One of the darkest periods in Massachusetts history occurred in the little Puritan town of Salem, where a number of residents contracted what can only be defined as witchcraft.
It was the year 1692. Samuel Parris received Tituba, a slave, from his deceased father and became her owner.
Although her origins are unknown and she has sometimes been mistaken for an African slave, it is thought that Tituba was an Arawak tribeswoman from Venezuela who was carried to the Barbados markets to be sold into slavery.
She was bought by the Parris family, who ran a nearby sugar plantation, and eventually sailed to Massachusetts with Samuel Parris, his wife, and their three children. Tituba assisted in raising the Parris kids and grew particularly close to Betty, the middle child, and her cousin Abigail.
She used to wow the kids with tales of her time spent in Barbados, particularly some involving voodoo magic. The girls, along with other young people from the area, would frequently disappear for brief periods, and it was thought that they were engaging in fun fortune-telling games to predict their futures.
Samuel Parris, the town’s reverend, saw changes in the girls and reported that they were both suffering fits, making claims that they had been bit by phantom entities, twisting their bodies and writhing limbs, and screaming in anguish. The neighbourhood doctor told Parris that the only explanation is the devil’s presence because no known disease or scientific condition could account for the girl’s behaviour. When two of the girls’ friends began expressing similar symptoms, the illness seemed to be spreading, and the community began to fear that witchcraft was at work.
Betty and Abigail accused Tituba of being the cause of their enigmatic behaviour despite their tight friendship with her.
Her interrogators probably coerced her into making the confession (which included Samuel Parris). She claimed that the devil had visited her and given her the mandate to practise witchcraft on the young people of the community. Although these descriptions frequently changed with each telling of the narrative, her descriptions of demonic entities were highly detailed.
Tituba charged that others had engaged in witchcraft as well. Due to this, more than 200 persons were accused and 19 men and women were put to death (or dying in prison). She was aware of the Puritan way and likely believed that confessing her misdeeds would lead to remorse and her salvation.
Tituba later revoked her admission, attributing her error on the intense interrogation.
She was eventually released and sold to a new owner, but appears to have disappeared from contemporary historical text and remains a mystery of the Salem trials.