About Abigail Williams, Salem Witch Accuser
Abigail Williams (c1680 - before 1697), parentage unknown, was one of the "afflicted girls" whose accusations of witchcraft fueled the Salem witch trials. Abigail, who lived in the home of Reverend Samuel Parris, has often been referred to as his "niece", or called "kinfolk" in some early sources. "Niece" may have been a general term for younger female relative. Who her parents were, and what her relationship was to Rev. Parris, is unknown. She may have been a household servant.
The Salem Witch Trials
Abigail Williams and Elizabeth "Betty" Parris, daughter of Rev. Parris and his wife Elizabeth, were the first two girls in Salem Village to exhibit behaviors in mid-January of 1692 which were soon identified as being caused by witchcraft by a local doctor and Rev. John Hale, called in by Rev. Parris.
Abigail and Betty were joined by Ann Putnam Jr. in their afflictions and, then in accusations against individuals identified as causing the afflictions. Abigail was a key witness against many of the early accused witches, including the first ones identified: Tituba, Sarah Osborne, and Sarah Good; and later Bridget Bishop, George Burroughs, Sarah Cloyce, Martha Corey, Mary Easty, Rebecca Nurse, Elizabeth and John Proctor, John Willard and Mary Witheridge.
Abigail's and Betty's accusations resulted in the arrest on 29 February of Tituba, Sarah Good and Sarah Osborne. On 19 March, with the Rev. Deodat Lawson visiting, Abigail accused the respected Rebecca Nurse of trying to force her to sign the devil's book. The next day, in the middle of the service at Salem Village Church, Abigail interrupted the visiting minister, Rev. Deodat Lawson, claiming she saw Martha Corey's spirit separate from her body. Martha Corey was arrested and examined the next day.
On 29 March, Abigail Williams and Mercy Lewis accused Elizabeth Proctor of afflicting them through her specter; Abigail claimed to see John Proctor's spectre as well. Abigail testified that she had seen some forty witches outside the Parris house in a ritual of drinking blood. She named Elizabeth Proctor's specter as being present, and named Sarah Good and Sarah Cloyce as being deacons at the ceremony.
Abigail Williams made 41 of the legal complaints filed. She testified in seven of the cases. Her last testimony was 3 June 1692, a week before the first execution.
In trying to discredit her, Joseph Hutchinson testified that she had said to him that she could converse with the devil as easily as she could converse with him.
After the Trials
As the trials were coming to an end, Abigail ran away from Salem. It is not certain what happened to her, but rumor has it that she fled to a city somewhere along the east coast and resorted to prostitution for survival. Other versions claim that she ended her life in the West Indies.
Reliable Salem witch trials scholars are unable to give detail about her last years with any certainty, but Marilynne Roach says in The Salem Witch Trials: A Day-By-Day Chronicle of a Community Under Siege, “…Abigail Williams, haunted to the end, apparently died before the end of 1697, if not sooner, no older than seventeen.”
Speculation about Abigail Williams' motives in testifying usually suggest that she wanted some attention: that as a "poor relation" with no real prospects in marriage (as she would have no dowry), she gained much more influence and power through her accusations of witchcraft than she would be able to do any other way. Linnda R. Caporael suggested in 1976 that fungus-infected rye may have caused ergotism and hallucinations in Abigail Williams and the others.
In Arthur Miller's play, The Crucible, Miller depicts Williams as a 17-year-old servant in the Proctor house who tried to save John Proctor even while denouncing her mistress, Elizabeth. At the end of the play, she steals her uncle's money (money which the real Rev. Parris probably did not have). Arthur Miller relied on a source that claimed that Abigail Williams became a prostitute after the period of the trials.