I never meant for it to go as far as it did- I really did not. I acted not out of malevolence or ill will toward anyone, not even in the beginning stages. I did not wish anyone harm, and I certainly did not wish for anyone to die…at least at first. That is why it is so hard for me to comprehend how such a horrible event- what the other colonies now refer to as the Salem Witch Trials- could have begun, and largely as a result of the actions of my childhood self.
It began the winter of 1692, when I, Abigail Williams, was a child of eleven years. Three years earlier, my uncle, my cousin Betty, and I had left our home in England to move to Salem Village, Massachusetts, where my Uncle Samuel was to be a pastor. Uncle Samuel and Betty were the only family I had, for both my parents had died of a fever when I was only a baby. Betty's mother had perished in the same year, and Uncle Samuel had taken me into his care to raise me with her. It was not out of a sense of love, but duty, that he did this- he made me well aware of this in the years he provided for me. He strove to make certain that I did not forget I had a home only out of his great kindness and mercy, and that I should work three times as hard as a child living with her own parents, so as not to be a burden.
Ah, it would have been hard to forget such a thing anyway, but it was even more so because of my cousin Betty. Betty was two years younger than me, but of a delicate, fragile nature, easily worried or frightened, and susceptible to illness. Uncle Samuel favored her greatly, as she was his own daughter, giving her the lightest of chores and many more luxuries than me. He never raised his voice to her, as he so often did with me, and often hugged or cuddled her in his lap, even when she was much too large of a child for such things. I cannot remember a time he ever touched me voluntarily, even in anger, and he certainly never hugged or petted me. When as a small child I asked him why, he rather sharply told me that I was too old for such things. I was six at the time.
But I am drifting away from the crux of my tale. I am not here to speak of my relationship with my uncle or cousin, but of the events occurring in the year I was eleven years old.
When we moved to Salem Village, my uncle purchased two slaves from Barbados- John and Tituba Indian. I liked them a good deal at first. John was already ready with a smile for Betty and me, pulling our braids and saying things to make us laugh. Tituba was different. I rarely saw her smile, let alone laugh. She was always solemn; only Betty could make her smile, for she, like my uncle, had a soft spot for her. She was never so kind to me, often scolding my restless, mischievous ways, and even slapped me. However, I still felt drawn to her, for she had a stillness about her, a mysterious air that hinted there was more to her than met the eye. Sometimes the way she looked at me made me shiver, as if she could read my every thought.
In Massachusetts's winters, it is severely cold, with heavy snowstorms. While my uncle and the other men must struggle with the chores outside, Betty, Tituba, and I as well as all other females, must stay indoors. It is a rather dull time, our only actions being prayer and chores. It was in the winter of 1692 that Tituba found a way to add excitement to our long hours indoors. She often tried to entertain Betty and me, and I suspect herself as well, for she was really not so much older than us, perhaps 22 or 23. She began to tell us stories of her life in Barbados. All were intriguing, but the ones that fascinated me most were those of witchcraft. She told of strange, evil rituals and spells, casting fortunes, visions of things dead, tales rid with such darkness I was speechless, torn between excitement and fear. I had never heard such stories, and I was enthralled.
It was precisely because I knew I should not listen to such sinful things that I wanted to. I knew that were we ever to be found out, especially were Uncle Samuel to know, we could get in trouble greatly. Why, to hear such things might even condemn us to hell! Betty worried over this more than I, often asking me with fear and guilt in her eyes if we were no longer going to heaven because of our sin. I scoffed at her, but I saw how very troubled she was. She had nightmares at night, and awakened pale, tired, and nervous, jumping at every noise. But then, Betty did not enjoy hearing the tales as I did, for she was frightened more so than excited.
I told my friend Ann Putnam, who was twelve years at the time, about some of the stories. Pretty soon she was visiting often and staying for stories as well. As word spread among Salem children, soon other young girls were joining us, among them Mary Warren, Mary Walcott, Mercy Lewis, Elizabeth Booth, Elizabeth Hubbard, and Susannah Sheldon. Most of them were a good deal older than Betty, Ann, and I- why, Mary Warren was 20. But they came, and they stayed as well. Most were a queer mixture of Betty and me- interested in Tituba's tales, but frightened and shamed for listening.
