Tituba: Lightning Rod That Lit the Fire


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Most discussions of the Salem witch trials begin with the figure of Tituba, although most sources disagree on most of what they know about her.

She was definitely not European. She is often said to be of Caribbean descent and to be a practicer of her own religion, which included many elements of superstition that the Puritans found to be horrific, despite their own belief in servants of the devil walking among them.

She is known to have been a slave of the Parris family. She is known to have had a husband. She is thought to have lived with him in Barbados and to have been brought back from there by Rev. Parris himself. She is thought to have attempted to help young Elizabeth Parris try to divine her future, although that story may be folklore as well.

What is known for certain is that Tituba was accused of being a witch, admitted to the charge, was tried for it and found guilty, and was thrown in jail. There she sat for 13 months. Unlike others accused, she was not hanged. Ironically, she survived the entire ordeal. An unidentified person finally paid her jail costs and took her out of Salem for good.

What is also known for certain is that her confession, early on in the hysteria, set the stage for future confessions and further accusations. The young girls who accused her of witchcraft were seen to have been vindicated by her confession, and that emboldened them to make even more outlandish accusations, which were accepted with even more fervor.

To blame Tituba for starting the whole mess is perhaps too convenient, many think.

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David White