Elizabeth "Betty" Parris (November 28, 1682 – March 21, 1760) was one of the young women who accused other people of being witches during the Salem witch trials. The accusations made by Betty (Elizabeth) and her cousin Abigail caused the direct death of 20 Salem residents: 19 were hanged (mostly women) and one man was pressed to death.
Her father, Samuel Parris, was a well-known minister in the Salem Church. Her mother, Elizabeth Parris, died a few years after the witch trials. Her older brother Thomas Parris was born in 1681, and her younger sister Susannah Parris was born in 1687. Others living in the Parris household included Betty's orphaned cousin, Abigail Williams, and Tituba, a slave from Barbados.
Her father was appointed the Owner of Salem Church in 1688 following a community effort to find a new minister. Wife Elizabeth, daughter Betty, son Thomas, daughter Sussanah, Abigail Williams, and Tituba all moved from Boston to join Parris in Salem. By contract, Parris and his family were granted to live in the ministry house and owned the land around it. The house accommodated the whole Parris family including Abigail, Tituba, and another slave by the name of John. According to A Quest for Security (page 83).
Overview of the Salem Witch Trials
In 1692, the Salem Witch Trials broke out after several girls claimed to be targeted by a 'devilish hand'. After several months, over 150 men, women, and children were charged with witchcraft and sorcery. The Trials were diminishing around September 1692 when the public began to resist the idea of witchcraft. Eventually, the Massachusetts General Court granted freedom to all those accused of sorcery and apologized to their families for the hardships created from the Salem Witch Trials.
The Salem Witch Trials
Shortly after Parris Samuel affairs with the church in 1692, his daughter Elizabeth Parris and niece Abigail Williams seemed to go missing for short periods of time. "...along with other New England youth, "Elizabeth and Abigail had been led away with little Sorceries" (105). Elizabeth, Abigail, and the girls attempted fortune-telling methods during their missing periods in hopes of discovering future husbands and social statuses. They used an object called a "Venus glass", which allowed them to observe the shape of an egg white as it floated in a glass of water. In the water, the egg white would resemble a shape or symbol depicting their futures.In one instance, a girl found a coffin shape inside her glass and became quite frightened after the incident according to John Hale's A Modest Enquiry Into the Nature of Witchcraft.
In February 1692, strange illnesses appeared after the girls tinkered with fortune-telling. Elizabeth acted abnormal by hiding "...under furniture, complained of fever, barked like a dog, and screamed and cried out of pain" and her body convulsed into un-human-like positions. Abigail complained of similar symptoms shortly after Betty's episodes. John Hale claimed to have personally seen the harm being done to Elizabeth and Abigail, writing in A Quest for Security that "These Children ... were bitten and pinched by invisible agents; their arms, necks, and backs turned this way and that way and returned back again, so it was impossible for them to do of themselves" (106). Betty's father tried prayer and home remedies as a cure but nothing helped. Soon enough, he called in physician William Griggs and minister John Hale for a diagnosis. Both agreed that Elizabeth (Betty) and Abigail were suffering from witchcraft.
There are more logical reasons the girls fell under these illnesses. One thought was concluded as a compilation of disorders such as asthma, stress, epilepsy, and even boredom. Others believe it was caused by ergots in the rye, which have been known to cause similar symptoms.
Elizabeth's other friends were also beginning to show similar symptoms of bewitching. Griggs found it difficult to key in on an exact cure and noticed the victims were only children. This enabled other villagers to believe that this event was indeed brought on by witchcraft. A neighbor, Mary Sibley, recommended a witch's cake to reveal the names of the witches. She instructed Tituba to bake a rye cake with the victim's urine and feed the cake to a dog. Dogs were believed to support witches and their super natural powers by following the witches' requests. Without alleviation of the illness, Betty eventually named Tituba as one of the 'Evil Hands'. Linder suggests Elizabeth and Abigail wrote their story before making any accusations allowing their scenario to be more realistic. In the meantime, Tituba underwent questioning and other victims, such as Ann Putnam Jr. and Elizabeth (Betty) Hubbard, began to name their culprits as well. Other specified witches included Sarah Osborne and Sarah Good were questioned. All three would likely have had few if any advocates on their behalf due to their low social status in Salem. During their trials, Tituba confessed as well as turning in the other two women.
Later that year in March, Elizabeth dreamed about a "Black Man" who she presumed was the Devil. He wanted her to join his forces and to be "ruled by him". However, Betty's family found this extremely terrifying and sent her off to live with another family, the Sewalls, hoping she could get away from witchcraft. In the Sewall household, Elizabeth did experience some symptoms but ultimately regained full health.
Life after the Trials
In 1710, aged 27, she married Benjamin Baron, a yeoman, trader, cordwainer, and shoemaker. Her father still cared for her and her siblings. Parris provided her with "household stuff" to better furnish her home with Benjamin. He bought her silver, money, and plate as well as pictures and décor to hang on the walls. She and Baron had four children: Thomas, Elizabeth, Catherine, and Susanna. Elizabeth survived her husband by six years, dying on March 21, 1760 in Concord, Massachusetts, aged 77.
Appearances in fiction and films
This play is loosely based on actual events that Betty/Elizabeth Parris and other contributing characters faced during the actual Salem Witch Trials in the 1600s. Some aspects of the play are accurate in comparison to the real event while others are not. According to all reliable sources, Elizabeth had two siblings and in The Crucible she has none. She is a supporting character as a ten-year-old girl who falls under a strange illness, which leads to dissembling over a bunch of young women's behavior and, soon, many accusations of witchcraft against other citizens of Salem.
- Brooks, Rebecca B. Elizabeth Parris: First Afflicted Girl of the Salem Witchcraft Trials. June 10, 2013. Profile, historyofmassachusetts.org; accessed December 23, 2014.
- Profile, womenshistory.about.com; accessed December 23, 2014.
- Gragg, Larry. A Quest for Security: The Life of Samuel Parris 1653-1720. Westport, CT: Greenwood Publishing Group, Inc., 1990.
- Linder, Douglas. The Witchcraft Trials in Salem: A Commentary, law2.umkc.edu; accessed November 29, 2014.
- Salem Witch Trials, history.com; accessed December 23, 2014.
- Neal, John (1828). Rachel Dyer: North American Story. Shirley and Hyde.
- The Crucible by Arthur Miller (1952); accessed December 23, 2014.
- Profile, sparknotes.com; accessed November 30, 2014.
- Profile, hatboro-horsham.org; accessed December 23, 2014.