One day, Tituba said to Betty and me as she was telling one of her stories that if we liked, she could tell our fortunes- we could see what would happen in our future. I was eager to partake in this, wondering what I may see. Betty was less so. In fact, she hesitated so long I sneered at her, and only with Tituba's reassurance that nothing would harm her did she take part in it. Once settled, Tituba took out a glass of water and dropped an egg white in it, telling us that whatever shape it took was our future. I leaned forward, frowning as I tried to interpret the abstract shape. I had not yet decided in my mind when suddenly Betty let out a terrified cried and covered her mouth, eyes round with horror.
"'Tis a coffin!" she croaked. "Tis a coffin, Abigail! We shall die, we shall die!"
Greatly startled, I peered closely at the shape. I could not be certain, but it did to a vague degree resemble a coffin. Only a bit, but still…could Betty be correct?
We did not have time to ponder the matter, for Betty grew pale as milk and keeled over into a swoon. I had to help Tituba tend to her and put her to bed. We told Uncle Samuel she had taken ill suddenly, a truth, though not a complete. I did not dwell long over the shape of the egg white then, but later I was to remember and wonder.
It was soon after the egg white incident that Betty first became ill. It was a rather strange sickness, for she often seemed as if she were not present in her body. Anyone speaking to or touching her was not answered, for she did not hear or see anyone. She would have fits of swooning with nothing to cause it, or scream or cry without reason, thrashing about as though unable to control herself. She complained of feeling stabs or pricking, and her head continually ached.
Naturally, Uncle Samuel was concerned, as he saw no reason for his daughter's plight. He gave her many medicines and took her to the town doctor, Dr. Griggs, but he could not determine what ailed her either. Everyone knew of Betty's illness, for she often had fits in public, even in church. No one scolded her for her behavior; rather she was helped and sympathized with, even prayed over.
I, however, felt not sympathy for my little cousin. To be plain, I was quite envious of her. She had always received more attention, affection, and praise than me, being younger, prettier, and sweeter, as well as more fragile, from all. Now that she was ill, she received an even greater amount. I was more ignored than ever; the only time anyone addressed me was if they wanted me to aid with Betty, or to rebuke me for not doing something. It wasn't long before I decided to bring concern upon myself as well.
I began to imitate Betty's symptoms, complaining of being pinched and pricked, faking fainting fits, crying, screaming, and twitching. With practice I could almost perfectly imitate Betty's symptoms.
Once others saw that I too had apparently caught Betty's illness, they were worried for me as well. They fussed and helped me, all the more concerned because now two girls were ill. I greatly enjoyed their attention, relishing their sympathy. No one had given me so much of it in my life, and I loved it. I only felt guilty for my lies occasionally, mostly at night in bed, with no one to divert attention from my sin.
Sometimes I caught Tituba staring at me, a look of suspicion in her eyes, and I knew she knew I was lying. It both scared and angered me that she knew, for if she told, not only would it take away all the attention, but she may also expose me to be a fraud.
Eventually Uncle Samuel took Betty and me both to Dr. Griggs again. Dr. Griggs took a much longer time examining us than he had Betty before, and finally proclaimed us both as bewitched.
I did not know how to react to this. I knew I was not being hurt by witches. Perhaps Betty was, but I doubted it. She had always been sickly, so I was not shocked at her illness. I suppose I should not have been surprised to receive such a diagnosis, for I was perfectly healthy, a strong, robust child not prone to illness. What could explain my fits except witchcraft? I did not realize how dangerous my jealous game would become.
My uncle was, of course, much afraid when he heard our diagnosis, as he was the pastor. I suspect he feared not only for our souls and safety but also the reactions of the town. What would they say if they knew the pastor's daughter and niece to be tormented by witches?
