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Elizabeth Parris (November 28, 1682-March 21, 1760) was one of the major accusers in the Salem Witch Trials of 1692. A young girl at the time, Betty Parris appeared to be afflicted by demons and claimed to have visions of the devil; she accused several local women of witchcraft. Betty's accusation lit the fuse that eventually ended with accusations against 185 people, formal charges made against 156, and the execution by hanging of 19 residents of Salem Village in Massachusetts.
Fast Facts: Elizabeth Parris
- Known For: One of the early accusers in the 1692 Salem witch trials
- Also Known As: Betty Parris
- Born: November 28, 1682 in Boston, Massachusetts
- Parents: Samuel Parris, Elizabeth Parris
- Died: March 21, 1760 in Concord, Massachusetts
- Spouse: Benjamin Baron
- Children: Thomas, Elizabeth, Catherine, Susanna
Elizabeth Parris, 9 years old at the beginning of 1692, was the daughter of Rev. Samuel Parris and his wife Elizabeth Eldridge Parris, who was often ill. The younger Elizabeth was often called Betty to distinguish her from her mother. She was born when the family lived in Boston. Her older brother Thomas was born in 1681 and her younger sister Susannah was born in 1687. Also part of the household was 12-year-old Abigail Williams, who was described as a kinswoman and was sometimes called a niece of Rev. Parris, probably a household servant, and two slaves Rev. Parris had brought with him from Barbados-Tituba and John Indian, described as Indians. An African boy slave had died a few years before.
Elizabeth Parris Before the Salem Witch Trials
Rev. Parris was the minister of Salem Village church, arriving in 1688, and had been embroiled in considerable controversy, coming to a head in late 1691 when a group organized to refuse to pay him a significant part of his salary. He began to preach that Satan was conspiring in Salem Village to destroy the church.
Elizabeth Parris and the Salem Witch Trials
In mid-January of 1692, both Betty Parris and Abigail Williams began to behave strangely. Their bodies contorted into strange positions, they reacted as if they were being physically hurt, and they made strange noises. Ann's parents were leading members of the Salem Village church, supporters of Rev. Parris in the ongoing church conflict.
Rev. Parris tried prayer and traditional remedies; when those didn't end the fits, he called in a doctor (probably a neighbor, Dr. William Griggs) on or about February 24 and a neighboring town's minister, Rev. John Hale, to get their opinions on the cause of the fits. The men agreed that the girls were victims of witches.
Mary Sibley, a neighbor and member of Rev. Parris' flock, advised John Indian the following day-perhaps with the help of his wife, another Caribbean slave of the Parris family-to make a witch's cake to discover the names of the witches. Instead of relieving the girls, however, their torments increased. Friends and neighbors of Betty Parris and Abigail Williams, including Ann Putnam Jr. and Elizabeth Hubbard, began having similar fits, described as afflictions in contemporary records.
Pressured to name their tormenters, Betty and Abigail named the Parris family slave Tituba on February 26. Several neighbors and ministers, likely including Rev. John Hale of Beverley and Rev. Nicholas Noyes of Salem, were asked to observe the girls' behavior. They questioned Tituba. The next day, Ann Putnam Jr. and Elizabeth Hubbard experienced torments and blamed Sarah Good, a local homeless mother and beggar, and Sarah Osborne, who was involved with conflicts around inheriting property and who also had married an indentured servant (a local scandal). None of the three accused witches were likely to have many local defenders.
On February 29, based on accusations of Betty Parris and Abigail Williams, arrest warrants were issued in Salem for the first three accused witches-Tituba, Sarah Good, and Sarah Osborne-based on the complaints of Thomas Putnam, Ann Putnam Jr.'s father, and several others before local magistrates Jonathan Corwin and John Hathorne. They were to be taken for questioning the next day to Nathaniel Ingersoll's tavern.
The next day, Tituba, Sarah Osborne, and Sarah Good were examined by local magistrates John Hathorne and Jonathan Corwin. Ezekiel Cheever was appointed to take notes on the proceedings. Hannah Ingersoll, whose husband's tavern was the site of the examination, found that the three had no witch marks on them. Sarah Good's husband William later testified that there was a mole on his wife's back.
Tituba confessed and named the other two as witches, adding rich details to her stories of possession, spectral travel, and meeting with the devil. Sarah Osborne protested her own innocence; Sarah Good said Tituba and Osborne were witches but that she was herself innocent. Sarah Good was sent to nearby Ipswich, Massachusetts to be confined with her youngest child, born the year before, with a local constable who was also a relative. She escaped briefly and returned voluntarily; this absence seemed especially suspicious when Elizabeth Hubbard reported that Sarah Good's specter had visited her and tormented her that evening. Sarah Good was held at the Ipswich jail on March 2, and Sarah Osborn and Tituba were questioned further. Tituba added more details to her confession, and Sarah Osborne maintained her innocence. Questioning continued for another day.
At this point, Mary Warren, a servant in the home of Elizabeth Proctor and John Proctor, began having fits as well. The accusations soon widened: Ann Putnam Jr. accused Martha Corey and Abigail Williams accused Rebecca Nurse. Corey and Nurse were known as respectable church members.
On March 25, Elizabeth had a vision of being visited by "the great Black Man" (the devil) who wanted her to be "ruled by him." Her family was worried about her continuing afflictions and the dangers of "diabolical molestation" (in the later words of Rev. John Hale). Betty Parris was sent to live with the family of Stephen Sewall, a relative of Rev. Parris, and her afflictions ceased. So did her involvement in the witchcraft accusations and trials.
Elizabeth Parris After the Trials
Betty's mother Elizabeth died on July 14, 1696. In 1710, Betty Parris married Benjamin Baron, a yeoman, trader, and shoemaker, and lived quietly in Sudbury, Massachusetts. The couple had five children, and she lived to the age of 77.
Arthur Miller's play The Crucible is a political allegory based on the Salem Witch Trials. The play won a Tony award and is still one of the most often-read and produced plays of the century. One of the main characters is based loosely on the historical Betty Parris; in Arthur Miller's play, Betty's mother is dead and she has no brothers or sisters.
- Brooks, Rebecca. “Betty Parris: First Afflicted Girl of the Salem Witch Trials.” History of Massachusetts.
- Gragg, Larry. A Quest for Security: The Life of Samuel Parris 1653-1720. Westport, CT: Greenwood Publishing Group, Inc., 1990.
- Salem Witch Trials Notable Persons.