More About Foundation of Salem Village Parsonage

Members of the Salem Village parsonage household:


Samuel and Elizabeth Parris’s middle child Elizabeth was known to all as Betty Parris. Her behavior in the winter of 1692 greatly alarmed her parents. The 9-year-old became absentminded, stared off into space, and made animal noises. Whatever afflicted her appeared to be contagious. Soon, her cousin Abigail showed similar symptoms and over time, the afflicted throughout Essex County would number more than seventy people.


By mid-February, the condition of Betty and Abigail had worsened, despite attempts to cure them with home remedies. A local physician, Dr. Griggs, the uncle of 17-year-old Elizabeth Hubbard who would soon become afflicted herself, could not find a medical reason for their maladies and declared them “under an Evil Hand.” Prayer did not cure the girls. It was determined that the girls were bewitched. Other “worthy gentlemen of Salem” agreed with the diagnosis.


Reverend Parris was sufficiently worried about his daughter by mid-March that he asked his friend and distant relative Stephen Sewell to remove Betty from the turmoil. Sewall, who would be named the Court Clerk for the Court of Oyer and Terminer in May, lived in Salem Town on Main Street (present-day Essex Street). Betty spent the duration of the witchcraft trials in Sewall’s home. After leaving the parsonage and being isolated from the other afflicted girls, her symptoms gradually subsided and disappeared.


The move to Salem Town appears to have “saved” Betty Parris. Unlike other accusers, she did not seem to suffer guilt when it was over. She married, had five children, lived in Sudbury, MA, and died at the age of 77.


Reverend Parris’s 11-year-old niece Abigail Williams was an orphan. Nothing is known of her parents or her early life. Shortly after Betty Parris exhibited her strange symptoms, Abigail too was beset by headaches and started to make strange gestures and noises. While Betty would be removed from the trial proceedings in March, Abigail stayed on in the parsonage and became one of the principle accusers for the next four months. Her afflicted behavior at examinations was extraordinary. Historian Frances Hill describes her as “quite without mercy.”


Former Salem Village minister Deodat Lawson visited the parsonage in mid-March, and witnessed Abigail running around the room, claiming to see the specter of Rebecca Nurse who was forcing the Devil’s book on her. Abigail ran dangerously near the fire and threw firebrands into the room. She pretended to be flying. It must have been a frightening sight. By the end of March, Abigail claimed that forty witches had come to the parsonage to hold a Devil’s Supper, served by the specters of Sarah Good and Rebecca Nurse’s sister Sarah Cloyse.


In April, Abigail was visited by the specter of Reverend George Burroughs (then living in Wells, ME), who, she said, confessed to killing his first two wives and a wife and child of Deodat Lawson. At Ingersoll’s ordinary, Abigail was tormented by the specters of Deliverance and William Hobbs. She saw a witches meeting on the hill beyond the meetinghouse.


One of the afflicted girls confided in Reverend Hale of Beverly, that all of the trouble began when she and others had indulged in some fortune-telling in the parsonage. Fortune-telling was something many young girls of the day would play at, but it was considered “counter-magic” by the Puritan Church. Perhaps the odd behavior was partially brought about by guilt.


Hale did not name the fortune-telling confessor, but said, “…she was afterward followed by diabolical molestation until her death.” It is believed Abigail Williams died sometime in 1697, not much older than 17.


Additional note: Arthur Miller used the name Abigail Williams for one of his main protagonists in his fictional play The Crucible. He made her the 17-year-old love interest of John Proctor, and the ringleader of the accusers. In a New Yorker article about The Crucible, Miller claimed that Williams had once been a servant in the Proctors’ home. He said he sensed in her courtroom behavior that she and John Proctor had an intimate relationship, and speculated that she had been fired from the Proctor household to appease wife Elizabeth. His recollection was faulty. Williams never lived in the Proctor house nor worked for them.


While facts of the Abigail Williams character were made up by Miller, the real Abigail Williams was at the very center of the witchcraft accusations until the end of June, after which she no longer appears in the records.


Samuel Parris was born in England in 1653. He grew up on his father’s sugar plantation in Barbados, and then moved to Massachusetts as a young man for his Harvard schooling. When Samuel was 20, his father died. Parris left Harvard and returned to Barbados to look after the estate and take over the business. He was not a great sugar merchant, and returned to Massachusetts in 1680, where he married Elizabeth Eldridge and had three children. Though he had moderate success in business, he decided to study for the ministry. In 1688, at the age of 35, Parris began negotiations to become the minister of Salem Village.


