Samuel Parris was the son of Englishman Thomas Parris, who bought land in Barbados in the 1650s. Samuel was sent to Massachusetts to study at Harvard, where he was in 1673 when his father died. At the age of 20, Parris inherited his father's land in Barbados. After graduating, Parris moved back to the island to intending to settle the old estate. He leased out the family sugar plantation and settled in town's main population center of Bridgetown, where he established himself as a credit agent for other sugar planters. Parris was unmarried at the time, maintaining two slaves, including a woman named Tituba.
In 1680, Parris left the island, taking with him his two slaves. He moved to Boston and during his first New England winter married Elizabeth Eldridge. Through his marriage Parris was connected to several distinguished families in Boston, including the Sewalls. A year after they were married, Parris had his first child, a son, Thomas. A year later a daughter Betty was born, and five years later Susahanna. Parris accumulated sufficient wealth in Barbados to support his business ventures in Boston.
Dissatisfied with the life of a merchant, Parris considered a change in vocation. In 1686, he began substituting for absent ministers and speaking at informal church gatherings. After the birth of their third child, Parris began formal negations with Salem Village to become the Village's new preacher. He and his family settled in the parsonage and Parris began his ministerial duties in July 1689. Dissatisfaction in the community with Parris as a minister began in 1691 and manifested itself in the sporadic payment of his salary. In October, a committee refused to impose a tax to support his salary and fire wood through the winter. In response, Parris's sermons began to focus on warnings against a conspiracy in the village against himself and the church, and he attributed the evil to the forces of Satan taking hold in Salem.
It was also in 1691 that Parris's daughter Betty and his niece, Abigail Williams (now also living in his household), most likely inspired by the tales of Tituba, began to dabble in fortune telling and other decidedly non-Puritan activities. Perhaps out of fear of the repercussions of participating in these forbidden games, Betty began to develop strange symptoms: pinching, prickling and choking sensations. Several physicians were unable to diagnose the problem, but Dr. William Griggs suggested that her malady must be the result of witchcraft. Parris organized prayer meetings and days of fasting in an attempt to alleviate Betty's symptoms. Parris did what he could to support Betty and other seemingly afflicted girls, including beating his servant, Tituba, into confessing, and fanning the flames of witchcraft suspicions from his pulpit. Once the witchcraft hysteria ran its course, dissatisfaction with Parris grew and intensified. Parris, however, was slow to recognize his mistakes. It was not until 1694 that he apologized to his congregation, but this was not enough. Opposition to Parris continued until 1697 when he left the village and was replaced by Joseph Green, who succeeded in smoothing over many of the divisions within the community and congregation.
After leaving Salem, Parris first moved to Stowe, and then on to other frontier towns. Parris died in 1720. --KS
SALEM TRIALS HOMEPAGE