Betty Parris: First Afflicted Girl of the Salem Witch Trials

Elizabeth “Betty” Parris was the first afflicted girl and one of the main accusers during the Salem Witch Trials of 1692.

Born in Boston on November 28, 1682, Betty moved to Salem with her family and slave Tituba in November of 1689 when her father, Samuel Parris, was appointed the new minister of Salem Village.

Betty Parris & the Salem Witch Trials:

In the winter of 1691-1692, some of the afflicted girls reportedly dabbled in fortune-telling techniques, such as a “venus glass” in which the girls dropped an egg white into a glass of water so that a shape or symbol appeared, in an attempt to learn more about their future husbands and social status.

Although some sources indicate that it was Tituba who taught the girls these fortune-telling techniques, there is no mention of this in the court records and no evidence that she was involved.

According to the book A Modest Enquiry Into the Nature of Witchcraft by local minister, Reverend John Hale, on one of these occasions the girls became terrified when they saw the shape of a coffin in the glass.

"The House Where Witchcraft Started," photo of the Salem Village Parsonage, home of Samuel Parris, Danvers, Mass, published in Witchcraft Illustrated by Henrietta D. Kimball, circa 1892. This house is actually just an addition that was added to the parsonage house in 1734. The original parsonage house was torn down in 1784 and this addition was then moved to Sylvan Street in Danvers.

“The House Where Witchcraft Started,” photo of the Salem Village Parsonage, home of Samuel Parris, Danvers, Mass, published in Witchcraft Illustrated by Henrietta D. Kimball, circa 1892. This house is actually just an addition that was added to the parsonage house in 1734. The original parsonage house was torn down in 1784 and this addition was then moved to Sylvan Street in Danvers.

Shortly after the incident, Betty began behaving strangely in January of 1692, when she hid under furniture, complained of fever, barked like a dog, screamed and cried out in pain.

Soon after, Abigail Williams also started showing the same symptoms. Concerned, Samuel Parris called for a local doctor, who is believed to be Dr. Griggs, to examine them.

Unable to find anything physically wrong with the girls, the doctor determined they must be bewitched.

Hale described the events in his book A Modest Enquiry Into the Nature of Witchcraft:

“In the latter end of the year 1691, Mr. Samuel Parris, pastor of the church is Salem Village, had a daughter of nine, and a niece of about eleven years of age, sadly afflicted of they knew not what distempers; and he made his application to the physicians, yet still they grew worse: And at length one physician gave his opinion, that they were under an evil hand. This the neighbours quickly took up, and concluded they were bewitched.

He had also an Indian man servant, and his wife who afterward confessed, that without the knowledge of their master or mistress, they had taken some of the afflicted persons urine, and mixing it with meal had made a cake, & baked it, to find out the witch, as they said.

After this, the afflicted persons cryed out of the Indian woman, named Tituba, that she did pinch, prick and grievously torment them, and that they saw her here and there, where nobody else could. Yet they could not tell where she was, and what she did, when out of their humane sight.

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 as it was, impossible for them to do of themselves, and beyond the power of any epileptick fits, or natural disease disease to effect. Sometimes they were taken dumb, their mouth flopped, their throats choaked, their limbs wracked and tormented so as might move an heart of stone, to sympathize with them, with bowels of compassion for them.”

Although the residents of Salem believed the girls were bewitched, modern theories suggest the girls were possibly suffering from either boredom, child abuse, epilepsy, mental illness or even a disease brought on by eating fungus infected rye.

In an attempt to cure Betty and prevent her from getting further involved in the witch trials, her parents sent her away from Salem Village (which is now modern day Danvers) to live in the home of Samuel Parris’ cousin Stephen Sewall in Salem town.

According to the book An Account of the Life, Character, & c. of Samuel Parris, Betty continued to have fits when living in the Sewall household but eventually recovered:

“Parris appears to have been very desirous of preventing his daughter, Elizabeth, from participating in the excitement at the village. She was sent by her father, at the commencement of the delusion, to reside at Salem with Capt. Stephen Sewall.

While there, the Captain and his wife were much discouraged in effecting a cure, as she continued to have sore fits. Elizabeth said that the great black man, came to her, and told her, if she would be ruled by him, she should have whatever she desired, and go to a Golden city.

She related this to Mrs. Sewall, who immediately told the child it was the devil, and he was a liar, and bid her to tell him so if he came to her again; which she did accordingly the next time the black man came to her. The devil, it it would seem, unaccustomed, in those days, to experience such resistance, and utterly astonished at the cool impudence of Betty Parris, never troubled her afterwards; and, although this girl was one of the first originators of the witchcraft delusion, in connection with her cousin Abigail Williams, she appears to have had, afterwards, but little to do with witchcraft.

This arose in consequence of following the sage advice of Mrs. Sewall, in getting rid of the devil; or, what was more probable, in her father taking her from the weekly circle of accusing and bewitching girls, and placing her in a very respectable family in Salem.”

Although Betty’s name appeared on the first complaint during the trials, she never testified in any court.

Betty Parris After the Salem Witch Trials:

The Salem Witch Trials ended in 1693 and Samuel Parris was later dismissed from his job, in 1697, after years of quarrels and lawsuits between him and his parishioners.

Parris then moved away from Salem with Betty and his family, serving as a preacher in Dunstable and then Sudbury, where Betty lived until adulthood.

In 1710, Betty married a shoemaker, named Benjamin Baron, and had four children. She passed away at her home in Sudbury, Ma on March 21, 1760.

