It began on March 1, 1692

“Sarah Good,” said John Hathorne in a commanding voice, “what evil spirit have you familiarity with?” “None,” she answered. But her answer didn’t matter, regardless of her words, the words of a few young screaming girls held more authority. On March 1, 1692, Sarah Good, Sarah Osborne, and Tituba stood accused of witchcraft. The first examination drew a crowd of spectators to witness the start of events for the Salem hysteria. Here is some information on the first three accused to give an idea of the targets.

Sarah Good- the Wenham woman fell into poverty during her life. In 1672, he father died which town records called a suicide by drowning. Her mother’s remarriage resulted in the loss of Sarah and his sibling’s fair share of their inheritance when their stepfather claimed the property. Legal battles only gave Sarah a fraction of her rightful claims. Her first husband Daniel Poole died soon after and the funeral costs burdened Sarah with debts. Sarah and her second husband William Good continued to face creditors for the debt in 1686, causing them to sell land and forcing the Goods into poverty. Sarah begged for food and money around Salem and Salem Village. She gained a reputation for a short temper, a disgruntled personality, and for swearing. She often muttered as she left the homes she begged at, even muttering when she left the home of Rev. Parris, not long before Parris’ daughter named Good as a witch.

Sarah Osborne- Sarah’s first husband Robert Prince died in 1674. His brother-in-law John Putnam and John’s nephew Thomas Putnam were named the executors of Prince’s will. Sarah remarried her indentured servant Alexander Osborne, and together Sarah and Alexander tried to gain ownership of Prince’s land rather than allow the land to be passed onto his sons when they reached adulthood. The legal battle over control of the land continued to the 1720s. Sarah’s quick remarriage and her choice of a second husband seemed scandalous to the Puritans. Rumor spread about her and Alexander engaging in relations before their marriage. The legal battle with the Putnam family did not help her when she was accused in February 1692.

Tituba and the Children  by Alfred Fredericks, 1878
Tituba and the Children by Alfred Fredericks, 1878

Tituba- The biography of Rev. Parris’ slave leaves a lot of questions. The only confirmed knowledge of her background is she worked in the home of the Salem Village minister. Historians even debate her racial background, either African or an Indian from Barbados. She possibly married Parris’ other slave John Indian, but slave marriages rarely had legal documentation. Legend identifies her as the leader of the afflicted girls’ fortune telling circles, but this story came from dramatic license and no primary source documented these circles.

At the examinations, the three women tried to deny their involvement with the Devil, but Tituba confessed during her questioning. She said to the courtroom, “the devil came to me and bid me serve him.” This proved to the audience that witches were in the colony and Tituba named Sarah Good and Sarah Osborne as two of four women who traveled with the Devil. She also spoke of a “tale [tall] man of Boston.” Remember Goody Glover’s warning? The Boston woman said there were more witches before she hanged as a confessed witch. The accused also admitted to witchcraft existing in their testimony; aside from Tituba’s confession, Sarah Good accused Osborne and Sarah Osborne claimed she was once bewitched as well. The chaos of Salem began to unleash itself on March 1st, and for months after, the accusations flew to create the captivating event that lasts in historical memory.

-Rosenthal, Bernard, ed. Records of the Salem Witch-Hunt. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009.

-Rosenthal, Bernard, “Tituba,” OAH Magazine of History, 17:4 July 2003, 48-50.

-Boyer, Paul, and Stephen Nissenbaum. Salem Possessed; the Social Origins of Witchcraft. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1974.

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