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Tituba Indian
Tituba-Longfellow-Corey (cropped).jpg
Illustration of Tituba by John W.
Ehninger, 1902
Nationality Barbadian
Other names Tituba the Witch
Criminal charge Witchcraft
Criminal penalty Imprisonment
Criminal status Released
Spouse(s) John Indian
Children Violet

Tituba was an enslaved Barbadian woman, owned by Samuel Parris[1] of Danvers, Massachusetts. Tituba was the first to be accused of practicing witchcraft during the 1692 Salem witch trials.


Tituba was the first person to be accused by Elizabeth Parris and Abigail Williams of witchcraft. She was also the first to confess to witchcraft in Salem Village. At first she denied that she had anything to do with witchcraft, but Samuel Parris beat her until she confessed to helping Mary Sibley make a witchcake. When questioned later, she added that she knew about occult techniques from her mistress in Barbados, who taught her how to ward herself from evil powers and how to reveal the cause of witchcraft. Since such knowledge was not meant for harm, Tituba again asserted to Parris she was not a witch, but admitted she had participated in an occult ritual when she made the witchcake in an attempt to help Elizabeth Parris.[2][3]

Other women and men from surrounding villages were accused of witchcraft and arrested at the Salem witchcraft trials. Not only did Tituba accuse others in her confession, but she talked about black dogs, hogs, a yellow bird, red and black rats, cats, a fox and a wolf. Tituba talked about riding sticks to different places. She confessed that Sarah Osborne possessed a creature with the head of a woman, two legs, and wings. Since it mixed various perspectives on witchcraft, Tituba's confession confused listeners, and its similarities to certain stock tropes of demonology caused some Salem Village residents to believe that Satan was among them.[2]


The race of Tituba has been disputed for 150 years. Undoubtedly, the racial politics of the mid-19th century are responsible for this debate.[1] Despite this, all the documents from the Salem Witch Trials that mention Tituba characterize her as a Native American woman. The ethnicity of Tituba has been surrounded by controversy from the first historical analysis of her. It was initially assumed that she was of Indian descent.[2]

Support of Native or mixed ancestry[edit]

In the Spanish language, the word titubear means ‘to stammer.’ If Tituba hailed from the Caribbean, or was native to the South American continent bordering the Caribbean, as Elaine G. Breslaw claims, she could have surely been given a Spanish name. Furthermore, in the 16th century the Spanish identified a tribe of Indians around the Orinoco River that they named "Tibetibe". Anthropologists also distinguished a group of Arawaks around the Amacura River called the “Tetebetana.”[2] In Latin, often a source of slaves' names in Europe and America, tituba means 'totter' or 'stagger'. The name Tituba could originate from any one of the above sources.

The origins of the debate can be traced to Charles Upham's Salem Witchcraft, published in 1867. Upham wrote that Tituba and her husband, John Indian, hailed from the Caribbean (or New Spain as it was called in the 19th century.[4]) As African slaves and Native slaves in Spanish colonies were allowed to have relationships with each other, there were also so-called zambaggoa children born of these unions.

Chadwick Hansen, in a 1974 article published in The New England Quarterly, states:

Over the years the magic Tituba practiced has been changed by historians and dramatists from English, to Native, to African. More startlingly, her own race has been changed from Native, to half-Native and half-Negro, to Negro…There is no evidence to support these changes, but there is an instructive lesson in American historiography to be read in them.[4]

Support of African ancestry[edit]

In supporting the African origin of Tituba, Veta Smith Tucker states in an article published in the March 2000 issue of the Journal of Black Studies that Puritan society “…did not perceive African and Indian as thoroughly contrasting racial identities,” and often lumped the two together.[5] According to Smith Tucker, this would explain why 17th century documents labeled Tituba an Indian (Native American). However, the documents in the case of Mary Black, another accused witch of Salem, indicate a clear distinction between Indians and Africans. In the examination of Black, the records state, “Mr. Samuell Parris being desired to take in wrighting the Examination of Mary Black a black Woman…”[6]

Further complicating the debate is the name Tituba itself. According to Smith Tucker, tituba is a Yoruba verb that means ‘to atone.[5] The Yoruba are an ethnic people native to southwestern Nigeria that speak a language of the same name. Also, titi in that same language means 'endless'. [5]


Tituba, as portrayed in the 19th century by artist Alfred Fredericks in W.C. Bryant's A Popular History of the United States

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, in his 1868 play entitled Giles Corey of the Salem Farms, describes Tituba as "the daughter of a man all black and fierce…He was an Obi man, and taught [her] magic." Obeah (also spelled Obi) is a specifically African and Afro-American system of magic.”[4]

