Done in Fear Series: Part 1 — The Witching, Our

 American history  Comments Off on Done in Fear Series: Part 1 — The Witching, Our
Feb 232015
It begins with slavery, of course — and religion.  Samuel Parris, a Puritan and early English colonist, turned to the ministry for a more regular income than that offered by his efforts at trade and his sugar plantation in Barbados (an inheritance).  Ironically, the parish of Salem Village, whose pulpit Parris assumed in 1689, had a history of failing to compensate its ministers as agreed, and the same would happen with Parris in the end.  The promise of pay brought him to the unchartered burg, however, and with him came his wife and family — and their slaves, Tituba and John.
In 1692, Parris’ daughter and niece began having “fits,” and the family could not account for the bizarre behavior.  When it persisted for a few weeks despite watchfulness and prayer, the family sent for the local doctor to consult.  His diagnosis: possible bewitching.  Under questioning, the girls accused Tituba of witchcraft, blaming her for their enchantment — as assisted by local outcasts, Sarahs Osborne and Good.  At the charge, the just Reverend Parris beat his slave, inducing her to confess to practicing witchcraft, signing the “Devil’s Book,” flying, and assaulting the girls.  Under duress, Tituba confirmed Osborne and Good as her co-conspirators and claimed that there were others involved in a plot by the Devil against the colony.  Fear of Satan, black magic, and a conspiracy of witches flooded Massachusetts Bay.  Tituba was jailed and later sold away, while Good was hung and Osborne died awaiting trial.  By then, however, more persons had begun to display signs of being “afflicted” and named other colonists as their persecutors.  Instances of false witness burgeoned into a judicial rampage.
In the end, more than 150 persons were imprisoned and 22 died — either by hanging, torture, or poor conditions while in jail awaiting prosecution after being accused. Some were excommunicated from their churches and two fled the colony until the hysteria passed.  Many were harassed or tortured into confessing, while those who adamantly maintained their innocence were convicted and executed.  As fall began to wane, however, Governor Phips — returning from a military expedition against the Indians and finding that his own wife had been accused — suspended all trials, and the furor too started to ebb.
In May of the following year, Phips released the remaining accused, as popular opinion shifted against the witch hunts.  Reverend Parris admitted that he might “have been mistaken” in his position, while some accusers recanted their claims.  Much later, jurors, a judge and one of the alleged victims would publicly regret their involvement in the injustice.  A penitent colony held a Day of Repentance in 1697 for what had occurred, and in 1702, the trials were declared “unlawful” after the fact.  Beginning in 1711, the colony undertook restitution to the falsely accused and their survivors.  The names of the condemned were cleared, and memorials were made to those sacrificed to fear, hatred, and panic.

These words adorn the front of a stone monument erected in 1992 for historically-minded tourists who come to visit still today for the town’s infamy.  After perusing the memorial’s inscriptions, visitors can walk the well-kept grounds of the demolished parsonage, where the marker tells us Tituba told the children tales of witchcraft, and wander the old cemetery, where they can read the poem Parris wrote to his wife inscribed on her tombstone:
Sleep precious Dust no Stranger now to Rest.
Thou hast thy longed wish in Abrahams Brest.
Farewell best Wife, choice Mother, Neighbour, Friend.
Weel wail the less for hopes of Thee i th End.
Tituba, of course, is not honored with the town’s victims, in the cemetery, or at any of the other local sites, and she received no restitution for her imprisonment.  Her ending is unknown.
 Posted by at 2:55 pm