As the first ordained minister in Salem Village (as of 1689), Parris was the first to be able to baptize and give communion to his congregants. He had strong views, however, on who should and should not receive these religious rites. Parris was a strict Puritan, believed the Devil was a constant danger, and saw his parishioners as either good or evil. He had no tolerance for spiritual weakness.  As in past years, the villagers were not all in support of their new minister, particularly as they came to know him better, and Parris had to argue for his salary and firewood. One who was an unflagging supporter and ally of Parris was Thomas Putnam. Thomas, his wife Ann, and his daughter Ann Jr. would become among the most vociferous accusers of witchcraft.


Some historians paint Parris as a fearful and paranoid man, made more so when the Devil appeared in his own home. For a minister, this must have been particularly alarming, and he may have been eager to place the blame for the arrival of evil on forces outside his parsonage. When he discovered that neighbor Mary Sibley had encouraged the baking of a “witch cake” as a counter-magic measure to reveal those practicing witchcraft, and in his own home no less, Parris seized upon this event as the cause for the troubles. “The Devil hath been raised amongst us,” said Parris in his March 27 sermon.


Reverend Parris played a key role in events during the witchcraft trials, not least of which were his weekly sermons warning of the Devil’s influence. He invited his predecessor Deodat Lawson to Salem to witness the behavior of the afflicted and the accused. He was a note-taker at many of the witchcraft examinations, including those of Abigail Hobbs, Giles Corey, Mary Warren, and Sarah Cloyce. Parris also oversaw the ex-communication of Martha Corey from the church, and, when the trials were coming to an end, refused to pay the £7 jail fees due to release his slave Tituba from jail.


After all was over, the families of Rebecca Nurse, Mary Easty, and Sarah Cloyce in particular held Parris principally to blame for the sorrows brought upon their families. Parris wrote an apology of sorts called “Meditations for Peace” which was also a request for forgiveness. The support for Parris in the village remained divided, and he received only partial salary from 1694-1697.


Parris finally left Salem in 1697, the year after his wife Elizabeth passed away, moving on to Concord, then Dunstable, and finally Sudbury, MA. It was in Sudbury where he died in 1720 at the age of 67.


Samuel Parris married Elizabeth Eldridge in Boston in 1680 or 1681. Elizabeth Parris had three children with her husband; Thomas, Betty, and Susannah. She lived in the Salem Village parsonage during the witchcraft hysteria of 1692, where she witnessed the start of the troubles as her daughter Betty began acting oddly. Elizabeth died in 1696, around the age of 48. Her cause of death is unknown, but it is possible she was ill for some time. She is buried in Wadsworth Cemetery in Danvers.


When Reverend Parris moved to Salem Village in 1688, he brought with him two “Spanish Indian” slaves, Tituba and John Indian. It is unclear whether he brought the couple back from Barbados or whether he purchased them in Boston. It is also unclear if they were born in the Caribbean or as some have suggested, south Florida. Another slave in the household, a “Negro lad” of 15, died in 1689. The ages of Tituba and John Indian are unknown.


In early histories of the witchcraft trials, including Charles Upham’s Salem Witchcraft, Tituba gets much of the blame for starting the afflictions and strange behavior. It was said that she taught magic and voodoo to the susceptible girls to relieve the boredom of long winter nights. Arthur Miller included wild scenes of Tituba leading witchy celebrations in the woods in his fictional play The Crucible. There is no evidence to suggest these events ever took place.


Moreover, these were English divination techniques. Puritan children of 1692 would have known about counter-magic, including fortune-telling, without instruction from a household slave. Perhaps the girls broke an egg in a glass of water, to divine shapes in the egg white that could foretell their future. Puritans were also familiar with poppets (wax dolls akin to voodoo dolls), used to inflict harm.


