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Where is Tituba? Examining Contemporary Historical Erasure of Race in the Salem Witch Trials

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Spooky Season is upon us. Scores of people will soon head to the capital of witchery, eager to take a historical tour of sites and memorials. While most Salem tours are historically accurate and informative, they, and the museums, tend to overlook the significance of race and slavery in 17th-century Salem. According to the Massachusetts Office of Travel & Tourism, Salem’s early economic prosperity, being an active port, “was tied to the slave culture of the British Atlantic in the 17th and 18th centuries. As early as 1638, the first enslaved Africans were brought into the Massachusetts Bay Colony […] Slaves worked as servants and skilled labor in the homes and businesses of Salem until the late 1700s.” They explain that most wealthy households in Salem at the time, including the tourist attraction The House of the Seven Gables, housed enslaved people. The townspeople’s initial scapegoat for alleged witchcraft in Salem was Tituba, a black and indigenous enslaved woman. For historians, this fact is not new. However, it is imperative for people planning a trip to Salem to know this overlooked yet incredibly important piece of the Salem story, one we have a responsibility to think about critically when we enter Witch City.

Since early American history has been recorded mainly by white men, the story of Tituba from those who knew her is practically nonexistent. Historians have scoured town and family records for bits and pieces of Tituba’s life experiences beyond being a catalyst for the Trials. Author Elaine G. Breslaw took it upon herself to dig up Tituba’s origins: Tituba was purchased and enslaved at an unknown age by Samuel Parris, along with her future husband John Indian, while he was visiting a sugar plantation in the Caribbean Island of Barbados that he inherited from his father. He was known to be “rough” with the people he enslaved. Author Diane E. Foulds explains in Death in Salem: The Private Lives behind the 1692 Witch Hunt (2013) that Tituba and John endured whippings “if found idle.” Tituba lived with the Parris family during the time when girls of Salem, including Parris’ daughter and niece, started acting erratic, blaming Tituba and her “magic” for their hysterics.

Throughout the retelling of the Trials, mythic stories formed about Tituba allegedly being instrumental in teaching the young girls of Salem, including Parris’ daughter Betty and niece Abigail, fortune-telling games that led them, in their boredom, to conjure up stories of being bewitched, throw violent fits, and speak in tongues. Initially, all fingers pointed to Tituba for the sake of blaming an outsider whose culture did not align with their own God-fearing Puritan way of life. However, historians have illuminated that Puritans were less averse to perceived-Pagan spiritual practices as legend would have it. Puritan spiritual and fortune-telling activities were, for the most part, widely accepted by Puritan culture, as well as abroad in both the Caribbean and Europe. Salem presented for the first time in America a cultural diffusion of magic. For Salem, the practice used that was in direct relation to the Trials themselves was a fortune-telling game. The shape of an egg white dropped into a glass of water would allegedly reveal your future. When Betty and Abigail played this game, their egg white took the shape of a coffin which spurred their bizarre behavior.

There is no concrete evidence of Tituba partaking in this fortune-telling game with the girls, nor any supporting evidence that she taught them this game. However, Tituba would not be opposed to the game. Breslaw elaborates: “She most certainly accepted the usefulness of such practices because, like most seventeenth-century people, she believed that human action could influence the spiritual realm […] The magical fortune-telling practices were not unusual in Puritan communities […] None of these techniques… was exclusive to English folklore […] The egg as a part of divining and curing ceremonies has an even more ancient history. As different cultures met in the New World, similarities of form or function would permit an easy borrowing of magical techniques by one group from another.” Thus, it was not the presence of spirituality that fed into townspeople’s paranoia, but rather the possibility of dark magic bewitching the young white girls of Salem, a magic supposedly conjured by black and indigenous people.

