Who was Tituba? She’s been presented as the victimized slave by writers like Arthur Miller, an anecdotal player in The Salem Witch Trials, and a highly empowered trickster figure who was responsible for bringing down the Puritan establishment. But beneath it all, the truth is much more nuanced and interesting than any of these portrayals. In this video, I begin my exploration of the central players in The Salem Witch Trials by taking a look at one of the most overlooked and misrepresented of the lot. Part 2 coming soon!
What’s up witches and welcome to Salem, the weirdest place on earth. First off, if you’re new, welcome. If you’re an old-timer, things sure have changed since the last video. Either way, I’m glad you’re here, now let’s get witchy.
In this video, I’m starting off what will likely be a very, very long series. In a textbook example of biting off way more than I can chew, I’m starting a series that examines all of the important players in the Salem Witch Trials.
But why start easy? Let’s instead look at possibly the least understood of the central figures in The Salem Witch Trials: Tituba. Even in Salem, Tituba is often misrepresented or excluded from the conversation all-together. There are some interesting reasons for this historical revision and we’ll definitely get to them. But let’s start off by looking at what we know for certain about Tituba.
Tituba is believed to have originally hailed from the West Indies, most likely Barbados. Right up front, you’ll notice a lot of ambiguity in what I just said. Let me just state here at the outset that there are tons of conflicting accounts about Tituba. I’ll do my best to navigate them, but I may screw it up.
Anywho, she sailed from Barbados to the continental US with Samuel Parris in 1680. Before that year, we don’t know much about her for certain. But I would very much recommend I Tituba Black Witch of Salem for a narrativization of her history, role in the witch trials, and elderly years. Oh, I should’ve added a spoiler alerted there: Yes, Tituba survived the witch trials and was one of the few of the accused central players to do so and certainly the only non-European. How’d she pull that off? We’ll get there.
So in 1680 Tituba sails from Barbados to New England in the company of Salem Village’s new Minister Samuel Parris, her owner. It’s likely that she came with her husband who we know as John Indian. Both were slaves and both were under Parris’ ownership by the time he arrived with them in Salem in 1689. Tituba was ethnically perceived among the villagers in Salem as both African and Native American or some mix of the two. She’s consistently referred to by a variety of ethnic identifiers.
What the villagers did know of her was that English was clearly not her first language, she was married to John Indian, and she was very close to Samuel Parris’ daughter Betty who was 9 years-old at the time the hysteria began.
The Nature of Magick
Now let me nip something in the bud right here about the nature of magick and witchcraft in 1690’s Salem because it’s going to be important to everything that’s to come. In media representations of the witch hysteria in things like The Crucible and Salem, Tituba is presented as a sorceress figure who led the original accusers in dark rituals under the cover of midnight. This is almost certainly exaggerated or entirely untrue. How do I know better than Arthur Miller?
Well, it is true that Tituba was accused of such things on the record and even confessed to some of them. But, my personal opinion as a lover of all things Salem is that even if such dancing and rituals did occur they were likely far less sinister than we think and, crucially, not that uncommon of a practice for the villagers or children of Salem.
What we would consider folk magick today, the villagers of Salem would think of as simple remedies. For instance, when you visit the Salem Witch House, you’ll learn that Edward Taylor, another New England minister who was alive at the same time of the Salem Witch Trials, said, “human blood, drunk warm and new is held good in the falling sickness.” Rad, right? Villagers would often do things that by today’s standards seem super witchy. Talismans, ceremonies, healing techniques – the categories of things that were normal at the time but would seem pagan or even nefarious today is super long.
So it’s important to understand before we get into the hysteria and trials themselves that the distinction between what made one a witch and what didn’t was different than today. Modern witches are distinguished from monotheists much more by their practices and beliefs than they were in 1692.
So, what made one a witch at the time of the hysteria? It’s simple, really. It’s not what you did or what you claimed to believe as much as it is who you did it for. That’s right, our old pal Satan. Quite simply, a witch in 1692’s Salem was one in the service of the devil. It didn’t really matter what kind of person you were perceived as. It mattered what others believed about your intentions and in whose service you were thought to have lived. So, could you be a minister of god and be a witch? Yep. How about a church elder who’s only ever done good for their community? Sure. Anyone, really. That’s why the trials were so dangerous. They were grounded entirely in misperception, manipulation, and mass hysteria.
And it was this perception of witchcraft that was central to the outbreak of accusations. And ultimately, the horrific traumas endured by hundreds of innocent people. But before all that, there was a slave named Tituba and a child named Betty Parris. And it was their relationship as well as the involvement of every single person in the Parris household that set off the firestorm of chaos and carnage known as The Salem Witch Trials.
In the next episode, we’ll jump into how the hysteria began, what Tituba’s role in it was, and how she navigated an enormously difficult situation and walked away from it all in the end. That’s all for today witches. Please subscribe to the channel for all things Salem including the witch trials, attractions, reviews, and more. Stay weird witches, I’ll see ya next time.