Reverend Samuel Parris was the Puritan minister in Salem, Massachusetts Bay Colony during the Salem Witch Trials. He arrived with his wife, children, and his slave Tituba who would become the centerpiece during the trials.
He was a corrupt minister that craved power and wealth and used religion to attain it.
After the trials, there were multiple families of the dead that sought to have him removed from the position of minister for his actions during the trials.
Samuel Parris was born in London, England to Thomas Parris. His father was not exactly poor, but he did not have much wealth and his family did not conform to the religious beliefs of the day.
Samuel then immigrated to Boston in the early 1660s.
At the time the Massachusetts Bay Colony was growing and becoming a haven for those seeking a better life.
He attended Harvard College at his father’s request, but after his father died he left Harvard for his inheritance in Barbados where he maintained a sugar plantation.
While working the sugar plantation he bought slaves, one of them being Tituba. He would work the plantation until a severe hurricane hit the island and did much damage.
Afterward, Samuel sold some of his lands and headed back to Boston where he would settle down in Salem with his new beautiful wife, Elizabeth Eldridge.
He and his wife had three children:
Despite the success of his plantation, Samuel sought a more consistent income. He began to look for a job in ministry and would become the minister of Salem.
Salem did not have a great reputation among the Massachusetts towns. The town was spread out without much common purpose or sense worked into its development.
The villagers were always fighting and could not seem to keep a minister due to not paying them.
Further tension was caused by Parris’ delay in accepting the position and his inability to resolve his parishioners’ disputes. There were also disputes over Parris’ compensation. In October 1691, the town decided to stop paying his wages.
The issue was further antagonized by Parris’ perceived arrogance when he purchased gold candlesticks for the meetinghouse and new vessels for the sacraments. These issues and others that were more personal between the villagers continued to grow unabated.
Salem Witch Trials
A series of events occurred that would lead to the Salem Witch Trials and Samuel Parris would be at the center.
- Samuel Parris became angry due to a lack of compensation and began preaching that many folks in Salem were being used by the devil.
- Parris’ daughter Elizabeth became sick with an unknown disease. Many folks during this time had superstitious beliefs when it came to sickness.
- While sick Elizabeth and her cousin, Abigail Williams, accused Tituba of being a witch and afflicting them.
- Samuel beat Tituba until she confessed to sorcery.
- After her confession, her husband, John Indian, began accusing others.
- Parris declared in a sermon that “as in our text [John 6:10] there was one [the devil] among the 12 [disciples]… so in our churches God knows how many Devils there are,” encouraging antagonistic villagers to locate and destroy “witches”.
- Hysteria began to spread and it would become the Salem Witch Trials which was one of the saddest moments in Colonial America.
Samuel Parris would be at the heart of almost every accusation, conviction, and execution. As almost all of those accused he and his allies had issues with. His strongest ally was Thomas Putnam of the Putnam family and the father of another “afflicted” daughter Ann Putnam.
Together Parris and Putnam led the charge with the aid of their afflicted daughters to take out many of those that opposed them.
Their actions would result in 19 hangings and 2 citizens dying in jail. As the Salem Witch Trials came under intense scrutiny in 1693 those above Parris saw the corruption and abuse of power. Charges were brought against Parris for his part in the trials.
Parris apologized in his essay Meditations for Peace, which he presented on November 1694. Increase Mather led a church council which then vindicated him.
This is unfortunate as Samuel Parris was responsible for 19 lives taken and should have faced the gallows for his action and abuse of power.
Families of the victims never forgave their role in the death of their loved ones. They continued to pursue his dismissal. By 1696, Parris could no longer take the heat and he resigned and returned to business in Boston.
His beautiful wife Elizabeth died in 1696. In 1699, he remarried, Dorothy Noyes, in Sudbury. He preached for two or three years at Stow. He then moved to Concord. He also preached six months in Dunstable in 1711.
He died on February 27, 1720, in Sudbury.