Tituba was the first to be accused of witchcraft by the girls, toward the end of February. As a lowly slave with no one to defend her, she was a perfect target. She was first examined on March 1 at Ingersoll’s ordinary, and for days afterward in jail. Although initially Tituba denied any knowledge of witchcraft, she would soon describe elaborate visions. The tormenting of the children, she said, was performed by the specters of Sarah Osborne (alternate spellings Osborn, Osburn, Osbourne), Sarah Good, two other women she didn’t know, and a man in black with white hair. She herself had ridden on a stick with Osborne and Good to torment Ann Putnam Jr. She had seen any number of supernatural animals – a black dog, a black hog, a yellow bird, cats, even a human-headed bird. All were “familiars,” companions of witches in animal form. She had signed the Devil’s book, where she saw the marks of nine witches. It is speculated that Tituba’s owner Reverend Parris beat her to obtain these confessions. Although Tituba was jailed after her examination, she was not scheduled for execution. The judges thought that, kept alive, Tituba could lead to additional witches.


One of the first to be jailed, Tituba would be one of the last to be freed. She was purchased in May of 1693 by a man from Virginia. That is the last record we have, and after this transaction, Tituba disappears from history.


John Indian, on the other hand, soon aligned himself with the afflicted after the initial accusations. He may have quickly realized that he’d best be afflicted, before he himself was accused of witchcraft.


Indian claimed to be tormented by the specter of Sarah Cloyse during Sunday Sabbath in Salem Village on April 10. The following day, when questioned in the Salem Town meetinghouse by Judges Hathorne, Corwin, and dignitaries from Boston, Indian claimed to be tormented by the specters of Sarah Cloyce and Elizabeth Proctor. They had pinched him, and bitten him, and forced the Devil’s book on him, he said. John Proctor, in the assembled audience witnessing these claims from Indian, voiced his desire to “beat the Devil out of him.” Proctor himself was taken into custody the same day, accused by the afflicted in the room. Both Proctors were taken to jail.


That same evening, on the ride back to Salem Village, Indian’s affliction continued. While riding with Edward Bishop, husband of Sarah Bishop, he went into violent convulsions. Goodman Bishop, like Proctor, was a skeptic of the witchcraft accusations and hit Indian with a stick, echoing Proctor’s feeling that all of the accusers could be cured in this manner. In the not-too-distant future, Edward and Sarah Bishop would both be arrested for witchcraft themselves. Speaking out against the proceedings was dangerous.


On April 12, Indian returned to the Salem Town meetinghouse for the examination of John Proctor, and had a convincing attack of convulsions, falling to the floor.


Indian sometimes worked at Ingersoll’s ordinary in Salem Village. It was there, on May 23, he convulsed after laying eyes on Elizabeth Cary from Charlestown. Cary had previously been accused by Abigail Williams of torment. She, with her husband, Captain Nathaniel Cary, voluntarily came to Salem Village to defend herself after the couple learned she had been named as a witch. Cary was asked to perform the “touch test” and was led to Indian, writhing on the floor. He pulled Elizabeth down on the floor with him, enraging her husband. Despite her courage and protestations of innocence, Elizabeth Cary was arrested and held for trial. She was shackled in Cambridge jail. With the assistance of her husband and Boston Reverend Samuel Willard’s son John, Cary escaped from Cambridge jail in July and fled to New York.


On May 31, John Indian was on hand for the Salem Village meetinghouse examinations of John Alden of Boston, Martha Carrier of Andover, Elizabeth Howe (alternate spelling How) of Topsfield, and Wilmott Redd (alternate spelling Read) of Marblehead. He acted appropriately afflicted. One imagines that the “afflicted” act, if that was what it was, would have to be maintained for safety.


Nothing is known of John Indian’s life after 1692.


What would make a slave couple take these paths in the face of such a frightening environment?


Perhaps the events of February 25 explain both Tituba and John Indian’s subsequent behavior. Counter-magic was frowned upon but not unknown. On this day, Reverend Parris and his wife were in a neighboring town attending weekly Thursday lecture. Neighbor Mary Sibley suggested to John Indian that a “witch cake” be made to reveal the identity of the girls’ tormentor. A bread was made by Tituba, which included urine from the two girls, which was then fed to the family dog. It was believed this would cause harm to the “witch” and force him or her out into the open. Soon, the girls cried out that it was Tituba herself who tormented them.


It is unknown how Reverend Parris discovered this act of counter-magic in his own home, but he would later point to this episode as the moment when the trouble truly began. “The Devil hath been raised amongst us,” Parris exclaimed in his sermon of March 27, as he publicly rebuked Mary Sibley in front of the congregation for her act of magic, after he had privately lectured her in his study.


