Betty Parris (Salem witch trials)

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Elizabeth "Betty" Parris (born November 28, 1682 – died March 21, 1760)[1] was one of the young women who accused other people of being witches during the Salem witch trials.

Her father, Reverend 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.[1] Aged nine, Betty became one of the leading accusers in the Salem witch trials of 1692. 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.[2]

Overview of the Salem Witch Trials[edit]

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.[3]

Life Before the Trials, as told by Reverend Samuel Parris[edit]

After much negotiation and many arguments, the farmers and villagers of Salem Village were granted their request of finding a new minister for the Salem Church. Once the village created a search committee, meetings were conducted in order to find a new minister. There is little knowledge on how Samuel Parris was found and contacted by the committee but ten days later Samuel discussed the job with the committee, he interviewed with the Salem congregation by hosting a sample sermon in front of all its members. By popular vote, he was appointed as the new minister in 1688 after much debate over his salary contract.[4] Wife Elizabeth, daughter Elizabeth son Thomas daughter Sussanah, Abigail Williams, and Tituba all moved from Boston to join the Reverend in Salem. [5]

By contract, Reverend 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), the ministry home was pretty spacious for family during that time period. The house was two stories high with "two main rooms downstairs with a cellar under one of them, two upstairs rooms, garret space, and a lean-to off the back". The Parris family was doing very well at the time especially with the Reverend's revenue and produce. The family received produce such as grains, dairy, and meat as two-thirds of his salary.[4]

Parris' relationship with his family was determined by his sermons as there is little evidence of his personal life today. The Reverend was a strong believer in masculine dominance but understood the importance of affection and respect towards his wife. At church, he expressed priority of affection and love of a spouse during his sermons. "These were not injunctions idly given, for it was obvious that [Samuel] Parris cared deeply for his wife"[6] However, his relationship with his children was quite different. Samuel expected obedience from his children and did not disdain some disciplinary actions. He emphasized a tactic of fear by disabling children to behave badly to help direct them toward a better path. However, Parris notes that all parenting decisions must be done with purpose and "out of love".[7][4]

Reverend Parris was becoming more irritated with his congregation. He accused the members of neglecting the sermons and referring to them as "dead bodies" as he caught them inattentive or 'dozing off'. He found the members very sinful and did not establish a solution for their actions by creating a better relationship with God. Parris began targeting members of the congregation through crowd confessions. However, this tactic did not work and Parris quickly grew from irritation to anger. The church committee found him irrational and refused to pay him in lumber for his salary. Without his full salary, Parris and his family would undergo a full winter without lumber for fire and warmth. He contemplated that Satan was plotting against the church in Salem in 1692 thus beginning the conspiracy of the Salem witch trials.[4]

The Salem Witch Trials[edit]

Shortly after Samuel's 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).[4] 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 resmeble 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.[1]

In February of 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"[1] and her body convulsed into un-human-like positions.[2] Abigail complained of similar symptoms shortly after Betty's episodes.[1] 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).[4] Betty's father tried prayer and home remedies as a cure but nothing helped. Soon enough, he called in Dr. William Griggs and Reverend John Hale for a diagnosis. Both agreed that Elizabeth (Betty) and Abigail were suffering from witchcraft.[2]

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. Another idea mentioned by Linda Caporael was "convulsive ergotism". This illness is the cause of ergot-infected rye in grain products. Ergot is a fungus as a result of moist climates or area where rye was kept. During that time, Cotton Mather constructed a book, Memorable Providences, explaining witchcraft by an Irishwoman in Boston. Mather's book was more believable at the time because of the accusations of demons and the Devil's work at hand.[5]

Elizabeth's other friends were also beginning to show similar symptoms of bewitching. Dr. 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. [5] A neighbor, Mary Sibley, recommended a witch's cake to reveal the names of the witches.[2] 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.[5] Without alleviation of the illness, Betty eventually named Tituba as one of the 'Evil Hands'.[2] Linder suggests Elizabeth and Abigail wrote their story before making any accusations allowing their scenario to be more realistic.[5] 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. [2]

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".[2] 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.[1]

Life after the Trials[edit]

In 1693, the Salem Witch Trials ended and Elizabeth never confessed to her accusations. [clarification needed][1] In 1710, aged 27, she married Benjamin Baron, a yeoman, trader, cordwainer, and shoemaker. Her father still cared for her and her siblings. Reverend 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 decor to hang on the walls.[4] After her father's generosity, she wanted to build her life with Benjamin and bore four children: Thomas, Elizabeth Jr., Catherine, and Susanna. Elizabeth survived her husband by six years, passing away on March 21, 1760 in Concord, Massachusetts, aged 77.[2][1]

Appearances in fiction and films[edit]

Elizabeth Parris appears as Samuel Parris' daughter in John Neal's historical novel, Rachel Dyer (1828).[8]

The Crucible[edit]

Main article: The Crucible

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,[5][2][4][1] Elizabeth had two siblings and in The Crucible she has none.[9] 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. She is also a friend to Elizabeth Proctor[10][11]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i Brooks, Rebecca B. Elizabeth Parris: First Afflicted Girl of the Salem Witch Trials. June 10, 2013. Profile],; accessed December 23, 2014.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i Profile,; accessed December 23, 2014.
  3. ^ Salem Witch Trials,; accessed December 23, 2014.
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h Gragg, Larry. A Quest for Security: The Live of Samuel Parris 1653-1720. Westport, CT: Greenwood Publishing Group, Inc., 1990.
  5. ^ a b c d e f Linder, Douglas. The Witchcraft Trials in Salem: A Commentary,; accessed November 29, 2014.
  6. ^ A Quest for Security (page 84)
  7. ^ A Quest for Security (page 85)
  8. ^ Neal, John (1828). Rachel Dyer: a North American Story. Shirley and Hyde. 
  9. ^ The Crucible by Arthur Miller (1952); accessed December 23, 2014.
  10. ^ Profile,; accessed November 30, 2014.
  11. ^ Profile,; accessed December 23, 2014.