Abigail Williams (July 12, 1680 – c. October 1697) was one of the initial accusers in the Salem witch trials. The trials led to the arrest and imprisonment of more than 150 innocent people suspected of witchcraft.
July 12, 1680
|Died||unknown, possibly 1697 (aged 17)|
|Known for||First accuser in the Salem witch trials|
|Home town||Salem, Massachusetts|
Abigail Williams and her cousin Betty Parris were the first two accusers in the Salem Witch trials of 1692 and 1693. Tituba, a slave at the time, was one of the first to be accused of witchcraft. Williams was twelve years old at the time, and she was living with her uncle, local minister Rev. Samuel Parris, in Salem after Native Americans killed her parents during a raid. Her parents' names were Joseph and Abigail Rogers. Abigail Rogers later became Abigail Parris Williams. According to eyewitness Rev. Deodat Lawson, she and Betty began to have fits in which they ran around rooms flailing their arms, ducking under chairs, and trying to climb up the chimney. It is claimed that her body contorted into apparently impossible positions.
This alarmed many of the villagers of Salem. Samuel Parris decided to call in a doctor to determine whether or not these afflictions were medical. Dr. William Griggs had difficulty understanding the actions of the two young girls. He believed that it was not a medical issue and suggested that it must be witchcraft. Tituba was then asked to bake a witch cake—rye mixed with the afflicted girls' urine—and feed the mixture to a dog. The theory was that the dog would exhibit similar symptoms if Abigail and Betty were bewitched, and it would prove that witchcraft was indeed being practiced.
Further accusations were soon made because of Abigail and Betty's claims to be possessed, resulting in 20 deaths. Three women were arrested for suspicion of witchcraft on February 29, 1692: Sarah Good, Sarah Osborne, and Tituba herself. They were all found guilty, but the only one to confess was Tituba. Sarah Good was hanged and Sarah Osborne died in prison. Tituba was released from jail a year later, when Rev. Samuel Parris paid her fees for release. Abigail and Betty's accusations rapidly spread throughout Salem and nearby villages (especially Andover), leading to the imprisonment of many people and the deaths of 19 during 1692–93. After 1692 Abigail Williams disappears from written records, making it impossible for historians to know about her life after the trials. Some say she ran off after the trials, becoming a prostitute, but there is no way to truly know.
In 1976, Linnda R. Caporael put forward the hypothesis that these strange symptoms may have been caused by ergotism, the ingestion of fungus-infected rye. This explanation has not been widely accepted.
In Arthur Miller's 1953 play, The Crucible, a dramatized and partially fictionalized story of the Salem witch trials, Abigail Williams is portrayed as the primary instigator of the accusations, motivated largely by her desire to be in a relationship with John Proctor, a married farmer with whom she had previously had an affair. In real life, there was no evidence of John Proctor and Abigail Williams ever meeting before the trials. Her age in the play had been raised to 17. She was portrayed by Winona Ryder in the 1996 film adaptation of the play.
Abigail is revealed as the antagonist of the 2014 video game Murdered: Soul Suspect. In the story, flashbacks reveal that she was hanged for her part in the witch trials. Over the centuries, she has existed as a ghost, using her supernatural powers to kill those she believes are witches. In the game's climax, she is seized by demons and dragged to Hell.
- Marilynne Roach, The Salem Witch Trials: A Day-by-Day Chronicle of a Community Under Siege (Lanham, MD: Taylor Trade Publishing, 2004), 700, 752; Mary Beth Norton, In the Devil's Snare: The Salem Witchcraft Crisis of 1692 (New York: Vintage, 2003), 311.
- Yost, Melissa (2002). "Abigail Williams". Salem Witch Trials Documentary Archive and Transcription Project. Charlottesville, Virginia: University of Virginia. Retrieved March 16, 2014.
- Boyer and Stephen Nissenbaum, Salem Possessed: The Social Origins of Witchcraft. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1974 (pp. 2-3)
- Boyer and Stephen Nissenbaum, Salem Possessed: The Social Origins of Witchcraft. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1974 (p. 3).
- Games, Alison. Witchcraft in Early North America. Plymouth: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc., 2010 (p. 176)
- Hall, David. Witch-Hunting in Seventeenth-Century New England. Boston: Northeastern University Press, 1999 (pp. 280-81)
- Emerson W. Baker, A Storm of Witchcraft: The Salem Trials and the American Experience (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2015), 234.
- Ergotism: The Satan Loosed in Salem?[permanent dead link] - Science, vol. 192, April 1976
- "Were the witches of Salem a result of poisoning with ergot fungus?". 2005-01-14. Retrieved June 18, 2015.
- "iTunes - Music - Abigail's Cross". apple.com. Retrieved May 22, 2015.