– Exodus 22:18
No one seems to know for certain Tituba’s actual origin. Was she of the old world? Was she of the new world?
Over the centuries, history, like an eroding creek bed, becomes muddy. Things that were once known as facts become lost or obscured by the silt of time. Sometimes they’re rewritten to better accord with prevailing prejudices.
What is known about Tituba is that she had an abstract mind. And that, when called upon, she was willing to use it to appease the expectations of her masters.
This powerful combination, like thunder and lightening, sparked one of the more disturbing episodes of mass hysteria to ever occur on American soil.
Tituba likely sailed from Barbados to the Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1680 with Samuel Parris, where she remained his servant. Nine years later, Samuel Parris became Reverend Samuel Parris, Salem Village’s first ordained minister.
For reasons unknown, in January 1692, Parris’ nine-year-old daughter Elizabeth, and eleven-year-old niece Abigail Williams, started having violent and uncontrollable fits. They screamed, threw things, barked peculiar sounds, and twisted themselves into strange positions. Another girl, 12-year-old Ann Putnam Jr., experienced similar episodes.
Often, in small towns and big cities alike, things which are inexplicable or complicated demand simple answers. Thus, a local doctor blamed the supernatural.
On February 29, under pressure from Jonathan Corwin and John Hathorne, colonial officials who tried local cases, the girls blamed three women for afflicting them. The women were of low standing and, perhaps, were considered obvious targets by the girls.
Specifically, these women included Tituba, the Parris family’s slave, Sarah Good, a homeless beggar, and Sarah Osborne, an elderly impoverished woman.
Full Blown Witch Hunt
Starting on March 1, all three women were brought before the local judges for several days of questioning and cross examination. Osborne claimed innocence. So did Good.
But Tituba confessed, “The devil came to me and bid me serve him.”
She told a tall tale of black dogs, red cats, yellow birds and a “tall man with white hair” who wanted her to sign his book. She even admitted that she’d signed the book and claimed there were several other witches looking to destroy the Puritans.
This all sounds nuts. Why would Tituba make such patently false and threatening allegations?
One idea is that she was trying to run cover for the strange behavior of her master, Reverend Samuel Parris’ daughter and niece. As the colony’s first ordained minister, and a man with a rigid reputation, his daughter’s inexplicable condition may have brought shame.
Tituba could have been giving her interrogators what she thought her master wanted. Regardless of the reason, things quickly spiraled out of control. And in a bad way.
With the seeds of fear and mistrust planted, a plentiful bloom of accusations flowered over the next few months. Soon charges were brought against Martha Corey, a loyal member of the church in Salem Village. This greatly concerned the community. If she could be a witch, then anyone could!
Before anyone said boo, a full-blown witch hunt ensued. Justices even questioned Good’s 4-year-old daughter, Dorothy. Somehow, her fearful and timid answers were taken as a confession.
By April, the questioning had become exceptionally intense. That was when the colony’s deputy governor, Thomas Danforth, and his assistants attended the hearings. Large numbers of people from Salem and other Massachusetts villages were brought in for questioning.
On May 27, Governor William Phips formed a Special Court of Oyer and Terminer – to hear and decide – for Suffolk, Essex and Middlesex counties.
Bridget Bishop, an older woman with known promiscuousness habits, was the first alleged witch to be brought before the special court. Bishop was asked if she committed witchcraft. Her response: “I am as innocent as the child unborn.”
Alas, this defense failed to convince the hearers and deciders. Bishop was found guilty and, on June 10, was hanged on what would become known as Gallows Hill.
A respected minister, Cotton Mather, attempted to speak some sense to the affair. He wrote a letter pleading with the court to not to allow spectral evidence, including testimony about dreams and visions. His requests were ignored.
The court swiftly proceeded with the sentencing of mass hangings. Five alleged witches were hung in July, five more in August, and eight in September.
On October 3, Cotton’s father attempted to quash the madness that had taken over Salem. Increase Mather, then-president of Harvard, condemned the use of spectral evidence saying, “It were better that ten suspected witches should escape than one innocent person be condemned.”
