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Tituba, Reluctant Witch of Salem: Devilish Indians and Puritan Fantasies

Elaine G. Breslaw
Copyright Date: 1996
Published by: NYU Press
Pages: 270
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  • Book Info
    Tituba, Reluctant Witch of Salem
    Book Description:

    In this important book, Elaine Breslaw claims to have rediscovered Tituba, the elusive, mysterious, and often mythologized Indian woman accused of witchcraft in Salem in 1692 and immortalized in Arthur Miller's The Crucible. Reconstructing the life of the slave woman at the center of the notorious Salem witch trials, the book follows Tituba from her likely origins in South America to Barbados, forcefully dispelling the commonly-held belief that Tituba was African. The uniquely multicultural nature of life on a seventeenth-century Barbadan sugar plantation - defined by a mixture of English, American Indian, and African ways and folklore - indelibly shaped the young Tituba's world and the mental images she brought with her to Massachusetts.Breslaw divides Tituba's story into two parts. The first focuses on Tituba's roots in Barbados, the second on her life in the New World. The author emphasizes the inextricably linked worlds of the Caribbean and the North American colonies, illustrating how the Puritan worldview was influenced by its perception of possessed Indians. Breslaw argues that Tituba's confession to practicing witchcraft clearly reveals her savvy and determined efforts to protect herself by actively manipulating Puritan fears. This confession, perceived as evidence of a diabolical conspiracy, was the central agent in the cataclysmic series of events that saw 19 people executed and over 150 imprisoned, including a young girl of 5.A landmark contribution to women's history and early American history, Tituba, Reluctant Witch of Salem sheds new light on one of the most painful episodes in American history, through the eyes of its most crucial participant.

    eISBN: 978-0-8147-2348-7
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-x)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. xi-xii)
  3. Illustrations
    (pp. xiii-xiv)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xv-xviii)
    Elaine G. Breslaw
  5. Introduction
    (pp. xix-xxvi)

    The Amerindian slave woman called Tituba was among the first three persons to be accused of witchcraft in Salem, Massachusetts, in 1692. The other two—Sarah Osborne and Sarah Good—vehemently protested their innocence. But Tituba confessed and thereby gave the Salem magistrates reasons to suspect that the Devil’s followers had invaded their midst. Nineteen people were subsequently hanged for witchcraft, one man was pressed to death, and close to two hundred were accused of witchcraft; over fifty of them confessed. The lives and fate of accused and accusers have captivated the American imagination.¹

    Tituba, however, in spite of her...


    • CHAPTER ONE Tituba’s Roots: An Arawak from Guiana
      (pp. 3-20)

      In July of 1674 Captain Peter Wroth, lately of Kent in England, set sail from Barbados on his sloopSanoybound for the northeast coast of South America.¹ His mission was to locate and kidnap American Indians to sell as slaves in Barbados and, as an incidental part of the trip, to trade with friendly Indians. The vessel, propelled by the easterly trade winds, sailed generally south/southwest for three hundred miles past Trinidad to the Orinoco River delta on the coast of South America. A starboard turn to a more westerly course brought them up the Orinoco to one of...

    • CHAPTER TWO My Own Country: Tituba in Barbados
      (pp. 21-38)

      According to local legend, Tituba, along with Indian John, her husband, had been brought by Parris from Barbados. It was assumed also that Parris had acquired the two Indian slaves “in some of his Commercial transactions.”¹ Since Parris’s commercial contacts came from his sojourn in Barbados, it seems logical for the local people to have concluded that the two slaves had been in Barbados at some time before Parris appeared in Massachusetts. Tituba herself during her questioning in Salem acknowledged that she had lived somewhere other than New England. She had learned techniques of divination, she said, from “her Mistress...

    • CHAPTER THREE Strange New World: An American Indian on a Barbados Plantation
      (pp. 39-62)

      Although enslavement was a common thread in the experience of both Africans and American Indians in Barbados, the texture of life for each group differed in several significant aspects. Indians did not perform the same chores as Africans, nor were they, at first, subject to the same demeaning repudiation of their cultures by the planters. Planter perception of native American abilities in the early years was quite different from the perception of Africans. Because Indian work routines were less demanding physically, they may have been less of a health hazard. On the other hand, because of the very small number...