He set out immediately to find the identity of the witches afflicting us. He questioned us intently, pressing to discover who hurt us. Betty and I both did not speak out at first. Betty was much afraid at the idea that she could be hurt by witches, and I know she believed, as her symptoms were very real for her. She did not want to name anyone for fear of worse torment. I, knowing that no witch was hurting me, said nothing as I wished not to identify falsely.
But Uncle Samuel did not back down in his questioning. He pressed us for over an hour's time to speak up, to fear not for our safety, that God would punish those who so afflicted us. He warned us most strongly against those who protect evil, telling us that should we know of evildoers and stay silent, we were as guilty of sin as they. Oh, how wretched was I during this, how I squirmed and hid my eyes, fearful lest he discover that there were no evildoers, but only an evil little girl. My knowledge made me most at unease, and I am sure Betty also was most uncomfortable judging from her anxious, shamed expression. I believe that she was thinking of Tituba, and that they must have invited her to torment. Surely the thought of the coffin in the water did not lurk far back in her mind.
At last Betty broke her silence. "Mayhap…" she whispered in barely audible tones, "mayhap it be Tituba who hurts us."
Uncle Samuel was very startled by this pronouncement and latched onto it eagerly.
"Tituba? Tituba is the witch who hurts thee? Why think thee this, child?"
I knew what Betty was thinking and was much alarmed. She was going to tell him of our game, of our storytelling, with Tituba! Not only would this be brought to an end, should she speak of them, but we would be punished most grievously for partaking in them, perhaps even shunned! I quickly interrupted Betty's stutters, fixing her with a mean look.
"I saw images drawn by her hand," I said. "And her voice spoke to me, telling me most vile and evil things."
I told myself that this was the truth. Had I not seen an image from the egg white, drawn up by her hand? Had she not told us evil stories? I should not have listened to them, but she told them still.
Uncle Samuel was not satisfied, however. Still regarding Betty and me scrupulously, he persisted in his questions, asking if this was all, if Tituba was the only one who hurt us. He ordered us to tell him the names of the others as well. I was silent for some time, but at last spoke the names of two women I knew to be sinful- Sarah Good, an ill-tempered beggar woman, and Sarah Osborn, who did not even go to church.
Pleased with us, commending us on our bravery, Uncle Samuel called for the arrest of the three women. Tituba was removed from our home to jail that very day. The look she gave me as they took her away made me cold with fear…it was that dark and loathsome. She knew that it had been I who had led to her arrest. I felt such terrible shame, guilt, and terror, lest my deeds be discovered. At any point I could have turned back, before then. I could have apologized, confessed, and humbly received my penance. But now I had reached the point beyond return. No matter how badly I wanted to go back, I could not. I had to go forth with my lie- the lie that had just jailed three people.
I tried to bury my guilt, telling myself that what I was telling everyone was true. Surely Tituba, at least, was a witch, for how else would she know such tales? It was she who afflicted Betty. And as for Goody Good and Osborn, they too, were sinful and most likely witches. They probably were hurting Betty too, and if they were not, they had hurt others.
When the other girls who had listened to Tituba's tales with us heard that Betty and I were being afflicted by witches, and that Tituba was one of them, to my amazement, they all, one by one, began displaying the same symptoms I had imitated. I could not understand it. I knew they were not pretending- they really were in pain, and they truly believed that they too were being hurt by Tituba, for being part of her audience. At any given time, particularly when they were together, one or all of them could go into grievous fits. It frightened me, for it seemed to confirm that perhaps Tituba truly was a witch. How else would they, healthy servant girls, fall ill? They were not sickly as Betty was.
The guilt I carried soon abated when I convinced myself that my words, my accusations, were true, if not my illness. I thrived on the attention and pity displayed to me, the power I now possessed. And I was powerful now- upon my word, if I professed anyone in the town as a witch, I was believed. My words were valued now, whereas before it had seemed no one listened or cared what I thought.