One can imagine that the slave couple and the children would all have felt some guilt over this forbidden counter-magic act of baking a witch cake. Perhaps this intensified the girls’ behavior. Tituba may have been convinced that confessing to witchcraft was her only option. John Indian may have felt safest if he too was afflicted by witchcraft after the arrest of his wife.


 Reverend George Burroughs resided at the newly-built parsonage during the latter part of his Salem Village ministry, from 1681-83. At the time he was un-ordained.


George Burroughs was born in England around 1650. He moved with his family to Roxbury, MA (possibly by way of Virginia) and completed his ministerial studies at Harvard in 1670. In 1673, he married Hannah Fisher, with whom he had three children (a fourth died young).


Burroughs was one of only a few who were willing to preach on the Maine coast, despite the constant danger from Native American and French attacks. He lived in Falmouth (now Portland) in the mid-1670s when Wabanakis burned the town during King Philip’s War. Refugees from this 1676 attack fled to an island in Casco Bay for safety – among the group were Burroughs and a young woman named Mercy Lewis. Burroughs and several of the refugees relocated to Salisbury, MA, where Burroughs ministered for a few years before being invited to Salem Village.


When Burroughs initially came to Salem Village in 1680, a parsonage had not yet been built, and so the reverend and his family resided with Captain John Putnam Sr., the uncle of Thomas Putnam (who would later be at the very center of the witchcraft accusations in 1692). It was from this household that gossip first emerged about Burroughs. He was apparently very strict with his wife, and reportedly asked her to keep his “secrets.” When Hannah died in childbirth, Burroughs could not afford to pay for her funeral. Captain Putnam loaned him money.


Burroughs remarried (too quickly for some town gossips). His second wife was Sarah Ruck, the wealthy widow of William Hathorne, the brother of Judge John Hathorne. Did this make him an enemy of John Hathorne? The couple had four children.


Like the minister before him and the ones to follow, Reverend Burroughs experienced Salem Village as a divided community. As always, the residents disagreed over the choice of minister, and the minister’s salary and firewood. He tired of the fighting and decided to move back to Casco Bay on the Maine coast with other war refugees in March of 1683. Somehow it may have felt safer there. He returned to Salem Village in May of 1683 to settle his accounts, as he still owed Captain Putnam for the funeral costs of his first wife. Upon his return, Captain Putnam immediately had him arrested for the debt. On the other hand, Burroughs’s minister salary was in arrears and he didn’t have the wherewithal to pay. The money issues were settled, but Burroughs left leaving bad feelings in his wake.


Native American attacks forced Burroughs to relocate from Casco Bay to Wells, ME later in 1683. Life on the frontier remained a challenge. He was the minister in Wells when yet another Native American attack caused great destruction in 1691. His second wife died in Maine, probably during childbirth. Once again, he remarried very quickly. He had one daughter with his third wife, Mary.


Meanwhile, back in Salem Village, the powers-that-be were aligning against Burroughs in the spring of 1692. Why?


Burroughs had a strong connection with the northern frontier. Many in Massachusetts believed there was some devilish danger coming from that area. Several accusers and accused had ties there. In mid-April, Abigail Hobbs claimed to have met the Devil in Casco Bay, the former home of Burroughs.


On April 20, Abigail Williams claimed to see the specter of Reverend Burroughs, who bragged about murdering his first two wives, and the wife and child of Reverend Deodat Lawson three years before. Ann Putnam Jr. said she was visited by the ghosts of these four deceased people, who confirmed that they had been killed by Burroughs. Mercy Lewis, Mary Walcott, and Susanna Sheldon also made this claim. By the 22nd, the afflicted were having visions of a great witches meeting in Reverend Parris’s pasture, led by Burroughs. His intention, it seemed, was to establish a Devil’s Kingdom in New England.


Burroughs, who is described as a dark, short man was reportedly unnaturally strong. That strength was now held against him; it was described as a sign of sorcery. He could lift a molasses barrel on his own, it was said, and he was able to lift a heavy, long rifle by one finger in its muzzle.


Also working against Burroughs was the continued gossip about his strictness with his first two wives. Was he even responsible for their deaths? His acrimonious departure from Salem Village did not help matters.


Some of the reverends questioned Burroughs’s adherence to Puritan beliefs. When Burroughs was examined later in Salem, there was a focus on how many of his children had been baptized and whether he took communion regularly. He was thought to neglect religious observances (this was later vehemently denied by his children).