The girls of Salem, fainting, sputtering bizarre phrases, contorting their bodies as if possessed, were first to blame Tituba. This must continually be stressed when discussing the Salem Witch Trials, for this is an early example of white people using BIPOC as scapegoats in American society. Puritans associated dark skin with evil and viewed Native Americans as such due to being non-Christian. In Maryse Condé’s historical fiction I, Tituba, Black Witch of Salem (1996), written to examine Tituba’s life despite the lack of historical data, Tituba states: “she was convinced my color was indicative of my close connections with Satan. I was able to laugh it off, however, as the ramblings of a shrew embittered by solitude and approaching old age. In Salem, such a conviction was shared by all.  […] “’You, do good? You’re a Negress, Tituba! You can only do evil. You are evil itself.’” BIPOC folks are still scapegoats in America today; I could even posit that this is one of the foundations of American culture, with links to one of the earliest white communities.

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Tituba, after being accused by Betty Parris of witchcraft, eventually testified that yes, it was she who cast a spell on the young girls of Salem, though her admission was a well-thought-out tactic to avoid hanging. Tituba leveraged her testimonial position of being an “expert” in the subject of dark magic to stay alive. Breslaw evaluates Tituba’s testimony during the Trials by presenting the following facts: 1) Tituba was a stranger in a strange land, having to become accustomed to female Puritan life immediately after stepping off the ship from Barbados, 2) she used the Puritan mindset to her advantage during the Trials, in that, she saved herself by appeasing the Puritan idea that she was a witch based on her cultural background and her race, and 3) she used the Puritan fear of Native Americans, with whom several of the girls had past violent encounters, to “prove” her delving into witchcraft, since Puritans believed Native Americans to be involved with the occult. This saved Tituba from death, unlike many of the other alleged witches of Salem. Although Tituba “confessed,” she later recanted and spent thirteen months in prison due to Parris refusing to post her bail. An unknown person paid her bail, speculated to be an enslaved persons’ trader, and Tituba’s fate thereafter is unknown.

 

The Salem Witch Trials have been inspiring horror cinema for decades, with films such as The City of the Dead (1960), Lords of Salem (2013), and, most importantly, The VVITCH (2015). These films focus on white female trauma while Tituba is nowhere to be seen. Only in The Crucible (1999), with Charlayne Woodard as Tituba, do we see her involved in the narrative. The only horror movie that comes close to alluding to Tituba’s story is Fear Street 1666 (2021), where sexuality takes the place of race in blaming Sarah Fier for the sinister witchcraft befallen in the town.

Race and religion are pivotal in the historical discussion of the Salem Witch Trials. Salem’s town narrative, however, favors tourist-friendly history rather than a critical discussion of race in the 17th century. While Tituba is included in the town’s Wax Museum, her importance in the story of the Trials is largely glossed over to tell the stories of bewitched white girls and the subsequent white accused. Salem must find balance between accurate history and aesthetic tourism. Salem, Massachusetts is not in its own spooky little bubble: its history is rooted in the original thirteen colonies which enslaved human beings and used them shamelessly as targets of blame for wrong-doings and happenings. If we are in pursuit of honoring those who were wrongfully detained or murdered during the Salem Witch Trials, we have a responsibility to accurately remember the Trials as not only a wrongdoing by the zealot Puritan men and women of Salem, but as having severely harmed BIPOC lives, the legacy of which permeates current social and political discourse concerning race.

Abigail Waldron is a queer historian who specializes in American horror cinema. Her book "Queer Screams: A History of LGBTQ+ Survival Through the Lens of American Horror Cinema" is available for purchase from McFarland Books. She resides in Brooklyn, New York.

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Editorials

Black Witches Exist.

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If you ask any Black woman horror fan who their favorite Black witch is, I’d bet all the money I don’t have, that most—if not all—of them would say Rachel True’s Rochelle in The Craft. And what’s not to love about Rochelle? She’s delightfully weird, supportive of her friends, and perseveres in the face of racism much like we do in similar predominately white spaces.

But The Craft is 26 years old. Even though we were blessed with a reboot in 2020, I expected the beloved cult classic to produce more Black Witches to bring into our Coven of Black Girl Magic.

