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Abigail Williams (July 12, 1680-1697)was one of the initial accusers in the Salem witch trials of 1692, which led to the arrest and imprisonment of over 150 supposed witches.
Salem Witch Trials
Abigail and her cousin Betty Parris were the first two accusers in the Salem Witch trials of 1692. Williams was eleven years old at the time and she was living with her uncle Samuel Parris in Salem after an Indian raid resulted in the death of her parents (she was one of many Indian raid refugees in Salem). According to Rev. Deodat Lawson, an eyewitness, she and Betty began to have fits in which they ran around rooms flailing their arms, ducking under chairs and trying to climb up the chimney. It is noted that her body contorted into impossible position.
This troubled the villagers of Salem. Samuel Parris, who was the local minister, decided to call in a doctor to determine whether or not these afflictions were medical. The physician, William Griggs, had difficulties understanding the actions of the two young girls. Griggs believed it was not a medical issue, rather, he suggested it must be witchcraft. One of Parris’ slaves, Tituba, was then asked to bake a witch cake— rye mixed with the afflicted girls’ urine— and feed the mixture to a dog. The theory was that if Abigail and Betty were bewitched, the dog would exhibit similar symptoms and prove that witchcraft was indeed present and being practiced. Another reason may have been food poisoning: the girls may have eaten a "Witch's Stew" as part of their games that may have contained inedible or uncooked ingredients. In 1976, Linnda R. Caporael put forward the theory that these strange symptoms may have been caused by ergotism, the ingestion of fungus-infected rye.
Because of Abigail and Betty's claims to be possessed, false accusations would soon be made, resulting in 20 deaths. On February 29, 1692, three women were arrested for suspicion of witchcraft: Sarah Good, Sarah Osborne and Tituba herself. They were all found guilty, but the only one to confess was Tituba. Since the other two women did not confess, Good was hanged, and Osborne died in prison. Tituba was released out of jail a year later, when an unknown person paid her fees for release. Nonetheless, Abigail and Betty’s trend of accusing innocents rapidly spread throughout Salem and nearby villages (especially Andover), leading to the death of at least nineteen people. Martha Corey was hanged, and her husband Giles was pressed to death for refusing to plead. John Proctor and Rebecca Nurse were also executed.
Appearances in fiction and popular culture
Abigail is a major character in the play The Crucible, but she is portrayed as seventeen years old. It is gradually revealed that she had been dancing in the woods with the girls of Salem and performing voodoo rituals with her uncle's slave, Tituba. When rumors begin to circulate that there is witchcraft in the town, Abigail and Betty Parris began to name people as having been in league with the devil, which was the most common way a "witch" was identified, to save themselves. Later, the girls of Salem became witnesses in the court trying the "witches". An added element is that Abigail had previously worked as a maid at the Proctor household and had an affair with John Proctor. In the play and the films made from it, Abigail accuses Goody Proctor (Elizabeth), John's wife, of being a witch in order to take Elizabeth's place as his wife. In the 1957 and 1996 film adaptations of the play, Abigail was portrayed by Mylène Demongeot and Winona Ryder, respectively.
A "sequel" to The Crucible called Abigail / 1702 by Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa debuted in 2013. The play explores the life of the character of Abigail Williams from Arthur Miller's 1953 play ten years after the events of The Crucible.
Abigail is also in the 2010 film The Sorcerer's Apprentice as a minor antagonist. Horvath, the film's main antagonist, releases her from a magical prison called "The Grimhold" and uses her to kidnap the love interest of the main protagonist Dave. After the kidnapping is complete, Horvath absorbs Abigail's powers and steals her pentagram amulet which channels her power. By doing so, Horvath becomes more powerful and is finally able to free his master, Morgana.
In the novel Deliverance from Evil by Frances Hill, Abigail is told by her uncle that she is going to be sent away like her cousin Betty Parris, so for a while she becomes depressed and accepts that she is being tormented and attacked by spectres and witches to the point where she takes a rope and hangs herself in a field near the Parris parsonage. It is unknown if this piece of writing in the story was actually true; others[who?] say that she died in 1697.
- Boyer and Stephen Nissenbaum, Salem Possessed: The Social Origins of Witchcraft. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1974. Print. (pp. 2-3).
- Ergotism: The Satan Loosed in Salem? - Science, vol. 192, April 1976
- Boyer and Stephen Nissenbaum, Salem Possessed: The Social Origins of Witchcraft. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1974. Print. (p. 3).
- Games, Alison. Witchcraft in Early North America. Plymouth: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc., 2010. Print. (p. 176).
- Hall, David. Witch Hunting in Seventeenth Century New England. Boston: Northeastern University Press, 1999. Print. (pp. 280-281).
- "Abigail/1702, Exploring Aftermath of The Crucible, Will Play Cincinnati".
- Bowar, Chad (19 November 2008). "Abigail Williams Interview: A Conversation with Thomas G. Plaguehammer and Ken Sorceron". About.com: Heavy Metal. About.com. Retrieved 6 February 2010.