The Salem Witch Trials Timeline, part I

Obeah Opera, part of the Luminato 2019 line up, tells the story of the Salem witch trials from the spellbinding perspective of the first woman accused, the young Caribbean slave Tituba. For the next few weeks, we'll map out a series of important events in 1692 that led to the Salem witch trials.

Jan 17, 2019 | BY: Jorge Ayala-Isaza

The winter of 1962 was a harsh one in the Massachusetts Bay colony, just as it had been for the last few years during a prolonged extreme cold spell that lasted from 1680 to 1730. This fact aggravated the already difficult living conditions for newly arrived European colonists. A short-lived fishing village European settlement had first established on Cape Ann in 1623, but it was only until 1628 when a permanent European colony was formed on the eastern shore of New England. The area was the traditional territory of several Algonquin tribes, among them, the Massachussetts, Nausets and Wampanoags.

These early European colonists were strongly Puritan, and their laws and governance were strongly influenced by the religious leaders. Only freemen who were vetted tor their religious views were eligible to vote, and there was a marked intolerance againt members of the Anglican, Quaker, and Baptist churches. This intolerance seemed to be stronger in the Salem Village, a 1626 settlement in the area inhabited by the Naumkeag tribe, its new name a hellenized form of the Hebrew word for "peace" (שלום, shalom).

In 1689, Samuel Parris was appointed the minister of Salem Village. He had maintain a sugar plantation he had inherited from his father in Barbados, but moved to the colony after a hurricane hit the island, destroying much of his property. He brought to Boston a slave named Tituba, whom he had bought when she was a teenager. Shorty after, he married Elizabeth Eldridge and together they had three children, Thomas, Elizabeth, and Susannah.

It was during this harsh winter that his nine year old Elizabeth Parris,  curious to learn what kind of husband destiny had in store for her, invited her cousin Abigail Williams to experiment with fortune telling. Coincidentally, shortly after, Betty, as she was fondly called by family and friends, began to exhibit "strange and unusual" behaviour: hiding under furniture, complaining of fever, barking like a dog, screaming and crying out in pain. Soon after, Abigail began exhibiting the same symptoms as Betty.

Four years before, several children of the Goodwin family in Boston had been reported to show similar behaviour, an incident that was well publicized and documented in the 1689 book Memorable Providences, Relating to Witchcrafts and Possessions by Rev. Cotton Mather. A socially and politically influential Puritan minister and prolific author, Mather had a prominent role in this case. A copy of the book was part of Reverend Parris library. Concerned, Samuel Parris called for a local doctor to examine them.

[To be continued....]

Luminato 2019 presents Obeah Opera on June 13 - 22, 2019 at the Fleck Dance Theatre in Toronto, Canada.

Listen to our curated Spotify playlist featuring audio tracks by different artists, inspired by the Salem Witch Trial

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