She featured prominently in the 1952 play The Crucible by Arthur Miller as well as the 1957 and 1996 film adaptations of the play. The image of Tituba as the instigator of witchcraft at Salem was reinforced by the opening scene of The Crucible, which owes much to Marion L. Starkey's work The Devil in Massachusetts (1949).[7]

In the play, Tituba was brought to Salem from Barbados, was taught how to conjure up spirits, and had allegedly dabbled in sorcery, witchcraft, and Satanism. These fictional accounts hold that Abigail Williams and the other girls tried to use her knowledge when dancing in the woods before the trials began; it was, in fact, their being caught that led to those events. With the original intention of covering up their own sinful deeds, Tituba was the one to be accused by Abigail, who had in fact drunk from a magic cup Tituba made to kill John Proctor's wife, Elizabeth, and to bewitch him into loving her. She and the other girls claimed to have seen Tituba "with the Devil". It is ironic that the belief that Tituba led these girls astray has persisted in popular lore, fiction and non fiction alike. The charge, which is seen by some as having barely disguised racial undertones, is based on the imagination of authors like Starkey, who mirrors Salem’s accusers when she asserts that "I have invented the scenes with Tituba .... but they are what I really believe happened."[7]

Tituba is also the main character in the 1956 book Tituba of Salem Village by Ann Petry. Written for children 10 and up, it portrays Tituba as a black West Indian woman who tells stories about life in Barbados to the village girls. These stories are mingled with existing superstitions and half-remembered pagan beliefs on the part of Puritans (for instance, it is a white neighbor who makes the witch cake, rather than Tituba herself), and the witchcraft hysteria is partly attributed to a sort of cabin fever during a particularly bitter winter. Petry's portrayal of the helplessness of women in that period, particularly slaves and indentured servants, is key to understanding her take on the Tituba legend.

Tituba is featured in the novel I, Tituba: Black Witch of Salem (1986) by Maryse Condé.

Tituba appears in the novel Calligraphy of the Witch (2007) by Alicia Gaspar de Alba as an Arawak Indian from Guyana fluent in several languages, and the only person in the Boston area who understands Spanish. She is a friend and English tutor to the slave Concepción Benavidez who is accused of witchcraft in the Boston area because of her Mexican and Catholic culture.[8]

She is also featured as a main character on WGN's television series Salem (2013).

In American Horror Story: Coven (2013-2014), young African-American witch Queenie states that she is a descendant of Tituba.[9] Later in the series, Voodoo Queen Marie Laveau and Supreme witch Fiona Goode have an in-depth discussion of Tituba's history and legacy. They suggest her magic came from her Arawak ancestry.[10]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Schiff, Stacy (November 2015). "The Devil's Tongue". Smithsonian. Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution. 46 (7): 34–39. 
  2. ^ a b c d Breslaw, Elaine G. Tituba, Reluctant Witch of Salem: Devilish Indians and Puritan Fantasies. New York: New York University Press, 1996, pp. 107, 170, et al.
  3. ^ Wikisource-logo.svg Wilson, James Grant; Fiske, John, eds. (1900). "Parris, Samuel". Appletons' Cyclopædia of American Biography. New York: D. Appleton. 
  4. ^ a b c Hansen, Chadwick. "The Metamorphosis of Tituba, or Why American Intellectuals Can’t Tell a Native Witch from a Negro", The New England Quarterly 47 (March 1974), pp. 3–12.
  5. ^ a b c Smith Tucker, Veta. "Purloined Identity: The Racial Metamorphosis of Tituba of Salem Village", Journal of Black Studies (March 2000), pp. 624–34.
  6. ^ The Salem Witchcraft Papers, lib.virginia.edu; accessed November 30, 2015.
  7. ^ a b Bloom, Harold (2008). Bloom's Modern Critical Intepretations – Arthur Miller's The Crucible (New ed.). Infobase Publishing. p. 209. ISBN 9780791098288. Retrieved 24 December 2015. 
  8. ^ "Calligraphy of the Witch: A Novel". Serendipity Lit. Retrieved 28 June 2016. 
  9. ^ Davies, Madeleine (17 October 2013). "American Horror Story: Which Witch Was the Most Badass This Week?". Jezebel. Gawker Media. Retrieved 26 April 2016. 
  10. ^ Bricker, Tierney (17 October 2013). "American Horror Story: Coven: Witches and Bitches Lowdown!". E! News. E! Entertainment Television. Retrieved 26 April 2016. 


  • Breslaw, E.G. (1996). Tituba, Reluctant Witch of Salem: Devilish Indians and Puritan Fantasies. New York: New York University Press. ISBN 0814713076. 

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