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Abigail Williams

Salem Witch Trials - Key People

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Known for: accuser in the Salem witch trials of 1692; one of the first two girls "afflicted"
Occupation: servant?
Age at time of Salem witch trials: 11 or 12
Dates: about 1680 - ?

Family, Background: Abigail Williams, who lived in the home of the Rev. Samuel Parris, has often been called a "niece" of Rev. Parris. Called "kinfolk" in some early sources. "Niece" may have been a general term for younger female relative. Who her parents were, and what her relationship was to Rev. Parris, is unknown. She may have been a household servant.

Abigail Williams and the Salem Witch Trials

Abigail Williams and Elizabeth (Betty) Parris, daughter of Rev. Parris and his wife Elizabeth, were the first two girls in Salem Village to exhibit behaviors in mid-January of 1692 which were soon identified as being caused by witchcraft by a local doctor (presumably William Griggs) and Rev. John Hale, called in by Rev. Parris.

Abigail and Betty were joined by Ann Putnam Jr. in their afflictions and, then, in accusations against individuals identified as causing the afflictions. Abigail was a key witness against many of the early accused witches, including the first ones identified, Tituba, Sarah Osborne, and Sarah Good, and later Bridget Bishop, George Burroughs, Sarah Cloyce, Martha Corey, Mary Easty, Rebecca Nurse, Elizabeth and John Proctor, John Willard and Mary Witheridge.

Abigail's and Betty's accusations resulted in the arrest on February 29 of Tituba, Sarah Good and Sarah Osborne. On March 19, with the Rev. Deodat Lawson visiting, Abigail accused the respected Rebecca Nurse of trying to force her to sign the devil's book. The next day, in the middle of the service at Salem Village Church, Abigail interrupted the visiting minister, Rev. Deodat Lawson, claiming she saw Martha Corey's spirit separate from her body. Martha Corey was arrested and examined the next day.

On March 29, Abigail Williams and Mercy Lewis accused Elizabeth Proctor of afflicting them through her specter; Abigail claimed to see John Proctor's spectre as well. Abigail testified that she had seen some 40 witches outside the Parris house in a ritual of drinking blood. She named Elizabeth Proctor's specter as being present, and named Sarah Good and Sarah Cloyce as being deacons at the ceremony.

Of the legal complaints filed, Abigail Williams made 41 of them. She testified in seven of the cases. Her last testimony was June 3, a week before the first execution.

Joseph Hutchinson, in trying to discredit her testimony, testified that she had said to him that she could converse with the devil as easily as she could converse with him.

Abigail Williams After the Trials

After her last testimony in the court records on June 3, 1692, Abigail Williams disappears from the historical record.

Motives

Speculation about Abigail Williams' motives in testifying usually suggest that she wanted some attention: that as a "poor relation" with no real prospects in marriage (as she would have no dowry), she gained much more influence and power through her accusations of witchcraft than she would be able to do any other way. Linnda R. Caporael suggested in 1976 that fungus-infected rye may have caused ergotism and hallucinations in Abigail Williams and the others.

Abigail Williams in The Crucible

In Arthur Miller's play, The Crucible, Miller depicts Williams as a 17-year-old servant in the Proctor house who tried to save John Proctor even while denouncing her mistress, Elizabeth. At the end of the play, she steals her uncle's money (money which the real Rev. Parris probably did not have). Arthur Miller relied on a source that claimed that Abigail Williams became a prostitute after the period of the trials.

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