How Abigail Williams Started The Salem Witch Trials

Published March 6, 2018
Updated January 25, 2019

Abigail Williams was one of the first people "afflicted" during the Salem Witch Trials and one of the first to accuse others of witchcraft. Then she vanished.

Abigail Williams And The Salem Witch Trials

Wikimedia CommonsA depiction of the Salem Witch Trials.

Abigail Williams was 12 years old when strange things began happening to her and her cousin, Betty Parris.

It was in January 1692 and Williams was living with her uncle Samual Parris and his family, including Betty Parris, in Salem Village, Massachusetts when she and Betty began having, “fits.”

Reverend Deodat Lawson was previously the minister of Salem Village and recorded his observations. In describing a visit to Mr. Parris’s home, Deodat noted that upon his arrival Abigail Williams had what he described as a “grievous fit.”

During this fit, she would move around the room in a rushed manner, “sometimes making as if she would fly, stretching up her arms as high as she could, and crying ‘Whish, Whish, Whish!’ several times.” The young girl also claimed to see invisible spirits and would sporadically cry out in pain.

A local doctor was brought in soon after, who identified the behavior as a result of witchcraft. And thus began the start of the Salem Witch Trials.

The Salem Witch Trials took place between 1692-1693, during which time over 200 people were accused of practicing witchcraft.

Convinced that she had been possessed by witches, Williams became one of the main accusers during the Salem Witch Trials. Williams was responsible for standing as key witness to many of the first accused witches.

Her accusations along with Betty Parris’ quickly spread around Salem and neighboring villages. The witch hunt was underway.

Salem Witch Trials

Wikimedia CommonsDepiction of a trial during the Salem Witch Trials.

After Abigail Williams began making accusations, a special witch cake was created with the intention of exposing those who were guilty of witchcraft. To make a witch cake, a sample of the victim’s urine was taken and mixed with rye-meal and ashes. The concoction was then baked into a cake. Witch-hunters would feed the cakes to special dogs called the “familiars,” thought to be helpers of the witches. The belief was that, under the spell of the witch cake, these dogs would reveal the name of the party guilty of afflicting the victim.

On Feb. 26, 1692, after the first witch cake was made, Abigail Williams accused Tituba, Sarah Good, and Sarah Osbourne of holding supernatural powers attributed to witches. Williams named these women as the people she believed where bewitching her and causing her affliction. All three of them were arrested a few days later on Feb. 29.

Though there are court records showing Williams’ presence at eight of the trials that occurred, her name and subsequent history of her life vanish halfway through the series of trials. Her last recorded testimony is from June 3, 1692, when John Willard and Rebecca Nurse were indicted.

What happened to Abigail Williams after that is unknown, as historical records of her following that trial cease to exist. However, if you are to believe author Arthur Miller (who wrote The Crucible), it is widely speculated that she became a prostitute in Boston.

If you liked this article, try reading the 6 logical explanations for the hysteria behind the Salem Witch Trials. Then you may be interested in the historical origins of the witch.

Kara Goldfarb
Kara Goldfarb is a writer living in New York City.