Witch near a lake witch candles

The First Witchcraft Trials in Salem

This is the story of the Parris family and their slave Tituba

In the year 1692, a family of three –Samuel Parris, His wife Elizabeth and his daughter Betty– and Samuel Parris’ niece Abigail Williams and their slave Tituba moved to a village called Salem in Massachusetts on the invitation of the elders of the village that Samuel Paris became their Village Minister. Samuel Paris who was previously resident in Barbados had been initially invited into the village to preach a year before.

Not long after they moved to Salem, Samuel’s daughter, Betty, took ill. The illness was a strange one in the sense that she was acting very strangely. She would suddenly jump up from where she was and run like something was chasing her, she would cower under the chairs and table, suffered increased body temperature accompanied by shivering –typical signs of fever– and she contorted her face in grotesque masks of pain.

When Betty’s friends Mercy Luis, Mary Walcott and Ann Putnam started exhibiting the same signs, these manifestations were deemed influences of witches. Soon, the number of girls infected with the “ailment” increased to seven and every finger was pointing to witchcraft practices. A concerned neighbor of the Parris’ thought she could help out. So, she gave Tituba, the salve from Barbados, a recipe of witch cake.

After Tituba baked the cake, they found it still didn’t work and the girls were not cured. Unfortunately, Tituba had been previously suspected of witchcraft because of all the tales of voodoo and magic she had been telling the girls. So, between the 25th of February and the 29th, Tituba and two other women, namely Sarah Osborn and Sarah Good, were arrested. They were the first set of people to be accused of witchcraft in Salem.

The three women were examined and taken to the meeting house, where they were asked questions and the children testified. In retrospect, historians believe that the three of them would have walked away with some reprimands, assuming Tituba had not pleaded guilty to the charges of witchcraft. Not long after, four other women namely Rebecca Nurse, Mary Easy, Sarah Cloyce and Martha Corey were accused of witchcraft.  

Judge in a courtroom and the gavel
It was clear that there wasn’t any true search for justice at the trials | Getty Images

The court that sentenced Bridget Bishop

This incessant cases of witchcraft accusations caused the then Governor Phips to institute a court where all witchcraft cases were to be tried. This court was named the “Court of Oyer and Terminer”. The first woman to be judged was Bridget Bishop, a woman of questionable character.

She was even supposedly identified by two self-confessed witches as one of them. But the conduct of the trials was nothing to write home about, as it was clear that there wasn’t any true search for justice. Instead, it was turned into a house of gossips where people came to testify more out of malice than any other motive. Eventually, Bridget Bishop was sentenced to death by hanging and was dead by that night. Bishop’s hanging was only the beginning.

Many other people were also accused of witchcraft including Rebecca Nurse who was a respectable person, God-fearing person. Many of the hanged “witches” were innocent. One incident particularly stands out in the whole episode and this was the gory death of Giles Corey, who had heavy stones placed on top of him for 2 days before he died.