One thing I discovered I could do, one power I possessed, frightened me. One day, merely to tease Mercy Lewis, I told her I saw a black figure hovering behind her, ready to choke her. Mercy, panicking, suddenly went into a fit, gagging and gasping for air, as though she were being strangled! I tried this with several others, astonished, and they too reacted as Mercy had. Simply by my words, I could cause them pain! I was both petrified and excited by this, horrified at my wickedness, but thrilled as well perversely. Could it be that I myself was a witch? Could it be me, not others, who hurt the girls? I did not want to think it, but the idea plagued my mind.
I was called to testify at Tituba's trial, along with the others. I echoed their stories and added details of my own. In the course of the trial, they often went into fits, and I imitated them, afraid I would be singled out as a fraud if I remained composed. This caused a stir as everyone tried to help us…but most shocking of all was Tituba's testimony. Upon being called to speak for herself, she stood before us and admitted to being a witch! She described in detail signing the devil's book, riding on brooms, and meeting with other witches to poke and prod and hurt us. I was stunned; what I had accused her of, she herself was admitting to be true! Tituba WAS a witch- I had been correct! Not only that, but she HAD hurt Betty and the others, and myself! She spoke of hurting me! I could not remember it, but if she said it happened, undoubtedly it was true. Perhaps she had spelled me not to remember.
The Sarahs did not admit to their craft, as Tituba did, but I was certain now they were witches. After all, Tituba said they were. Sarah Good was hanged soon after her trial, and Sarah Osborn died in jail awaiting the same fate.
As time passed, it grew easier for me to have fits at will. In fact, before long it was so easy I did not even have to think about it. I could go into convulsions at will, without trying. Sometimes this frightened me, for now I could sometimes not stop once I began. Sometimes now I actually felt bites and pricks of an invisible force upon my body. It was as if I were truly being tormented, and I believed now it were so.
Not everyone in Salem Village believed us. Several spoke openly, brazenly, against us, proclaiming our illnesses lies. One of those was Martha Corey. She, herself a sinner with an illegitimate mulatto child, proclaimed us to be liars, that no witches hurt us. When I heard her say this, in public, I was afraid. Suppose they all believed her, and ignored us? Suppose everyone shared her view? What if they found out that in the beginning, I had not had fits against my will? What if she somehow knew what we had done with Tituba and told on us? What if she realized that as well as being afflicted, I myself could possibly be a witch? Desperate to protect myself against Martha's declarations, I knew I had to stop her.
I came up with a way to do so one morning in church. As usual, my mind wandered during Uncle Samuel's sermon; after all, three hours is a very long time to pay attention. I happened to glance up at the ceiling and noticed a shadow on the rafters, vaguely in the shape of a person. In part of the shadow shaped like a hand was a shape like a bird. I remember seizing upon this instantly, and I am sure at the time I was convinced I was correct. I cried out, "Look upon the rafters! There sits Goody Corey, suckling a yellow bird betwixt her fingers!"
As I think back on this I am much ashamed, for I know it was only a child's imagination. I do not like to believe I spoke of pure malice.
All the churchgoers cried out in alarm and followed my pointing finger. They saw nothing and said as much, until Ann cried out that she saw her as well. Whether or not she did I am not sure, but the matter was settled. That night, Martha Corey was arrested, and later she too was hanged. Soon after Martha's hanging, Uncle Samuel sent Betty to live with our uncle Samuel Sewell, wanting to get her away from this witch-infested town in hopes she could recover. He did not care to send me with her, where perhaps I too would have ceased my fits and returned to the child I had been. I remember being glad that Betty was gone, hoping his affections would now turn to me. If anything, though, Uncle Samuel grew more distant towards me, speaking only when he had to- or when I was in the midst of a fit.
As the days, then weeks, then months passed, both my and the other girls' accusations increased. It seemed to us that any could be a witch- and if they could be, then they were. We were rarely challenged in our accusations. If anything, we were encouraged. I remember my uncle questioning me in the evenings of several people, naming names and asking if they were witches or innocent, if they had hurt us. He would tell me the names of those who had not attended church and inquire whether I believed them to be witches. Leading questions for any child, particularly one so eager for attention and approval.
