By: Jonah Hoffmann
The Salem witch trials of 1692 involved a number of individuals identified as key players in the series of events that formulate the greater witch trials narrative. One such figure is Tituba, the enslaved woman who was the first person accused of practicing witchcraft and afflicting the young girls living in the household of her enslaver: Samuel Parris. A person of color whose ethnicity has been disputed and debated for many years, Tituba is often regarded as the sole non-white individual who took part in the trials. However, two lesser known enslaved black women also found themselves embroiled in the history of America’s most famous witch trials.
Candy, an Afro-Barbadian woman originally from Barbados, resided in Salem Town under the ownership of Margaret Hawkes. As there are no prior records to illustrate otherwise, both women likely managed to remain detached from the trials until being formally accused of practicing witchcraft on July 1, 1692 by John Putnam Jr. and Thomas Putnam. According to the existing official complaint, both Candy and her enslaver were accused of tormenting Mary Walcott, Mary Warren, and Ann Putnam Jr. through means of magic. Under interrogation several days later on July 4, Candy revealed that Hawkes made her a witch and forced her to sign her name in the Devil’s book. In essence, Candy confessed to being a witch despite shifting blame to her enslaver and vehemently denying being a witch in her home country.
Upon further investigation, the inquisitive magistrates pressed the now admitted witch for proof as to how she tormented the afflicted. A deputy escorted Candy back to her home whereupon she returned to the court with several rags and herbs acting as poppets; dolls made to represent a person for spells to be cast on them. The magistrates experimented with these tools of sorcery and were allegedly able to harm the afflicted girls by burning the dolls and holding them underwater. Due to her admission, along with the now apparently tangible means of practicing witchcraft, Candy was indicted and placed in jail. At a later, unknown date, despite the charges and perceived pieces of evidence against her, she was found not guilty and released from prison. A verdict of not guilty seems surprising given the circumstances, but as a slave, Candy held no property or social sway that may have otherwise been an enticing reason for perusal of a guilty verdict. Perhaps, as her enslaver is referred to as “Mrs. Hawkes” rather than “Goodwife Hawkes,” an indication of high social status, the woman was considered too respectable to have herself or her associates be servants of the Devil. Whatever the true case may be, only speculation is left.
A second enslaved woman, Mary Black, was also accused of witchcraft in 1692. Mary surname indicates she was of African descent, and in 1692 she was enslaved in the household of one of the leaders of Salem Village: Nathaniel Putnam. Though his family played an integral role in the witch trials from the very beginning, Nathaniel himself remained skeptical as to the validity of the witchcraft claims early on in the trials. Mary Black was accused of being a witch and arrested on April 21, 1692 along with several others including Sarah Wildes, Sarah and Edward Bishop, Mary Easty, and William and Deliverance Hobbs. The reason for the arrest of these individuals on the surviving arrest warrant is listed as “high suspicion” of witchcraft performed on Ann Putnam Jr., Mercy Lewis, and Mary Walcott based on a complaint by John Buxton and Thomas Putnam.
On the day following her arrest, Mary Black was examined by the Reverend Samuel Parris who recorded the event. Notably, throughout her examination, the present afflicted girls would cry out and claim she bewitched them. Black denied such allegations firmly and stated that she had no knowledge of who harmed the girls. When asked to re-pin her neck cloth, not totally dissimilar to a cravat or ascot in modern terms, some of the afflicted, including Mercy Lewis, Mary Walcott, and Abigail Williams, claimed that the woman pricked them and drew blood. The transcript from the examining Reverend Parris supports this claim, but also notes that Mary Black maintained she had no part in the affliction. Despite her claims of innocence, following the examination and cries of the bewitched, she was indicted and imprisoned.
After spending months in prison, in January 1693, Mary Black was brought to trial. Despite the fervor that brought her to court in the first place, no one appeared to testify against her when the time came. This lack of obstruction against a possible not guilty verdict did in fact lead to her release by the end of the month. There is no singular, certain explanation as to why she faced no opposition on the day of her trial, but several potential reasons. Predominantly speaking, the support for witch trials began to wane near the end of the previous year with orders such as spectral evidence being no longer admissible in court, the official dissolution of the Court of Oyer and Terminer, and the prohibiting of further witch-related arrests. Additionally, as her enslaver was regarded as an important figure in Salem Village who did not accuse her of witchcraft himself, perhaps accusations that could be made in retaliation against Nathaniel Putnam no longer seemed opportune in the current climate.
Little is known as to what became of Candy following her release from prison. There are no records to confirm or deny if she returned to the home of Margaret Hawkes after claiming that the woman forced her to become a servant of Satan and taught her to use witchcraft. To suggest that her enslaver may have chosen to sell her to another individual, like the fate that befell Tituba, would not be far fetched. Mary Black, in contrast, is shown through documentation as having her jailing fees paid for by Nathaniel Putnam and being retrieved by him after her release from prison. She likely lived out the remainder of her life under his ownership as she too disappears from the record following her release from jail.