, she goes on to say that the devil appeared to her several
other times, sometimes as a pig, and other times as a large dog.
Chillingly, when asked if she saw others conversing with the devil, she says that she saw Sarah
Osborn and Sarah Goode as well.
Lighting up the courtroom, she artfully described the otherworldly beings that both Sarahs had
conjured up to roam around the town at night.
Sarah Goode had summoned a wolf, while Sarah Osborn had summoned what appears to be some
sort of imp.
Tituba says about this creature, quote, a thing all over hairy, all the face hairy,
and a long nose, and I don't know how to tell how the face looks.
With two legs, it goes upright, and is about two or three foot high.
Throughout her cross-examination, she masterfully wove a detailed story of strange men, dogs
and cats, appearing before her, all telling her to serve the devil.
All while ensuring both Sarahs were part of her story, lest she be the only one accused.
The crux of her confession was to make it clear that she had done her best to resist
the temptations of the devil.
Tituba was smart enough to know that she was going down for this, and her best defense
was downplaying the axe, rather than pretending they never took place at all.
She admitted to pinching and biting the girls, but insisted that the devil pushed her to
actually kill them, which, thanks to God's grace, she was able to resist doing.
When asked to elaborate on what form the devil took, she said he was a tall man with white
hair and a black hooded gown.
This is quite interesting, as the description bears a striking resemblance to her master,
Reverend Samuel Parris.
It's widely believed Parris had beaten her prior to the trials to ensure that she confessed
her crime.
Was this her way of implicating her former master?
Satisfied that they had apprehended one of the witches, Tituba is thrown in jail.
And while it may not have seemed like it at the time, jail was probably the better place
to be, as the trial was about to kick into the next gear.
The court proceedings had already gained steam and public interest when Tituba was arrested,
and continued to snowball as it went on.
It started off normal enough, evidence, confessions, and statements were gathered, and cross-examinations
happened.
But when the accused were brought in the courtroom in front of the supposed victims of black
magic, justice devolved rapidly.
As the accused witches began to plead their innocence, the young girls, that's the accusers,
began to act strangely in their presence.
Betty and Abigail, and now many of their friends, would routinely scream, cry, and writhe in
pain when the accused witches would begin to speak.
In one instance, when one of the women was being questioned, she stretched her neck out
in the same way you would if you were sitting for a long period of time.
Over in the witness stand, the three girls moved their neck in uniform and held it at
the jerked angle, claiming that they had just been hexed and could not return their neck
to its normal position.
We've got an artist's impression of this bizarre scene on our Instagram page.
With spectacles like this becoming the norm, the jurors found themselves wrapped up in
the hysteria.
Real evidence was thrown out the window, and the court pandered to the whims of a group
of prepubescent teenage girls.
Touch tests were allowed as evidence, where the accused would lay a hand on the victim.
If the victim began compulsing or acting strangely, spoiler, they did, then that was proof of
witching.
Pricking tests were used to identify victims.
So legend goes, witches made small marks on a victim's flesh when they haunted them.
While these marks were not always visible, the area around the prick would be unable
to bleed.
So victims would be pricked in various places, and if they didn't bleed, which some parts
of skin may not have, this was evidence of black magic.
If these completely baseless tests were not enough, spectral evidence such as dreams and
visions were also to become permissible in this case.
As you can see, it was incredibly easy to be put on trial, and even easier to be convicted.
The hysteria that gripped the town gained momentum.
What would follow over the next few months would be America's deadliest witch hunt.
A total of 30 people would be convicted, 19 were executed by hanging, and one poor bastard
was pressed to death when he refused to enter a plea.
Yes, pressed to death.
Rocks were piled on his chest over days until he died.
Thank God the Enlightenment period was just around the corner.
If this is what God's grace bought, then bring on science.
At the dawn of a new year, in 1693, finally the hysteria begins to die down.
Forty-nine out of the 52 people convicted on spectral evidence are released, and Tituba
quietly slips out with them, disappearing from history books for good.
Many of the people who were exonerated had their property returned to them, but Tituba
was a slave, she had no property, and it's not as if she could go back to Reverend Paris
after all this, could she?
Some sources say that she was purchased by a new master, but I couldn't find anything
to confirm that.
Likewise there's also a bit of chatter that either during her time in Salem, or just after,
she had a daughter called Violet.
But once again, this is just speculation.
Tituba and the Salem witch trials have left a huge legacy on American culture.
The hysteria that enveloped the small town is a good example of the kind of fever that
can spring up when a smallish group of God-fearing and naturally suspicious people are left to
govern themselves.
While there are other episodes in history of what we now call mass hysteria, such as
the dancing plague of 1518, it's the Salem witch trials that we all tend to think of
when the name is brought up.
Even the term witch hunt, which nowadays just means a campaign directed at someone or something,
could be traced back to these very events.
US historian George Lincoln Burr referred to the trials as the rock on which theocracy
shattered, and he's right.
This case is a prime example of why the separation of church and state are so important.
Although so little is known about her life, there has always been a good amount of interest
in the role Tituba played during and after the trials.
In 1964, Tituba of Salem Village was written as a children's book by Ann Petry as a way
of educating readers about the sorry state of women and black people's rights.
In 1986, another book, I, Tituba, Black Witch of Salem, was written to speculate on Tituba's
life after the trials.
And nowadays, when someone talks about the Salem witch trials, the enduring story of
Tituba is never far from their mind.