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Tituba, Reluctant Witch of Salem Village

Tituba, Reluctant Witch of Salem Village published on 1 Comment on Tituba, Reluctant Witch of Salem Village

I’ve been fascinated by the Salem witchcraft trials for decades. It’s one of the few widely recognized events of American history in which girls and young women were pivotal actors. It’s also one of the few places in early American history where we can hear the voices of girls and women, in their accusations, depositions, confessions, wills and apologies. When I was the age of the afflicted girls, I read with fascination about the mysterious and destructive behavior exhibited by girls who were my age 300 years ago.ย The primary source documents gave me a vivid sample of their speech and thoughts, while still leaving me with the major question of WHAT WERE THEY THINKING?

The influential actions of the afflicted seemed all the more powerful and interesting to me because, even now, centuries later, we have no adequate analyses for WHY the girls acted this way, WHY people believed them and WHY so many were persecuted and/or killed. There are many factors that help us understand the witchcraft trials, including the colonial terror over violent confrontations with Native Americans to the north, Puritan ambivalence toward feminine agency, emotionality and independence, and some sort of religious/class tensions between Salem port and Salem Village having to do with ministers. But, while these subjects clarify certain parts of the witchcraft trials, none of them adequately explain it.

Besides the girls, one of the most interesting people involved with the trials was, in my mind, Tituba Indian. A slave of Samuel Parris, father to one of the afflicted girls, Betty Parris, Tituba was one of the first people accused of witchcraft. [Her husband, John Indian, was also eventually accused.] Tituba eventually confessed, and her confession contributed to the widening of the witch hunt. Though very little is known about her, 19th-century historiography made her out to be a black slave whose weird foreign magic of fortune-telling corrupted the afflicted girls and contributed to their weak minds. However, the 19th-century historiography is tinged with racist bullshit, so there hasn’t been much serious investigation of Tituba’s history outside of the trails…

…Until recently. Elaine Breslaw’s Tituba, Reluctant Witch of Salem Village, shows the author’s fascinating historical archeology and reconstruction of Tituba’s life. Breslaw makes a pretty convincing case that Tituba grew up on a Barbadian sugar plantation surrounded by a cultural melange of African [slave], Native Caribbean [also slave] and English [colonial] perspectives. This cultural mixture influenced the images she used in her confession. Breslaw’s book, full of historical context, argues that Tituba evinced savvy self-preservation skills in her legal statements. And, awesomely enough, the book is HERE on Google books for me to poke through and reread.

For some reason, worthy of another entry, my interest in the Salem witch trials dovetails with my interest in vampires. Even in the earliest days of LHF, I always imagined that there were vampires running around up in Salem who had been witness to, if not participants in, the witch trials. In fact, the leader of one of Salem’s clans, Ethan Stuart [entirely fictional], will play a central role in an upcoming season. Ethan was only a witness to the trials, not a participant.

I think I’m gonna make Tituba a vampire and a character in LHF. ๐Ÿ˜€ ๐Ÿ˜€ In fact, I’m working on it now.

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