Betty Parris appeared as a supporting character in Arthur Miller’s 1953 play The Crucible. In the play, Betty accuses her cousin Abigail Williams of practicing witchcraft and drinking blood in order to kill John Proctor’s wife Elizabeth, although this did not happen in real life.

Although many of the Salem residents involved in the witch trials were immediately remorseful for their actions and apologized for what they had done, Betty Parris never issued an apology.

Only one of the afflicted girls, Ann Putnam Jr., ever apologized for her actions during the Salem Witch Trials.

The site of the Salem Village Parsonage, where Betty Parris lived at the time of the Salem Witch Trials, was excavated in 1970 and is open to visitors.

Betty Parris Historical Sites:

Salem Village Parsonage Archaeological Site
Address: Rear 67 Centre Street, Danvers, Ma (site is accessible via a cart path)

Fowler, Samuel P. An Account of the Life, Character, & c. of Samuel Parris. William Ives and George W. Pease, 1857.
Mather, Cotton. The Wonders of the Invisible World. John Dunton, 1693.
Boyer, Paul Samuel. Salem Possessed: The Social Origins of Witchcraft. Harvard University Press, 1974.
Norton, Mary Beth. In the Devil’s Snare: The Salem Witchcraft Crisis of 1692. Vintage Books, 2002.
Roach, Marilynne K. The Salem Witch Trials: A Day-by-day Chronicle Of A Community Under Siege. Taylor Trade Publishing, 2004.
Goss, K David. The Salem Witch Trials: A Reference Guide. Greenwood Press, 2008.
Hale, John. A Modest Enquiry Into the Nature of Witchcraft. B. Green and J. Allen, 1702.

Betty Parris: First Afflicted Girl of Salem Witch Trials

About Rebecca Beatrice Brooks

Rebecca Beatrice Brooks is the author and publisher of the History of Massachusetts Blog. Rebecca is a freelance journalist and history lover who got her start in journalism working for small-town newspapers in Massachusetts and New Hampshire after she graduated from the University of New Hampshire with a B.A. in journalism. Visit this site's About page to find out more about Rebecca.

12 thoughts on “Betty Parris: First Afflicted Girl of the Salem Witch Trials

  1. Jennifer Noah

    This was all caused by Ergot, which is found in wheat. By eating this one will have delusions, vommiting, convulsions and uncontrolled fits.

    1. -Post-Catastrophe-

      The rye the people ate had been completely poisoned by the ergot, since it spreads so quickly. In saying this, you mean to say that everyone in both Salems would have been contaminated. It is possible that ergot did it, but I believe it is very unlikely. One theory I believe in is that all accusers had done this because of the Puritan rules. In not being allowed to do activities most kids take part in, such as talking and playing with friends, they were expected NOT to do that, and act as adults do. Since the Puritans are against witchcraft, and would do most anything to remove it from the world, they were terrified that people could take part in the “Devil’s Magic.” When Abigail and Betty started acting up, it was clear to them this was the work of evil, and they took it as their duty to destroy the “evil.” The girls could have taken this as an opportunity to have fun, and act out as if they were allowed to. This is just a theory, but I believe it could be the cause of all of this. Sorry for the delay in having this posted… I have just found this site today (the day I am posting this) Anyways.. thanks for reading!

    1. Rin Clark

      Yea, there are some people who speculate that they were faking it because they only seized when people came to visit them and the girls didn’t show any of the symptoms, as stated in the article. Everything that they showed could have been faked and people with Ergot poisoning throw up and have diarrhea.

  2. J ana

    That photo purporting to be of the Samuel Parris house is not the original house. There are no photos of the original house. The house in the photo was built in the 1800s using some lumber from the original house’s addition and that addition was built after Parris had moved elsewhere. Lumber from the original house was used in Rev. Wadsworth’s rear addition, which is still on Centre St. in Danvers (Salem Village).

  3. Denissa Roberts

    I am very interested in the Salem Witch Trials and I always have been, now I get the opportunity to finally wright about. But I didn’t know exactly as much as I thought I did. And anybody willing to share there knowledge would be greatly appreciated. thank you I just have always been intrigued by the view of the accused, and I have so many questions. What did being accused feel like? And what if you really wasn’t a witch and still was found guilty, what would last thoughts be as you headed to your death. Would you plead your case and convince them your not a witch. Or would simply accept your fate and pray to whom ever they may pray to.

    1. purplepie

      If you were a good citizen, like Martha Corey or Rebecca Nurse (both accused of witchcraft during the trials), then you would probably feel confident at first that people wouldn’t decide you were guilty of witchcraft. Especially if you didn’t live nearby, and didn’t realize just how hysterical the villagers had become. Secondly, if you confessed then you would not be killed. These people were deeply religious, and they thought that if you confessed to your sins then God would judge you. You would be disrespected and your property would be given to the government, but you would live. If you pleaded innocent then you would be hanged. Giles Corey refused to say anything at his trial so they put rocks on him to ‘press the truth out of him’ he never confessed and his final word were “more weight”. Still more people died in jail waiting to be judged.

  4. JLF

    Do you possibly have the source for Tituba and the training of girls in fortune telling, specifically “venus glasses”? I would like to compare it to a similar practice in Newfoundland.

    1. Rebecca Beatrice Brooks Post author

      It comes from Rev. John Hale’s book A Modest Enquiry Into the Nature of Witchcraft but all it says is one of the girls put an egg in a glass to find her future husband’s calling and saw the coffin shape instead.

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