Finally, Governor Phips opened his ears and mind to what the Cotton’s were saying. Though it may have been for personal reasons. About this time, his wife had fallen under questioning of being a suspected witch.
Regaining the Senses
Soon after, Phips prohibited further arrests and released many of the accused witches. Then, on October 29, he disbanded the special court and replaced it with a Superior Court of Judicature. This new court did not allow spectral evidence and only sentenced 3 out of 56 defendants.
By May 1693, after 15 months of absolute madness, Phips had pardoned all those imprisoned on witchcraft charges. But for some this regaining of the senses came too late.
By the time the witch trials were over, nineteen men and women had been hanged on Gallows Hill. In addition, Giles Corey, Martha’s 71-year-old husband, was crushed to death with heavy stones for refusing to submit himself to a trial.
Five other accused witches died in jail. Amongst the hysteria, several dogs were killed because they were believed to be possessed by the devil.
To this day, no one really knows what caused the violent and uncontrollable fits of Reverend Parris’ daughter and niece. Maybe they were mentally ill or struggling with autism. Maybe they consumed some moldy grain. Who knows?
What is known is that Tituba, through her wild confession, added fuel to the fire. And this combusted in a hysterical episode, with horrific consequences.
Nonetheless, Tituba did not receive further questioning. Nor was she ever named as an accused witch. After 15 months in prison, on May 9, 1963, she finally went on trial for having covenanted with the devil.
But at this point, it was likely more of a formality. The mania had run its course. The jury declined to indict Tituba. Still, she would be the last suspect released.
Tituba appears to have left Massachusetts with whoever paid her jail fees. She never saw the Parris family again and disappeared from public record. Though, she did escape with her life, unlike the women she named.
Lies, Witch Hunts, and America’s Next Rendezvous with Madness
Today, science has rolled away many of the fantastic horrors that our ancestors grappled with. Still, there are phenomena that remain which science and philosophy cannot readily explain. That is to say, there are mysteries and unknowns that cannot be reconciled like fitting together pieces of a puzzle.
At times, it is convenient to attribute supernatural answers to explain that which is otherwise inexplicable. The grasp for answers is an inherent part of being human. And sometimes it is better to have answers that are not entirely logical than to have no answers at all.
The thought of embarking on a witch hunt – for actual witches – sounds rather strange for 21st century man. Though the manic hysteria of proverbial witch hunts endures.
The recent coronavirus madness is as example that’s ripe for the picking. Shrieking mobs. Trusted experts. Lies. Cover ups. Condemnations.
There was the ridiculous explanation of how humans were first infected with coronavirus. That somehow it all started at the Wuhan wet market, in the same city where gain of function laboratory research was being conducted.
Was this a mere coincidence? Obviously not. Yet for pointing this out, and suggesting a lab leak, you were branded a conspiracy theorist.
Two weeks to stop the spread. Anthony Fauci, a wicked reincarnation of Tituba. The forced closing of schools, churches, beaches, restaurants, gyms – locking down the entire economy. Orders to skip Christmas celebrations with family and to wear masks in the comfort of your own home.
The roll-out of faux experimental vaccines that didn’t work, which may have dramatic health consequences. Employer compulsion programs. The complete politicalization of American life, mainstream media’s official narrative, and the gross influence of social media.
What kind of madness was this? Surely, not the kind of madness that once consumed the Massachusetts Bay Colony, or was it?
Charles Mackay, author of, Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds (1841), once remarked that:
“Men, it has been well said, think in herds; it will be seen that they go mad in herds, while they only recover their senses slowly, and one by one.”
Have many Americans honestly contemplated the hysteria and mania that happened? How many have yet to recover their senses? How many never will?
And what will people do during the next rendezvous with madness? How will they behave when the next supposed crisis hits and the authorities try to shut things down again?
Will they stand for individual freedom? Or will they roll over again for collective madness?
Alas, we may have to find out.
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for Economic Prism