Hell, I don’t even think the two Black actresses that portrayed Angelina Johnson in the Harry Potter movie franchise ever had any lines. And while the Broadway production of Harry Potter and The Cursed Child made history by casting Black actresses to play Hermione, I do take issue with a beloved (and Black-coded) character being depicted as a cruel time-warp-multiverse version. (I’m sorry, but I came here to fight and tell you there is NO universe in which the only character committed to emancipating the magical slaves/house elves would ever turn out to be a cruel professor in her worst subject!)

Even most of the magical Black characters I’ve tried to include in this piece actually practiced Hoodoo or Voodoo.  There’s been a dearth of Black witches on the silver screen and in the horror genre, and it leaves me wanting more. White witches have depth and complexity to them. They can be good or evil, sensual and alluring, motherly, or even cycle through all of the above. Black witches are either nonexistent, relegated to a mammy role to aid a white protagonist, or their witchcraft is conflated with Hoodoo or Voodoo.

Voodoo is actually an organized religion with deep ties to African culture and American slave practices. Hoodoo is considered to be a folk magic that is also connected to the African Diaspora. Hoodoo is more similar to how witchcraft is depicted and is known for spells connected to practical needs, like love and money. Both Hoodoo and Voodoo are incredibly nuanced and highly regarded practices in Black culture, but in less diverse production spaces, depictions of Hoodoo and Voodoo from a colonizer’s gaze can be, well, racist and reductive.

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One could argue that Black witches have representation through depictions of Hoodoo and Voodoo on the silver screen, my favorite being the beautiful southern gothic film Eve’s Bayou. But overall, we deserve to see more expansive and nuanced Black Girl Magic on screen.

So here I am wondering, where are all the Black witches?

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WELCOME TO THE CHURCH OF CHUCKY: Chucky Season 2 Full Trailer Breakdown, Theories & Predictions

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Forget the Season of the Witch. It’s the Season of the Dolls again.

I mean it might as well be, September is the new October, which means Halloween is basically tomorrow. And with the arrival of the spooky season comes the second season of SYFY’s instant hit and continuation of the Child’s Play series, Chucky. Since it’s returning on October 5th, this is pretty much all I’m going to be talking about for a few months, so why don’t we speculate on the incoming eight episodes of bombshells Don Mancini will be hitting us with soon?

BLOODY REUNIONS

The teaser trailer that premiered at San Diego Comic Con and the full trailer above that just recently dropped all but confirms this leaked list of episode titles that has been floating around, given they’re laden with religious references we’ll cover soon. The titles give a rough idea of what might happen with the Chucky and Tiffany dolls back on the saddle.

While the episode “Doll on Doll” could be about the myriad of Chucky dolls running around, I wouldn’t be surprised if this was an episode focused on Doll Tiffany going up against Chucky. Since the schism between Team Ray and Team Valentine from season 1’s gnarly decapitation, Tiffany’s plastic iteration would probably find herself in conflict with her old lover after kidnapping Nica and cutting herself out of their deranged master plan to attack all of America.

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Temporarily, at least. Given their torrid romantic history and Tiffany’s obsession with starting and preserving a family, it’d be on brand that the episode “Goin’ To The Chapel” may just involve them renewing their vows, with the Bride and groom reuniting to cause terror once more.

SAINTS, SINNERS, AND SILICON

So, what about location then? Well, with all we’ve seen of Jake, Devon, & Lexy’s matching school uniforms, the episode titles, and all the religious décor/symbology all over the place, it’s safe to say the series is finally taking the leap and sending Chucky into outer space.

…Jokes people. I’ll be here all week.

The latest trailer tells us the school is called Incarnate Lord (Academy?) and seems to be a Catholic boarding school for reforming disturbed youth. This is likely an homage to Childs Play 3 but riffing on the humor of private schools rather than military academies. Mancini may have been inspired to use this location because he also went to a Christian prep school when he was younger, a lesser-known detail mentioned in an interview with Dread Central.

