Tituba has long taken the blame for much of the hysteria surrounding the Salem Witch Trials. As the first to confess, she made people believe there was truth to the claims of witchcraft. However, little is known about her. As a slave, records of her existence are lacking. Much of what is known is based on tradition.
Tituba was born in an Arawak village in South America. She was captured as a child, where she was taken to the Caribbean nation of Barbados and sold into slavery. When she was somewhere between the ages of 12 and 17, she came into the household of Reverend Samuel Parris. She was most likely purchased by Parris from one of his business associates or given to him to settle a debt.
Tituba managed the Parris household on a day-to-day basis. In 1680, Parris moved to Boston, bringing Tituba and another Indian slave named John with him. Tituba and John were married in 1689, about the same time as Parris moved to Salem.
Parris’ daughter, Betty, and niece, Abigail, began participating in fortune-telling and other non-Puritan activities. Tradition blames Tituba’s stories, but according to what one of them reported to Reverend John Hale, the girls used an egg white in a glass of water. It was a commonly known technique in New England at the time, and condemned by the Puritans as a demonic practice. Shortly after their fortune-telling activities, Betty and Abigail began exhibiting strange symptoms, including sensations of prickling, pinching, and choking, likely out of guilt.
To help with the girls’ strange symptoms, Tituba baked a mixture of rye and urine called a witchcake. The witchcake was then fed to a dog. Samuel Parris was enraged when he heard of the witchcake and shortly after Betty and Abigail named Tituba a witch. Parris beat her until her confessed to signing the Devil’s book. She never confessed to fortune-telling.
Tituba was the first person to admit to being a witch in Salem. She apologized for hurting Betty and claimed she never meant to hurt the child. She also told stories of an active community of witches in Salem, including Sarah Good and Sarah Osbourne. By confessing, Tituba avoided trial and joined Betty and Abigail as a witness against accused witches.
As public sentiment toward the accused witches began to change, Tituba recanted her confession. Parris was angry and refused to pay the seven pound jailer’s fee to get her out of jail. Tituba stayed in prison for thirteen months until an unknown person paid the fee and bought her. Because Puritans rarely split up married couples, even slaves, it is assumed the same person bought her husband, John.
It is unknown what happened to Tituba after she began life with her new owner.