Books by Elaine G. Breslaw

Released: Jan. 8, 1996

A study of Tituba, a central character of the notorious Salem witch trials of 1692, based on skimpy historical evidence that could have been exhausted in one short article. The slave Tituba, accused of inducting young Salem innocents into the practice of witchcraft, has long presented fodder for the imagination. Unfortunately, she provides much less nourishment for a historical treatment. While the sorry tale of the Salem trials is well known—two young girls were suddenly afflicted with a strange illness involving fits, contortions, and other unexplainable symptoms, which were eventually attributed to witchery—Tituba's role in the affair and, more particularly, her life before and after 1692 are shrouded in mystery. This is partly due to the lack of documentation, which becomes conspicuous early in this treatment, with the preponderance of phrases such as ``it may well be'' and ``it is possible.'' The only definite records of Tituba's existence are found in relation to the Salem trials—the transcript of her examination, a warrant for her arrest, etc. Still, relying on the property records of a plantation owner in Barbados who can be connected to Tituba's Salem owner, Breslaw (History/Univ. of Tennessee) argues fairly persuasively that she was an Arawak-speaking American Indian, not African or Carib Indian as is often assumed. Breslaw also asserts that Tituba contributed significantly to events in Salem, not because she was guilty, but because her ``confession'' helped reshape the Puritans' belief in the devil by giving them a multicultural tale of sorcery with which to enhance their own notions of evil. But though Breslaw is convincing on these points, the book is so packed with repetition and filler (such as an illustration depicting a house that ``most closely resembles the Salem Parsonage where Tituba lived'') that the author often seems to be grasping at historical straws. (illustrations and maps, not seen) Read full book review >