Samuel Parris (1653 – February 27, 1720) was the Puritan minister in Salem, Massachusetts during the Salem witch trials; he was also the father of one of the afflicted girls, and the uncle of another.
Samuel Parris, son of Thomas Parris, was born in London, England to a family of modest financial success and religious nonconformity. Samuel emigrated to Boston in the early 1660s, where he attended Harvard University at his father's behest. When his father died in 1673, Samuel left Harvard to take up his inheritance in Barbados, where he maintained a sugar plantation and bought two people as slaves: Tituba and John Indian.
In 1680, after a hurricane hit Barbados, damaging much of his property, Parris sold a little of his land and returned to Boston, where he brought Tituba and John and married Elizabeth Eldridge. Elizabeth Eldridge was noted by many as being incredibly beautiful, said to be one of the most beautiful women in Salem Village. Together they had three children, Thomas Parris, Betty Parris, and Susannah Parris. Although the plantation supported his merchant ventures, Parris was dissatisfied with his lack of financial security and began to look to the ministry. In July 1689, he became minister of Salem Village (now Danvers), Massachusetts.
Salem Village was a contentious place to live and was known to be quarrelsome by neighbouring towns and villages. Its dispersed settlement pattern may have resulted in a lack of a sense of common purpose that may have united more orderly and arranged communities. Samuel Parris was the fourth reverend appointed in a series of unsuccessful attempts to keep a permanent minister. James Bayley (1673–79) and George Burroughs (1680–83), each stayed only a few years, departing after the congregation failed to pay their full rates. Deodat Lawson (1684–88) left with less contention. Further tension was caused by Parris' delay accepting the position, factionalism already present, and Parris' own inability to resolve his parishioners' disputes. Many of the town people thought that Parris' wife, Elizabeth Eldridge, was too beautiful and that her beauty was a clear sign that Parris was a man of incredible lust. There were also disputes over Samuel Parris' pay and, in October 1691, the town vowed to stop paying Parris' wages. The issue was further antagonized by Parris' perceived arrogance when he purchased gold candlesticks for the meetinghouse and new vessels for the sacraments. These issues, and others that were more personal between the villages, continued to grow unabated. In this atmosphere, serious conflict may have been inevitable.
The events that led to the Salem witch trials began when Parris' daughter Betty Parris and her cousin Abigail Williams accused Parris' slave Tituba of witchcraft. Parris beat Tituba until she confessed herself a witch, and John, her husband, became, through fear, the accuser of others. The delusion spread, many were apprehended, most of whom were imprisoned. Others accused included the wife of Governor William Phips. During the 16 month duration of the Salem witch craze, 19 persons were hanged, and one, Giles Corey was pressed to death. As Samuel Parris had been an active prosecutor in the witchcraft cases, in 1693 his parish brought charges against Parris for his part in the trials. Parris apologized for his error is his essay “Meditions for Peace,” which he presented in November 1694. Increase Mather led a church council which then vindicated him.
Parris was then involved in a dispute with his congregation over parsonage land he had seized to compensate himself for salary he was owed. The dispute found its way to an Ipswich court, which in 1697 ordered his salary to be paid and the land to be returned. However by 1696 Parris had found his situation untenable; he resigned that year and left Salem.
Records in the Suffolk Deeds indicate it likely he returned to business in Boston in 1697. He preached two or three years at Stow. He moved to Concord (1704/05). He also preached six months in Dunstable in 1711. He died on February 27, 1720, in the town of Sudbury, where he spent his last years. His wife Elizabeth had died in 1696, and in 1699 he married Dorothy Noyes (24 years old) in Sudbury.
Parris features in Arthur Miller's play The Crucible, set against the backdrop of the witch trials. In the play, his daughter Betty Parris is the first to become ill because of supposed witchcraft. He is also a character in the book Tituba of Salem Village by Ann Petry, another work of fiction relating to the witch trials. In the 1957 and 1996 film adaptations of Miller's play, he was portrayed by Jean Debucourt and Bruce Davison, respectively. In the novel Supernatural: One Year Gone, he is portrayed as having been manipulated by the real witches into starting the trials and also manipulated the girls to accuse his enemies and rivals to get rid of them. At the end of the novel, after the truth is revealed, he swears to put an end to the trials and release the innocent women.
- Gragg, pp. 1–2
- Gragg, pp. 14–32
- One or more of the preceding sentences incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain: Wilson, James Grant; Fiske, John, eds. (1900). "Parris, Samuel". Appletons' Cyclopædia of American Biography. New York: D. Appleton
- Fiske, Sarah Symms. A Confession of Faith: or, A Summary of Divinity. Drawn Up By a Young Gentle-Woman, in the Twenty-Fifth Year of Her Age. Boston: Benjamin Elliot, 1704. Print
- Gragg, pp. 39–76
- Gragg, pp. 45–46
- Starkey, Marion L. (1949). The Devil in Massachusetts: A Modern Inquiry into the Salem Witch Trials. New York: Alfred A. Knopf. pp. 26–28.
- Rines, George Edwin, ed. (1920). "Parris, Samuel". Encyclopedia Americana.
- Raymond P. Stearns (1934). "Parris, Samuel". Dictionary of American Biography. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons.
- Gragg, Larry (1990). A Quest for Security: The Life of Samuel Parris, 1653–1720. New York: Greenwood. ISBN 978-0-313-27282-0.
- Fowler, Samuel P. (1857). An Account of the Life and Character of the Rev. Samuel Parris, of Salem Village. Salem.
- Upham, Charles W., Salem Witchcraft. Reprint from the 1867 edition, in two volumes. Dover Publications: Mineola, NY. 2000. ISBN 978-0-486-40899-6
- Webber, C.H. and W. S. Nevins, Witchcraft in Salem Village, (Boston, 1892)