Samuel Parris

The Father of the Afflicted Accusers of Salem

Summary

Reverend Samuel Parris (1653 – February 27, 1720) was a Puritan minister in Salem, Massachusetts who was the father of Betty Parris and the uncle of Abigail Williams, both of whom started the Salem Witch Trials. He also actively played the role of one of the persecutors during the incident.

Background

Samuel Parris was born to a moderate family in London, England and later moved to Boston, Massachusetts in the early 1660s. Parris attended Harvard University at the advice of his father and eventually inherited his father's sugar plantation in Barbados in 1673. Unfortunately, a hurricane destroyed the plantation, and Parris moved back to Boston, where he would marry Elizabeth Eldridge and bought the slaves Tibula and John. Samuel and Elizabeth would later have 3 children, Thomas, Betty, and Susannah. Frustrated with his lack of financial security during his business in Barbados, Parris sought to become a minister, receiving that job in Salem, Massachusetts in July 1691, the fourth one in a series of unsuccessful attempts of installing a permanent minister in Salem.

The Witch Trials

During the Salem Witch Trials, Parris' daughter Betty and niece Abigail started the incident when they both accused one of his slave Tibula of witchcraft, with Parris beating her up until she admitted to being a witch. In response to this, Tibula's husband John accused several others of witchcraft, which led to delusions and paranoia plaguing the town over a period of 16 months. Several imprisonments and 20 deaths occurred in the process, nearly all by execution by hanging, and one man, Giles Corey, was pressed to death instead. As Parris played the active role of a persecutor in the Trials, he was naturally charged by his parish for his role, which he later apologized for in his November 1694 essay Meditations for Peace, later being forgiven by the council.

Aftermath

Although Parris was forgiven for his involvement in the Salem Witch Trials, he later got caught in a dispute regarding his church land that he seized to make up for his salary. Parris grew frustrated of the dispute and resigned and left Salem in 1696. Afterwards, he led a quiet and obscure life as a preacher in his last years, dying peacefully on February 27, 1720 in Sudbury.