330 years of the Salem witches

On March 1, 1692, the enslaved Indian woman Tituba, as well as the elderly Sarah Good and the beggar Sarah Osborn, were questioned for their possible involvement in a witchcraft ceremony, in Salem, Massachusetts. This is the official date of the historic event that became known as the “witch hunt” or simply, “The Witches of Salem“.

Audiences are more likely to remember Arthur Miller‘s fictionalized version of The Crucible in the 1950s, but the fact remains that there was a real trial, one of the most egregious miscarriages of all time, when religion, politics, and self-interest took to the death of 19 innocent people, all convicted of “witchcraft”.

It all started with an outbreak of two children at the home of Reverend Samuel Parris. Daughter Betty and niece Abigail Williams, aged 9 and 11, writhed and screamed for no apparent reason and led the local doctor, William Griggs, to conclude that it was demonic possession. When little Ann Putnam joined them, the process took center stage. Panic spread, after all, children would be incapable of any impurity of the soul, and quickly names were mentioned as practitioners of magic. To this day, there is no reference in the records that the accused and the accusers practiced magic together.

In fiction, it is Abigail who stands out and this is because, in fact, being white, she was involved in most of the complaints. Miller describes Tituba as a black witch, but historians, curious about this enslaved and kidnapped South American Indian, have discovered that Tituba, alongside John Indian and a young boy, was forced to work for the reverend who brought them from Barbados.

For not being white and being a foreigner, Tituba was the first accused/suspected. A neighbor, Mary Sibley, suggested that the slave make what they called a “witch cake” to help identify what was going on. The cake is made from rye flour mixed with the patient’s urine. After roasting, it is given to a dog. If he suffers from the same symptoms, that is the missing proof. This cake turned out to be instrumental in the first accusations of witchcraft in Salem, even without the diagnosis having worked. Mary Sibley was questioned and released, and Tituba was not so lucky.

She didn’t confess right away, but she was beaten a lot and when she did speak, she was creative. She said she was ordered by the Devil to serve him and paraded a series of names amidst stories that mixed animals and spirits. Everything that he “confessed” was not investigated, and started to be considered “true”. Historians believe that the heightened fear of physical torture and the gallows convinced Tituba that it was better to lie than be punished. From his accusations, aligned with those of the children, almost 200 people were cited. At least 19 were killed.

Tutuba was imprisoned for 15 months in a precarious cell, even though she was acquitted. That’s because the Reverend didn’t show up to pay his bail. Upon leaving in 1693, it was sold to a stranger and disappeared from historical records.

It is very impressive that 330 years later, the history lived in little Salem is still so current. And scary.


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