On April 30, a warrant was issued for Reverend Burroughs’s arrest. He was not just accused of witchcraft – he was accused of being the leader of the witches. The afflicted reported that Burroughs’s specter told them he was not a simple wizard, he was a conjurer.  It would take days to fetch him from Wells, ME.


Burroughs was brought back to Salem on May 4 and held in Beadle’s Tavern. Mercy Lewis, who had previously known Burroughs in Maine but was now a servant in the Thomas Putnam household, claimed that his specter had pushed the Devil’s book on her, even while he was confined. He was examined in Salem Village on May 9. Prior to his examination, Lewis said she had been abducted by him and shown the kingdoms of the world from a mountain top, all of which could be hers if she made a pact with the Devil. Burroughs was initially examined by Judges William Stoughton and Samuel Sewall of Boston, along with Judges John Hathorne and Jonathan Corwin of Salem. He said he was not a witch. When the afflicted joined the examinations, all writhed and twisted and were suitably tortured. Burroughs, professing his innocence, was held for trial.


At his August 5 trial, thirty people testified, reiterating the stories of his strength, his treatment of his wives, his religious practices, and his spectral visits. Eight confessed witches said he was their leader. On hand was a huge crowd which included Reverends Increase Mather and Deodat Lawson from Boston and Reverend Hale from Beverly. Reportedly, the ghosts of his murdered victims were also in attendance. Still claiming innocence, Burroughs even offered a letter in which he questioned the very existence of witches. The judges were unmoved, and Burroughs was convicted.


Reverend George Burroughs was hanged on Proctor’s Ledge at Gallows Hill on August 19, drawing a record crowd of spectators. It was commonly thought that witches were unable to say the Lord’s Prayer without making a mistake. From the gallows, Burroughs recited it perfectly. An eyewitness account from Robert Calef described Burroughs as composed and at peace. He asked for forgiveness and forgave those who had condemned him. The crowd became restless – what if he was innocent? Cotton Mather encouraged the proceedings to move forward, reminding the gathered throng that the Devil could disguise himself as an angel of light.


George Burroughs was 40-42 years old when he was executed. His first two wives are buried in Wadsworth Cemetery in Danvers, in unmarked graves.


Additional note: Massachusetts Governor William Phips (who was raised on the coast of Maine) and his wife Mary (who it is believed was also accused of witchcraft before all was over) had relatives in Falmouth, ME, who had been parishioners of Revered George Burroughs.


The third minister in Salem Village was Deodat Lawson, who lived in the parsonage and was the un-ordained pastor for Salem Village from 1684-1688. He was born in England around 1640 and had previously been a preacher on Martha’s Vineyard and at Boston’s Second Church before coming to Salem. Lawson experienced the same divisive community that previous ministers witnessed. Some villagers supported his ordination, others were against it. Lawson left in 1688, unable to unite the factions in town.


In March of 1692, Lawson was invited to return to Salem Village to see the turmoil for himself. Word had reached him that “a confessor” claimed his wife and child, who had died three years earlier, had died by evil causes. He lodged at Ingersoll’s ordinary, where he observed “spectral” bite marks on the wrist of Mary Walcott. While visiting the parsonage, he was an eyewitness to Abigail Williams’s afflictions, which quite unnerved him.


Lawson was invited to give the Sunday sermon on March 20.  During his sermon, Abigail Williams interrupted several times, unheard of actions for a young girl of the day. Williams claimed that the specter of Martha Corey, sitting in the meetinghouse, was moving about the room.


While in Salem Village, Lawson also visited Ann Putnam Sr., who had herself become afflicted. During his visit, he prayed with Putnam and witnessed an argument between Putnam and the specter of Rebecca Nurse, a specter only Putnam could see. Lawson was also present for the examination of Rebecca Nurse on March 24.


Deodat Lawson published the earliest account of the events of 1692, called A Brief and True Narrative of Some Remarkable Passages Relating to Sundry Persons Afflicted by Witchcraft at Salem Village which Happened from the Nineteenth of March, to the fifth of April, 1692.


Lawson, ministering in Boston, was finally ordained in 1694. After his father’s death in 1695, Lawson returned to England to settle the family estate. He never returned to America and is believed to have died in 1715. His first wife Jane is buried in Wadsworth Cemetery in Danvers.