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Abigail Williams's Diary of the Salem Witch Trials
Despite the persistent cold in the house, today has been marvelous! Betty, Anne Putnam, and I, after I brushed off the last little bit of dust to conclude the morning’s chores, which I must painstakingly do on my own due to cousin Betty’s frail health and my being an orphan, spent the afternoon reading aloud the book of prophecy and fortune-telling. Dear Uncle cautions me not to be idle, as it is during those periods of idleness when the Devil performs his mischief, but this was not the first meeting of “The Circle,” and I cannot imagine why the Devil would choose us children for his mischief when there are so many adults who really deserve it. But I do my chores meticulously, and try very hard not to mope like the rainy-day dog.
I absolutely cannot wait for the next meeting of “The Circle”!
Cousin Betty has been acting quite strangely these days. More than once I saw her dashing under a chair as if she were a cat spooked by thunder. She vomits her rye cereal and believes there are black-robed people looming in her room at all times. When her father scolds her she looks plainly confused. She has always seemed weak and small, but I don’t know what to make of this.
Our slave Tituba has joined us in “The Circle.” She cannot read, yet she tells us these miraculous tales of demons with two heads, or none at all, and witches with the ability to summon them through spells and potions. They are much scarier than our book’s, best for knocking us temporarily out of ordinary daily proceedings, but Betty seems exceptionally frightened. Well, she is nine, and Anne and I are both about twelve. She will grow out of it.
The Parrises are now convinced that their daughter and the rest of “The Circle” have been tampered on by witchcraft. I hear Uncle and Aunt talking of some book about an Irish washerwoman casting spells on a girl and causing her to act strangely, like Betty has been. Even our doctor believed the Devil to be involved. Last week they interrogated my friends and me on any witchy thing we might have seen or heard of and any people we thought might be witches. We stayed quiet about Tituba until two days ago, Mrs. Sibley, our neighbor, made her bake a witch cake with our pee in it and fed it to a dog. By that day, Anne and I, as well as other members of “The Circle,” had too been feeling unwell and often felt the need to dash to corners and hide. Anne even once attempted to throw herself in the fire! Had we done something wrong? We’re seeing things! Feeling things! It must be Tituba, we said to each other. So Betty and I named her, and today we agreed to name Sarah Good and Sarah Osborne as other witches. A slave, a beggar, a crazy old woman…who else to blame for this madness?
Before this month, I had not known how much fun a court examination could be! Anne is our greatest actor. Just when one of the witches has stood up, she leaps onto the floor and curls her body, screaming, “Stop it! Stop it, you specter!” Of course, the audience becomes completely shocked and doesn’t hesitate to believe us. We can do anything we want with spectral evidence in these special trials, as long as we paste a frightened look on ourselves and exaggerate enough. Amazingly, Tituba has admitted to the crime of witchcraft, and has even said that Sarah Good and Sarah Osborne, among others, signed the Devil’s book. The witch-hunt is becoming more exciting, and trials are certainly something for us girls to look forward to when we’re feeling tired and sick at home, which we do more often than ever.
I am just shocked at how convincing our acting and specter-pointing has been. We chose Rebecca Nurse, a respectable woman to most, for another witch, claiming that she attacked us in March. Anne’s mother, Anne Putnam Senior, even supported us on Nurse’s case. At first she was decided not guilty, but the Chief Judge told the jury to discuss further, at last giving her a verdict of “guilty.” She is now going to be hanged on July 19th! I’m starting to think that maybe we should be the guilty ones, acting such devilish young women ourselves…
But it seems that every trial we participate in, bit by bit, makes us feel less tired and sick at home than before. Much of the wild imagining and odd behavior has now been reserved for fun at the witness stand. Perhaps all that fun we have in court does good for us, somehow. I don’t know. I’m no doctor, and why would we tell one this? As Anne has said, fun is fun, and she is the best with words.
It seems that we won’t have many more days of being “attacked” by specters. There’s some talk of a change in the courts that might disallow spectral evidence. When Anne told me this, I resolved to get as much information as I could. I began to rush my chores to allow myself to sneak to where adults were working or gathering to listen. “Mather is workin’ hard on it, thinks that ten witches missed is better than one innocent man condemned.” “Hale said it’s improbable for so many witches to be in one area. He’s right; Salem’s no devil’s town!” “What’s going on with the girls now? They are wilder each time.”
I’ve also been told that works by Mather and Hale have been submitted to the governor. I’m nervous. Anne reminds me that we still have some more trials to testify at, but something doesn’t feel right. I don’t know what, other than what I already wrote. I don’t know how to think this. “How” I haven’t ever been told.
The last of the trials have long finished, and the last of the “witches” have either been acquitted or released. Nineteen of those put on trial have been killed. I cannot get it out of my mind that I, along with other girls, indirectly, but not negligibly, were their accusers. I know that some of them might have truly been witches who perhaps did do evil and “mischief” on people, but I also know that each time I claimed to be attacked by a specter, I as well sinned. I cannot blame the other girls for this, no, not even outspoken Anne, neither can I point to Tituba and her bizarre stories, although I sorely wish to. I feel oh so guilty, and, like the Devil, it eats through my soul.
A year before today I might have just laughed out of it and felt proud for deceiving much of Salem for so long, but having experienced such peculiar events and emotions the previous year, knowing that I was part of the cause of nineteen possibly innocent persons’ deaths makes me want to hide again. I cannot apologize, or my guts would throw themselves out of me. I have done terrible evil, and that, I know now, was my destiny. Not only have I wizened and grown, I have also built my road to Hell.