Several times I, along with the other girls, was taken to a nearby town and asked to identify witches. The town would line up in rows, and we would walk around pointing to those we thought looked odd or different. I remember feeling important, needed…the whole town depended on me, trusted my judgment, put the lives of others in my childish hands. I didn't let the probably that I was accusing innocents trouble me.
The fact that so many confessed to being witches only validated my actions in my mind. Of course, there were several who maintained their innocence, but many spoke of their sin of witchcraft and repented. If so many people were witches- saying so themselves- if they really were hurting us, surely the others were too.
All of us, if one of us declared someone a witch, supported the others' claims, at least until the incident with Mary Warren.
Susannah Sheldon, in the midst of a fit, had cried out that it was John and Elizabeth Proctor who hurt her. Soon some of the other girls too saw the couple's specters and cried out on them. We told the adults- but Mary, who was 20, contradicted us. She was Mr. Proctor's house servant and had worked for him for six years. She most sharply said to all who would hear it that they were not witches, that we were mistaken. Any attempts to persuade her did not move her. This was upsetting- what would the others think if one of our own accused us of lies? Would they turn on us too? Would we be returned to our former status, all concern and attention gone?
These thoughts were frightening, but the most damage had not yet been done. When we would not back down, Mary went further still. She accused us of lying, of faking our fits and falsely accusing all the other witches. I, and the other girls, was horrified at her boldness. What if they believed her- declared us insane, or frauds, our credibility shattered?
Mary's words struck fear in my heart, and I retaliated fast. I told the other girls, and then the town, that Mary was now a witch herself- she had given in to the devil's torment. Mary protested at first, but when she discovered no one believed her, she broke down and confessed to signing the devil's book and repented. I was so pleased at her confession; we were at last out of danger. And did her confession not confirm my words? She had been a witch, or she would not have confessed. Everything I had said had been proved correct. I was not wrong.
No one was cruel to Mary after she repented. We even allowed her to rejoin our group of accusers, once she agreed that John and Elizabeth were witches. John was hanged for his deeds, and Goody Proctor spared only because of her pregnancy.
Toward the end of the summer, we had accused a total of 157 people. Of these, 19 had been hanged, and one, Giles Corey, had been crushed by heavy boulders. I am sure many died in prison as well. By this time, people were no longer quite so willing to believe us when we declared someone a witch. They were beginning to question us more intently, not taking it as a fact that as we were children, we were right. Many doubted our assertions that so small a town could have so much evil. Others feared that many we accused had not been witches at all, particularly the wealthier and respected ones, such as Rebecca Nurse and George Burroughs.
I suppose it was when we accused Increase Mather and Governor Phipps' wife that people began to suspect we were wrong. Governor Phipps and Reverend Mather were so indignant that Governor Phipps designed a new court in which to try accused witches. In this one spectral evidence was not allowed. Of course, without this, all of our accusations were rendered useless, for spectral evidence was our only proof.
All of our accusations were stopped then. After a few weeks, Governor Phipps released all the accused witches from prison, even those who had been found guilty. We were all scared at first, sure they would seek vengeance against us. Our fits increased for a time. But as time passed and we were all alive and well, our fits got better, and then stopped entirely. We settled back into a facsimile of life as it had been before. But we were treated differently now. None of the other children, and many adults, would not speak to us or greet us. I was shunned even more than the others, for I had been the most active accuser. I knew many hated me…and this was without knowing my hypocrisy.
If I had thought my illness would make Uncle Samuel love me, I was very mistaken. If anything, he barely looked at me. And the proof of this is when I turned 15, he showed me out the door, telling me that he had done his duty by his sister in raising me, and as I was now an adult, I was old enough to support myself. With no money, no possessions save the clothing on my back, I found it near impossible for a girl my age to find a job or place to live. Within a week I was forced to become a prostitute. This was to remain my way of life for the next thirty years.
As I look back upon this now, I can only think with bitterness, had I realized as a child what a foolish prank would bring, how my selfish needs would bring the destruction not only upon the lives of others, but also my own, perhaps the entire course of history would be different.