About Tituba, slave of Rev. Samuel Parris
Tituba was a slave owned by Reverend Samuel Parris.
In early 1692, Rev. Parris’s 9-year-old daughter Elizabeth, 12-year-old niece Abigail Williams, and other neighborhood girls began to fall into horrid fits. Their parents tried to discover what was causing their distress, and village doctor William Griggs gave his opinion that the girls were the victims of witchcraft. Repeatedly asked who was causing their afflictions, the girls finally accused three village women, and warrants were sworn out for the arrest of Sarah Osborne, Sarah Good and Parris’s slave, Tituba.
Tituba was the first person accused by Betty Parris and Abigail Williams of witchcraft. She was also the first person to confess to witchcraft in Salem Village. She at first denied that she had anything to do with witchcraft, but was then quickly coerced into confessing to having spoken with the Devil. Not only did Tituba accuse others in her confession, but she talked about black dogs, hogs, a yellow bird, red and black rats, cats, and a wolf. Tituba talked about riding sticks to different places. Tituba confessed that Sarah Osborne possessed a creature with the head of a woman, two legs, and wings. By mixing the different views on witchcraft she unintentionally set Salem Village into chaos by hinting that Satan was among them.
Tituba was never tried or executed for her role in the witchcraft trials. She was sent to jail but later released.
The ethnicity of Tituba has been surrounded by controversy from the first historical analysis of her. It was initially assumed that she was of Indian descent. Over time her origins have been reevaluated and old theories have been contested. In Tituba, Reluctant Witch of Salem, Elaine G. Breslaw writes: "According to local legend, Tituba and her husband, John, were spoken of as having come from New Spain…that is, the Spanish West Indies, and the adjacent mainland. [This] is borne out by the record of known slave-capturing activities in South America."
Breslaw believes that Tituba was an Arawak native from the Guianas who was either kidnapped and then brought to Barbados or whose tribe had migrated there through South America. Veta Smith Tucker writes, "17th-century Puritans blended the categories Native, African, and slave. In seventeenth century Massachusetts, such discriminations among unregenerate peoples of color were considered unnecessary, especially for slaves. By 1692 (exactly two centuries after first contact) Columbus' misnaming had yielded a catchall term variously applied to the Guanahani, the Caribbe, the Aztecs, and West Indies Africans."
We may never know where Tituba was really from. Since there was no clear distinction by the Puritans on the racial differences between natives, Africans, and slaves, it remains hard to identify Tituba’s origin. This however is not the only reason for the scholarly debate over the identity of Tituba. Hansen says, "Over the years the magic Tituba practiced has been changed by historians and dramatists from English, to Native, to African. More startlingly, her own race has been changed from native, to half-native and half-Negro, to Negro…There is no evidence to support these changes, but there is an instructive lesson in American historiography to be read in them."