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Abigail Williams

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Abigail Williams
Bornc. 1681
Died1692 or after (aged 11 or older)[1]
Known forFirst accuser in the Salem witch trials

Abigail Williams (born c. 1681, date of death unknown)[2] was an 11- or 12-year-old girl who, along with nine-year-old Betty Parris, was among the first of the children to falsely accuse their neighbors of witchcraft in 1692; these accusations eventually led to the Salem witch trials.

Salem Trials[edit]

In early 1692, Abigail Williams was living with her relative, Betty Parris's father, the village pastor Samuel Parris, along with his two slaves Tituba and John Indian.

Tituba was part of a group of three women—with Sarah Good and Sarah Osborne—who were the first to be arrested, on February 29, 1692, under the accusation that their specters (ghosts) were afflicting the young girls in Parris' household. The three women were questioned separately but were aware of each other and, in a classic prisoner's dilemma, they were turned against each other. Sarah Good was the first interrogated and held to her innocence. Judge John Hathorne directed all "the children ... to look upon her and see if this were the person that hurt them ... and they all did look upon her" and claimed her specter tormented them. "Sarah Good ... why do you thus torment these poor children?" Hathorne asked. "What do I know, you bring others here and now you charge me with it," Sarah Good responded. Next Hathorne interrogated Sarah Osbourne, who claimed not to know Sarah Good or her full name. But Hathorne told her, "Sarah Good said that it was you that hurt the children." According to the transcript, this distorts what Sarah Good had said, as she had only vaguely referred to the others without naming them, in a way that was only intended to deflect blame from herself.[3] Tituba was interrogated last and was the only of the three women to offer a full and elaborate confession against herself and pointing the finger of blame at the other two women: "Sarah Good and Osbourne would have me hurt the children."[4][5] According to an investigation by Robert Calef that began soon after the trials, Tituba later recanted her confession as forced and claimed abuse from the slaveowner Parris:

"The account she [Tituba] since gives of it is that her master [Parris] did beat her and otherwise abuse her, to make her confess and accuse, such as he [Parris] called her 'sister-witches' and that whatever she said by way of confessing or accusing others, was the effect of such usage."[6]

Further accusations against many others emerged from the Parris household (and others) and eventually led to the imprisonment of hundreds and the deaths of more than 20 in 1692. Sarah Osborne died in prison in May and Sarah Good was executed on July 19 along with four other women. Members of Parris household all managed to survive the entire episode including Tituba, who was released from jail a year later, when the slaveowner Parris paid her prison fees and sold her.[7]

Later life[edit]

After the Salem witch trials, Williams disappeared from records circa 1696.[8] Her fate is unknown.[1]

The Crucible[edit]

In Arthur Miller's 1953 play, The Crucible, a fictionalized story of the Salem witch trials, Abigail Williams is the name of a character whose age in the play is raised a full five or six years, to age 17, and she is motivated by a desire to be in a relationship with John Proctor, a married farmer with whom she had previously had an affair. In the historical record, there is no evidence of John Proctor and Abigail Williams ever meeting before the trials had started. She was portrayed by Winona Ryder in the 1996 film adaptation of the play.

In popular culture[edit]

In John Neal's 1828 novel Rachel Dyer, Abigail Williams appears as the character Bridget Pope.[9] Neal links the origin of the witch hysteria to her sexual development, and her bewitched behavior stems from sexual frustration that is calmed too late when she is reunited with her love interest, Robert Eveleth, after the trials have already begun.[10]

Abigail Williams is an American black metal band formed in 2004.

Abigail appears in the 2010 film The Sorcerer's Apprentice as a minor antagonist. In the film, she was confirmed to be a witch who had both framed and set up others to take the fall for her witchcraft to divert attention from herself, which resulted in the Salem Witch Trials. Her actions and crimes against humanity, coupled with her conspiracy with Horvath to release Morgana, catch the attention of Balthazar Blake, who seals her into the Grimhold so she can do no more harm. She is later released by Horvath to kidnap the main protagonist Dave's love interest, Becky Barnes, only for the former Merlinean to fatally drain her of her magic once she completes the deed.

The 2013 play, Wonders of the Invisible World (originally titled A Discourse on the Wonders of the Invisible World) by Liz Duffy Adams tells the fictional story of Abigail William's return to New England ten years after the witch trials.[11]

Abigail is revealed as the antagonist of the 2014 video game Murdered: Soul Suspect. In the story, flashbacks reveal that she was hanged for her part in the witch trials. Over the centuries, she has existed as a ghost, using her supernatural powers to kill those she believes are witches. In the game's climax, she is seized by demons and dragged to Hell.

Fate/Grand Order, a 2015 online free-to-play role-playing mobile game, has a character under the "Foreigner" class based on both Abigail Williams and Yog-Sothoth. She plays a central role in the plot of the last Pseudo-Singularity chapter, Salem, which takes place during an alternate version of the Salem witch trials.