    • CHAPTER FOUR An Incomplete Transformation: A Tawny Puritan
      (pp. 65-88)

      As the vessel from Barbados approached Boston Harbor late in 1680, Tituba could have seen the low buildings at the wharves and the hustle and bustle of a busy port (see Fig. 9). Some forty-five hundred people lived within the boundaries of this most important international market center in New England. Ships plying the Atlantic trade entered the harbor carrying goods and human cargo—paying passengers, servants, and slaves—from the West Indies, Africa, Southern Europe, and the British Isles. The accents of the seamen, the sounds of ships unloading, and the smells would not have been too different from...

    • CHAPTER FIVE The Devil in Massachusetts: Accusations
      (pp. 89-106)

      Salem, late 1691. Two of the girls in the Parris household, Betty, age nine, and Abigail Williams, her cousin, age eleven, curious about their future, and, drawing on a cultural tradition that was centuries old, were playing fortune-telling games. They dropped the white of a raw egg into a glass. The shape of the blob, they hoped, would reveal something about their future lives. The girls thought they saw tragedies in the form of an egg white that took the shape of a coffin.¹ It was an unsettling, possibly frightening, experience. But alone that vision was not enough to touch...

    • CHAPTER SIX The Reluctant Witch: Fueling Puritan Fantasies
      (pp. 107-132)

      On the last day of February 1692, a leap year, Joseph Hutchinson, Edward and Thomas Putnam, and Thomas Preston appeared before Salem magistrates John Hathorne and Jonathan Corwin to make complaints against the three accused women for “suspition of Witchcraft.” They charged that Sarah Osborne, Tituba, and Sarah Good had been using occult means to injure four girls over a period of two months. Four girls—Betty Parris, Abigail Williams, Ann Putnam, and Elizabeth Hubbard, all under eighteen years of age—added their testimony to support the complaints. Thus began the legal process that focused attention on Tituba and would...

    • CHAPTER SEVEN Creative Adaptations: Complaints and Confessions
      (pp. 133-155)

      Once Tituba and the two Sarahs were committed to jail in Boston on March 7, the witchhunt should have ended. The fate of the trio, following previous practice in cases of witchcraft, should then have been decided by popular will, a consensus that could be expressed through jury trials. But in March of 1692 there was no legitimate government in existence and no process for instituting court action. Courts were suspended, awaiting the arrival of a new governor with the authority to reestablish governmental institutions. The Salem leaders could only investigate, not resolve, conflicts. At the same time the afflictions...

    • CHAPTER EIGHT Devilish Indians and Womanly Conversations: Tituba’s Credibility
      (pp. 156-170)

      Why did the Salem worthies accept Tituba’s confession as truth? There is no doubt that the devils, witches, and magic of her story were real possibilities in the Puritan mental world and Tituba offered what was to them a plausible, albeit supernatural, explanation for their troubles. The clergy in particular were prepared to believe what they had been preaching for years: that the sinful among them had let the Devil loose in the community. Tituba was providing proof of their complaints. Moreover, the constant repetition of details certainly gave the illusion of a truthful story.¹ Nonetheless, such testimony should have...

  8. EPILOGUE: Altered Lives
    (pp. 171-182)

    Between March and October of 1692 over 150 people were arrested on suspicion of witchcraft. Twenty-four would die before the crisis was over—nineteen by hanging, one pressed to death, and four from other causes while in prison. Hundreds of lives would be disrupted by the jailings, the loss of property, and the absence of needed labor on the farm and in the household. Ties between children and parents, between husbands and wives, among siblings and neighbors, were frayed by accusations and counteraccusations. Some would never recover from the trauma. Five-year-old Dorcas Good, imprisoned in chains for nine months, was...

  9. APPENDIX A. Timetable of Accusations and Confessions, February–November 1692
    (pp. 183-186)
  10. Appendix B. Chronological List of Fifty-three Confessions, 1692
    (pp. 187-187)
  11. APPENDIX C. Transcripts of Tituba’s Confessions
    (pp. 188-198)
  12. Abbreviations
    (pp. 199-200)
  13. Notes
    (pp. 201-238)
  14. Index
    (pp. 239-244)
  15. Back Matter
    (pp. 245-245)