This book summarizes the life of a female Indian servant and her involvement in the 1692 witch trials in Salem, Massachusetts. To begin it gives background information of the Arawak Indian woman named Tituba, which reveals cultural influences. It tells how Tituba was captured and sold into slavery and shifted from one cultural world to another, from South America to Barbados then to Massachusetts, where she was forced to separate from friends and her culture to acclimate and thrive in another; as a servant she had no say in the matter.
Her obligations as a servant were to fulfill domestic responsibilities within the household. In 1689 she found herself living in Salem, Massachusetts in the home of Samuel Parris, his wife Elizabeth, their 3 children Thomas (7), Elizabeth (6) who was later referred to as Betty, and Susannah (<1), a young African servant, as well as a male Indian servant named John who would soon become her husband. In 1691, Parris’s niece Abigail Williams may have been living with them. According to Parris’s will, Tituba and John had a daughter named Violet who would have been about two or three years old during the witch trials in 1692.
After the Parris’s move to Salem around 1688, Samuel began preaching in the village and would eventually become the town’s minister by 1689. By the winter of 1691, a group of young girls from the village, Elizabeth Hubbard (17), and Ann Putnam (12), joined by Parris’s daughter Betty (9), and his niece Abigail (11), would begin playing fortune-telling games drawn from centuries old cultural traditions. Subsequently, Betty would start experiencing strange physical symptoms of pain that confounded spectators and led them to believe that someone had bewitched her.
A neighbor to the Parris’s, as well as a covenant member of the church Mary Sibley, would approach Tituba and her husband John with a notion of revealing who was bewitching the girl by preparing a witchcake consisting of rye meal and the girls urine which was then baked into ashes and then fed to a dog. According to folklore, the dog would then reveal the name of those responsible for bewitching the girl. In February of 1692, after two months of observing the girl in retched pain, Tituba agreed to assist in preparing the witchcake.
The result was much unexpected as it was revealed that preparation of the witchcake had taken place. The other girls, already frightened by the previous symptoms displayed by Betty and their involvement in the occult games, would become even more frightened with the knowledge of the counter-magic. They too would start to experience such symptoms that would become even more violent than those presented before to include hallucinations; the witchcake did not relieve but instead intensified their hysteria as well as the town’s fears and fantasies of evil among them.
The girls would soon confirm the town’s suspicions of evil implications by identifying two women, Sarah Goode (38), and Sarah Osborne (49), who they believed were witches tormenting them, those women also accused Tituba (between 25-30 years old). Warrants of arrest were prepared for the three women on February 29 and Tituba’s testimonies would proceed from March 1-5, resulting in the commencement of the greatest-known witch hunt of all time. Throughout Tituba’s testimonies she fed her audience with tales of witchery and devilish manifestations that would fuel their suspicions and lead to many more accusations, arrests, and executions.
It is thought that because her testimonies were derived of many different cultural traditions that were carefully pieced together in a way that Tituba believed would sound convincing enough to the magistrates for them to believe she was under the devils force to harm the children. Tituba, the afflicted girls, as well as those accused would make accusations of others they said were involved in witchcraft and were in a covenant with the devil.
She spoke of secret meetings and a book in which she was forced by the Devil to sign, threatened with a terrible demise had she not signed. The afflicted girls and others accused fed off her testimonies and followed her cues in hopes that such a confession may spare their lives. Over the course of seven months one-hundred and fifty people would be arrested and twenty-four would die due to accusations of witchcraft, traumatizing the lives of hundreds in the New England society.
For fear of damnation, Tituba along with many others recanted their confessions, acknowledging that they had falsely accused others and fictitiously created the witch stories to safeguard their lives. By September 1693, the use of spectral evidence ceased and the Governor dismissed further executions other than those already scheduled, and ordered the release of those who could post bail to get out of jail. In April of 1693, an unidentified person bailed Tituba out of the jail and she disappeared from all records.
It is presumed that her husband John was sold to this same person and they moved away leaving their daughter Violet in the Parris household. The author of this book attempted to piece together the life events of Tituba and void out the contradictions in order to create a better understanding of her role in the Salem witch-hunt tragedy. She explained in depth her thesis on why she believes Tituba was a Native American instead of an African as former theories would note, and how her connection with different cultures would help shape her testimonies.
The main point in this book was to describe in detail Tituba’s role in the Salem witch trials of 1692, and how her testimonies fueled the Puritan’s fears and fantasies of diabolical presents among their village while attempting to protect her from execution. I believe the author effectively captured Tituba’s role in the former events while providing the many sources she used to come to her conclusions.
In piecing the entire picture together it was helpful that the author included the timetable of accusations and confessions, the transcripts of Tituba’s confessions, as well as an index to easily reference back to. The book’s strengths are in the explicit details from beginning to end which really paint a clear picture of how such events came about which are beneficial to someone who is researching this event; However, I would also consider this to be a weakness to an average reader as it appeared somewhat hard to follow the main point when getting bogged down with details.
I would definitely recommend this book to someone who was interested and/or researching Tituba’s character or the Salem events, as the author came to these conclusions after much research and referencing of historical documents and the assistance of many people and institutions which she acknowledges in the beginning of the book, making her theories more credible.
It was an interesting read after hearing bits and pieces of the story over time as well as watching movies that depicted a much more dramatized version of the events. The book made the events much more understandable and realistic. The book wasn’t quite as exciting as I expected but then I was comparing it to the movies, but it was still somewhat interesting and insightful.
Courtney from Study Moose
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