Elizabeth Parris
Written By Sarah-Nell Walsh

Salem Witch Trials in History and Literature
An Undergraduate Course, University of Virginia
Spring Semester 2001

Elizabeth (Betty) Parris was nine years old when the witchcraft epidemic broke out in Salem, and she actively participated in its beginning. Elizabeth, a sweet girl, had difficulty facing the stark realities of predestination and damnation that her father, Reverend Samuel Parris, preached to her. Elizabeth Parris lived in a period of economic uncertainty and yearned to know what lay in her future.

In the dark winter days of 1691, Elizabeth Parris and her cousin Abigail Williams began to undertake experiments in fortune telling, using a device known as a "venus glass." A venus glass consists of an egg white suspended in water in which one could see shapes and figures. The girls mainly focused on their future social status, and specifically on the trade in which their husbands would be employed. These fortune telling secrets were shared with other young girls in the area. On one occasion, the glass revealed the horrendous specter of a coffin, which, as Rev. John Hale reported in A Modest Inquiry into the Nature of Witchcraft, (1702) led to "diabolical molestation.". And it is out of these childish beginnings that the Salem witchcraft outbreak began.

Betty Parris' afflictions started innocently in January when she began to forget errands, was unable to concentrate, and seemed rapt in secret preoccupation. She could not concentrate at prayer time and barked like a dog when her father would rebuke her. She screamed wildly when she heard the "Our Father" prayer and once hurled a Bible across the room. After these episodes, she sobbed distractedly and spoke of being damned. She seemed to see damnation as inevitable, perhaps because of her practicing fortune telling, which was regarded as a demonic activity.. Reverend Samuel Parris believed that prayer could cure her odd behavior, but his efforts were ineffective.

Nobody knows precisely what the Betty Parris and her girls friends were experiencing, but it manifested itself as odd postures, foolish and ridiculous speech, distempers, and fits. John Hale in A Modest Inquiry described the affliction that the girls suffered by saying they looked as if they "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 Epileptick fits, or natural disease to effect. Sometimes they were taken dumb, their mouths stopped, their throats choked, their limbs wracked and tormented so as might move a heart of stone to sympathize with them." The local physician, William Griggs, diagnosed Elizabeth Parris as being afflicted by the "Evil Hand," commonly known as witchcraft. Rev. Samuel Parris thought it was "a very sore rebuke and humbling providence that the Lord ordered the horrid calamity to break out first in [his] family." Since the sufferers of witchcraft were believed to be the victims of a crime, the community set out to find the perpetrators.

On February 29, 1692, under intense adult questioning, the afflicted girls named Sarah Good, Sarah Osborne, and Tituba as their tormentors. Elizabeth Parris testified at these trials that she was tormented by spectral visions of these women. During their trials, Elizabeth would cry out when the accused moved her arms, legs, or head, as if the accused was injuring her from across the room. Elizabeth Parris was also involved in the conviction of Martha Corey. At Martha Corey's trial, the afflicted girls sat together, and what Martha did, they all did. If she shifted her feet they did so too, and fell to stamping their feet. If she bit her lips, they yelled that she had bitten theirs, and showed the magistrates tht they bled." .

Understandably, Mrs. Parris was worried about the health of her daughter and she protested against using her as a witch finder. At the end of March, Betty was sent to live with Rev. Samuel Parris' distant cousin, Stephen Sewall, in Salem. This technique of isolation stopped most of her symptoms, but she still had visions after leaving the Parris household. On March 25, Elizabeth "related that the great Black Man came to her, and told her, if she would be ruled by him, she should have whatsoever she desired, and go to a Golden City" (Lawson). Mrs. Sewall told Elizabeth that it had been the Devil who had approached her "and he was a Lyar from the Beginning, and bid her tell him so, if he came again: which she did" (Lawson).

In 1710, Elizabeth Parris finally found the answer to the question she had been searching for in her homemade crystal ball. She married Benjamin Baron, a yeoman, trader, cordwainer, and shoemaker, in Sudbury and led a very ordinary existence. She and Benjamin bore four children, Thomas, Elizabeth Jr., Catherine, and Susanna. Elizabeth Parris survived her husband by six years, succumbing to illness in their Concord home on March 21, 1760 (Marilyn Roach).




Boyer and Nissenbaum, Salem Possessed, , 1974.

Gragg, Larry, A Quest for Security, 1990.

Deodat Lawson, "A Brief and True narrative," 1692. As quoted in G. L. Burr, Narratives of the Witchcraft Cases, 1914.

Rosenthal, Bernard, Salem Story, 1993.

Starkey, Marion L., The Devil in Massachusetts, 1969.

Roach, Marilynne K., "That Child, Betty Parris," Essex Institute Historical Collections Vol. 124, No. 1 1988: 1-27.