In 1691, a group of girls in Salem, Massachusetts, accused an Indian slave named Tituba of witchcraft. Tituba's confession ignited a witchcraft scare which left 19 men and women hanged, one man pressed to death, and over 150 more people in prison awaiting trial.
For two decades, New England had been in the grip of severe social stresses. A 1675 conflict with the Indians known as King Philip's War had resulted in more deaths relative to the size of the population than any other war in American history. A decade later, in 1685, King James II's government revoked the Massachusetts charter. A new governor, Sir Edmund Andros, sought to unite New England, New York, and New Jersey into a single Dominion of New England. He also tried to abolish elected colonial assemblies, restrict town meetings, and impose direct control over militia appointments, and permitted the first public celebration of Christmas in Massachusetts. After William III replaced James II as King of England in 1689, Andros's government was overthrown, but Massachusetts was required to eliminate religious qualifications for voting and to extend religious toleration to sects such as the Quakers. The late seventeenth century also marked a sudden increase in the number of black slaves in New England.
The 1637 Pequot War produced New England's first known slaves. While many Indian men were transported into slavery in the West Indies, many Indian women and children were used as household slaves in New England. The 1641 Massachusetts Body of Liberties recognized perpetual and hereditary servitude (although in 1643, a Massachusetts court sent back to Africa some slaves who had been kidnapped by New England sailors and brought to America). Tituba was one of the growing number of slaves imported from the West Indies.
Probably an Arawak born in northeastern South America, Tituba had been enslaved in Barbados before being brought to Massachusetts in 1680. Her master, Samuel Parris, had been a credit agent for sugar planters in Barbados before becoming a minister in Salem, Massachusetts. In late 1691, two girls in Parris's household and two girls from nearby households began to exhibit strange physical symptoms including convulsions and choking. To counteract these symptoms, Tituba made a "witchcake" out of rye meal and urine. This attempt at counter-magic led to Tituba's arrest for witchcraft. She and two other women--Sarah Good and Sarah Osborne--were accused of bewitching the girls. Tituba confessed, but the other two women protested their innocence. Good was executed; Osborne died in prison.
As Elaine G. Breslaw has shown, Tituba's confession that she had consorted with Satan and attended a witches' coven fueled fears of a diabolical plot to infiltrate and destroy Salem's godly community. In her testimony, Tituba drew upon Indian and African, as well as English, notions of the occult.
Tituba later recanted her confession, saying that she had given false testimony in order to save her life. She claimed "that her Master did beat her and otherways abuse her, to make her confess and accuse...her Sister-Witches."
Tituba an Indian woman brought before us by Const[able] Joseph Herrick of Salem upon Suspicion of witchcraft by her committed according to [th]e complaint of Jos[eph] Hutcheson and Thomas Putnam &c of Salem Village as appears per warrant granted Salem 29 Febr[uar]y 1691/2. Tituba upon examination and after some denial acknowledged the matter of fact according to her examination given in more fully will appear, and who also charged Sarah Good and Sara Osburne with the same....
(H) Tituba what evil spirit have you familiarity with.
(H) Why do you hurt these children.
(T) I do not hurt them.
(H) Who is it then.
(T) The devil for ought I know.
(H) Did you never see the devil.
(T) The devil came to me and bid me serve him.
(H) Who have you seen.
(T) Four women sometimes hurt the children.
(H) Who were they.
(T) Goode Osburn and Sarah Good and I do not know who the others were. Sarah Good and Osburne would have me hurt the children but I would not. She further saith there was a tall man of Boston that she did see.
(H) When did you see them.
(T) Last night at Boston.
(H) what did they say to you.
(T) They said hurt the children
(H) And did you hurt them
(T) No there is 4 women and one man they hurt the children and they lay upon me and they tell me if I will not hurt the children they will hurt me.
(H) But did you not hurt them
(T) Yes but I will hurt them no more.
(H) Are you not sorry you did hurt them.
(H) And why then doe you hurt them.
(T) They say hurt children or wee will doe worse to you.
(H) What have you seen.
[T] A man came to me and say serve me.
(H) What service.
(T) Hurt the children and last night there was an appearance that said kill the children and if I would not go on hurting the children they would do worse to me.
(H) What is this appearance you see.
(T) Sometimes it is like a hog and sometimes like a great dog, this appearance she saith she did see 4 times.
(H) What did it say to you?
(T) ...The black dog said serve me but I said I am afraid he said if I did not he would doe worse to me.
(H) What did you say to it.
(T) I will serve you no longer. then he said he would hurt me and then he looked like a man and threatens to hurt me, she said that this man had a yellow bird that kept with him and he told me he had more pretty things that he would give me if I would serve him.
(H) What were these pretty things.
(T) He did not show me them.
(H) What also have you seen
(T) Two rats, a red rat and a black rat.
(H) What did they say to you.
(T) They said serve me.
(H) When did you see them.
(T) Last night and they said serve me, but I said I would not
(H) What service.
(T) She said hurt the children.
(H) Did you not pinch Elizabeth Hubbard this morning
(T) The man brought her to me and made me pinch her
(H) Why did you goe to Thomas Putnams last night and hurt his child.
(T) They pull and hall me and make me goe
(H) And what would have you doe.
[T] Kill her with a knife.
Left. Fuller and others said at this time when the child saw these persons and was tormented by them that she did complain of a knife, that they would have her cut her head off with a knife.
(H) How did you go?
(T) We ride upon stickes and are there presently.
(H) Doe you goe through the trees or over them.
(T) We see nothing but are there presently.
[H] Why did you not tell your master.
[T] I was afraid they said they would cut of[f] my head if I told.
[H] Would you not have hurt others if you co[u]ld.
[T] They said they would hurt others but they could not
[H] What attendants hath Sarah Good.
[T] A yellow bird and shee would have given me one.
[H] What meate did she give it?
[T] It did suck her between her fingers.
[H] Did not you hurt Mr Currins child?
[T] Goode good and goode Osburn told that they did hurt Mr Currens child and would have had me hurt him two, but I did not
. [H] What hath Sarah Osburn?
[T] Yellow dog, she had a thing with a head like a woman with 2 legges, and wings. Abigail Williams that lives with her Uncle Parris said that she did see the same creature, and it turned into the shape of Goode Osburn.
[H] What else have you seen with Osburn?
[T] Another thing, hairy it goes upright like a man it hath only 2 legges.
[H] Did you not see Sarah Good upon Elizabeth Hubbard, last Saturday?
[T] I did see her set a wolfe upon her to afflict her, the persons with this maid did say that she did complain of a wolfe.
T. She further saith that shee saw a cat with good at another time.
[H] What cloathes doth the man go in?
[T] He goes in black clothes a tall man with white hair I thinke.
[H] How doth the woman go?
[T] In a white hood and a black hood with a top knot.
[H] Doe you see who it is that torments these children now.
[T] Yes it is Goode Good, shee hurts them in her own shape
[H] And who is it that hurts them now.
[T] I am blind now. I cannot see.
William E. Woodward, comp. Records of Salem Witchcraft (Roxbury, 1864), I, 11-48.