The 2020 video game Little Hope includes a spin-off of Abigail's history and the Salem witch trials as one of the three timelines.[12][13]

Abigail is the central character in the play Abigail/1702: A Twice Told Tale, by Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa. It premiered at the South Camden Theater Company, Waterfront South Theatre, in Camden, New Jersey, in February 2020.[14]

Convulsive ergotism[edit]

In 1976, Linnda R. Caporael[15][16] put forward the hypothesis that ergot-tainted rye may have been the source of accusations of bewitchment that spurred the Salem witch trials. Caporael argued that many of its convulsive symptoms were all symptoms reported in the Salem witchcraft records. This theory has been refuted by both toxicologists and historians of the Salem witch trials, in part because of the difference in the ages of the core group of accusers, which would have been younger, per prior ergotism epidemics, and would have affected males and females roughly equally. The ergotism theory is critiqued for failing to explain the differences in affliction rates between males and females and that no records suggest the allegedly affected experienced all symptoms to ergotism or had long-term health effects. Additionally, most historical outbreaks of ergotism would affect entire families or communities who shared a similar diet.[17] At the severity of supposed symptoms experienced by accusers, the levels of ergot would have been high enough to cause symptoms in adults in the community.[18][better source needed][19][20]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b "What Happened to Abigail Williams?". Salem Witch Museum. January 16, 2012. Archived from the original on August 12, 2020. Retrieved October 16, 2021.
  2. ^ Rosenthal et al. Records of the Salem Witch-hunt(2014) p.963. The contemporary narrative attributed to Deodat Lawson identifies her as Parris "kins-woman" and "about 12 years" old. (GL Burr, Narratives of the Witchcraft Cases (1914), p. 153. Mary Beth Norton writes, "Despite enormous efforts by many people... it has proved impossible to identify Abigail Williams or her precise relationship to Samuel Parris." (In the Devil's Snare (2002) p.333 fn 11.)
  3. ^ Rosenthal Records p. 127.
  4. ^ Rosenthal Records p. 128.
  5. ^ Yost, Melissa (2002). "Abigail Williams". Salem Witch Trials Documentary Archive and Transcription Project. Charlottesville, Virginia: University of Virginia. Retrieved March 16, 2014.
  6. ^ Robert Calef, More Wonders of the Invisible World (1700) p. 91. Also reprinted in GL Burr p. 343.
  7. ^ Games, Alison (2010). Witchcraft in Early North America. Lanham, Maryland: Rowman & Littlefield. p. 176. ISBN 978-1442203570.
  8. ^ Baker, Emerson W. (2015). A Storm of Witchcraft: The Salem Trials and the American Experience. Oxford, England: Oxford University Press. p. 232. ISBN 978-0190627805. The possible onset of his wife's illness in the winter or spring of 1696 (she died in July) may have influenced Parris. Furthermore, his niece, the afflicted girl Abigail Williams, simply disappears from the records at about this time, and some believe that her death may have had an effect.
  9. ^ Richards, Irving T. (1933). The Life and Works of John Neal (PhD thesis). Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University. p. 697n2. OCLC 7588473.
  10. ^ Fleischmann, Fritz (1983). A Right View of the Subject: Feminism in the Works of Charles Brockden Brown and John Neal. Erlangen, Germany: Verlag Palm & Enke Erlangen. pp. 301–311. ISBN 978-3-7896-0147-7.
  11. ^ Jackson, Debbie Minter (9 July 2013). "A Discourse on the Wonders of the Invisible World". dctheatrescene.com. Retrieved 22 November 2020.
  12. ^ Hardy, Geena (2021-01-09). "The Frustrating Story of 'Little Hope'". Medium. Archived from the original on 2021-07-18. Retrieved 2021-07-18.
  13. ^ Frayna, Marion (2020-04-14). "The Dark Pictures: Little Hope New Trailer Depicts The Salem Witch Trials Like Never Before". Geek Culture. Retrieved 2021-07-18.
  14. ^ "Abigail/1702 A Twice Told Tale — A Regional Premiere". theatrephiladelphia.org. Retrieved 2024-02-02.
  15. ^ Caporael, L. (1976-04-02). "Ergotism: the satan loosed in Salem?". Science. 192 (4234): 21–26. Bibcode:1976Sci...192...21C. doi:10.1126/science.769159. ISSN 0036-8075. PMID 769159.
  16. ^ "Ergotism - The Satan Loosed in Salem - Caporael 1976.pdf". docs.google.com.
  17. ^ Spanos, N. P.; Gottlieb, J. (1976-12-24). "Ergotism and the Salem Village witch trials". Science. 194 (4272): 1390–1394. Bibcode:1976Sci...194.1390S. doi:10.1126/science.795029. ISSN 0036-8075. PMID 795029.
  18. ^ "Were the witches of Salem a result of poisoning with ergot fungus?". January 14, 2005. Retrieved June 18, 2015.
  19. ^ Woolf, Alan (2000). "Witchcraft or Mycotoxin? The Salem Witch Trials". Journal of Toxicology: Clinical Toxicology. 38 (4): 457–460. doi:10.1081/CLT-100100958. PMID 10930065. S2CID 10469595. Retrieved 25 April 2021.
  20. ^ Forletta, Briana. "The Salem Witch Trials" (PDF). Wilfrid Laurier University Department of History. Wilfrid Laurier University. Retrieved 25 April 2021.