With legal custody of Jake & Devon up in the air following their respective parents perishing, and their dubious involvement in dozens of people dying a year prior, it looks like the trio is being sent to an institution by the state– possibly at the behest of Mayor Cross, Lexi’s mother, instead of seeing the kids jailed. Given the chaos caused by Chucky in the season finale, it’s fair that she’d send the boys and her distraught daughter to a boarding school for their protection, hoping to distance them from the massacre. On the topic of troubled daughters…

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PUTTING LEXY THROUGH THE RINGER

Maybe stating the obvious here, but Lexy is going through it this season, even more so than last. One of the shots in the teaser trailer heavily implies she’s doing drugs to cope with the stress and trauma of Chucky’s massacre. But I think there might be even more reason she’s down and out.

We saw younger sister Caroline opening the door for Chucky in the teaser, so I wouldn’t be surprised if Chucky’s first act of retribution against the Hackensack gang would be taking her out, or at least attempting to. It would also make sense to get them out of town as an inciting incident if the one-year time skip they mention means something has to break the relative peace in Hackensack.

For anybody skeptical about this, given it’s a very dark train of thought, remember that one of the series protagonists, Nica Pierce, had all her limbs cut off in the Season 1 finale and is currently being wheeled around by Tiffany. A tonal shift seems like just the thing Mancini might have hinted at with Nica’s cruel entrapment.

…Bummer. How about a joke to lighten the mood?

HOW DO NONBINARY SLASHERS OFF SOMEONE?

They/Them! And the they & them slashing in question would be the doll in two persons, Glen & Glenda, who is back after a long absence in the series (and seems delighted at the updates in their mother’s love-life/murder sprees). Hopefully, I will finally get a serious answer to my question of whether G&G have an explosives dealer! It seems doubly likely now that we see Chucky using a (stolen?) chemical explosive in the final shots of the full trailer…

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Portrayed in a double role by Lachlan Watson, former Chilling Adventures of Sabrina star, these two are more likely than not going to be blending into the school as delinquents and aiding one or more of the Chucky dolls in their rampage. But I think that one of the two could also be a new protagonist in the making.

Though the plot point fell by the wayside for doll martial arts in Seed of Chucky, it was clear that a part of Glen/da has a distaste for killing. I wouldn’t be surprised if the two halves of Glen/da ended up feuding and making enemies out of each other. One of the big themes of Chucky as a rare coming-of-age horror is that you’ve sometimes got to reject the roles placed onto you by your parents, so it’d track if Tiffany’s twin terrors end up against themselves.

Suppose one half doesn’t become wholly good, however. In that case, there’s the distinct possibility they might end up taking sides with their respective favored parents and getting dragged into a messy “divorce” and the couple’s endless doll wars. Speaking of people who got dragged into that war,

REST IN PEACE, KYLE…

But not really. At least, I don’t think so. Even though Andy screams “This is for Kyle!” while presumably facing off with an unseen Tiffany or Chucky in the trailer, she seemingly survived the bomb blast from “An Affair to Dismember” and was hinted to be watching over the kids, the final shot of the first season being her hand gripping a tree with the black leather gloves gifted to her by Andy at the gas station.

Of course, nothing is ever that easy. With Christine Elise confirmed to be back for an unspecified number of episodes, I wouldn’t be surprised if Kyle is another dormant victim of possession like Nica, and that Tiffany may have done another soul split bamboozle. Not only would it give Tiffany a leg up against Andy & Chucky, but it would also mean that the kids would have to deal with their former protector turning heel.

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Regardless of how many of these darts land on the bullseye, I’m unflinchingly hyped for Season 2 of Chucky. Until then, I ask the question: do you have any pet theories you’ve been sitting on? Tell us on Twitter & comment down below, and as always, stay tuned for more horrifying content from Horror Press.

Chucky season 2 will premiere on USA and Syfy on October 5th.

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