Being the Record of Hannah King, born April 14, 1681, Salem Village
By Lee Zacharias
I was a girl, you understand. I had a girl’s sins. I wanted to know whom I would marry. We all did. Would our husbands be rich, would they have land? What would be their trade? Though Reverend Parris preached against magic as a trick of Satan, we knew ways to tell the future. And if we were predestined, what could be the harm? I was 11 that year, two years older than the Reverend’s daughter Betty, the same age as her cousin Abigail, who lived with them. Abigail was an orphan. Many of the girls who would be afflicted were living as maidservants with relatives or others who might take them in, Mary Warren with the Proctors, Elizabeth Hubbard with Dr. Griggs, Mercy Lewis with the Thomas Putnams and their daughter Ann. Only Mercy knew who her parents were. They had been killed by Indians at Casco Bay, and for a brief time she stayed with the Reverend George Burroughs, who survived. How she came to Salem and the Putnams no one knew, but we could guess. Reverend Burroughs had once been pastor of the Salem Village Church, but he had left for Casco Bay in dispute over his salary, forced to borrow money from Thomas Putnam, who was known to hold a grudge. Mercy was older, as were Mary and Elizabeth, 17 or 18, old enough to marry, but orphaned girls had no dowries, and the question of the future was of much urgency to them, for if they failed to marry or displeased their masters, they would have nowhere to go. The salary for Reverend Parris was also in dispute. The church in Salem Town accepted the Half-Way Covenant, but in the Village, Reverend Parris feared the Devil was among us and refused to baptize any child whose parents had not testified to how God had shown Himself to them. Only the converted could be members of the church. It was brutal cold that winter, with much snow, but the villagers refused to supply the Meeting House or Parsonage with firewood, and they argued with church members whether their tax revenues should be used to pay his wages. Betty was a sensitive girl, and though she was but 9, perhaps she too feared for her future. I was drawn by curiosity alone, for I lived with my parents, brothers, and one sister. Surely my dowry was secure. And though I was marked, for underneath my shift there was a small brown mole near my hip, not so different from the marks of Satan that the Court
of Oyer and Terminer would soon look for on the accused, that small spot was my secret, and I kept my secrets well, just as I kept Betty’s. It was Abigail persuaded her. First they tried the scissors and the sieve, but when Goody Parris opened her basket, she did not find her scissors as they were, and she blamed their servant Tituba, the strange, dark-skinned woman Reverend had purchased in Barbados when he was a sugar merchant there. Nor were the girls discovered after they tried the Bible and a key, but neither sieve nor Bible yielded answers, and so they turned to the Venus glass. It is known that the shape an egg white takes when it is dropped into a glass of water will reveal your future husband’s trade. A plough foretells a farmer, a ship a man who sails the seas. Instead, Abigail saw a coffin, which caused her to faint dead away. In her fright, Betty became forgetful of her chores, her mind apt to wander during prayer, and when Reverend rebuked her, she fell into fits. They say she barked like a dog, crawled about the floor, and writhed most hideously. Abigail too took fits, but Reverend’s prayers failed to cure them, and he summoned Dr. Griggs, who could find no disease and concluded that they had been bewitched. When Reverend forced them to reveal who had possessed them, they named Tituba, the beggar woman Sarah Good, and the outcast Sarah Osborne, who was feuding with the Putnams over an inheritance. Tituba was examined first, and she confirmed the spectres of both Sarahs. Despite the faults in her English, the confession she delivered to the court held such power that many of those present trembled as if stricken or fell to the floor. She did not will to hurt the children, she insisted. A tall, white-haired man in a black coat had forced her to torment them lest she die. She had looked upon the Devil, who took many shapes, a big black dog, a hog, black and yellow rats, a yellow bird. Again she said that she had seen the spectres of Sarah Good and Sarah Osborne, and over the next weeks the afflicted girls, especially Thomas Putnam’s daughter Ann, would name many more. Once a month all that summer we gathered upon Gallows Hill to watch the witches hang, including Reverend Burroughs, whom Mercy had accused. When he recited the Lord’s Prayer upon the gallows, some protested he must be innocent, but he was not spared. All of the hanged pled innocence, though Giles Corey refused to plead and was pressed to death instead, which is more grievous to endure. But I have not yet told my part. I was a strong girl. I did not swoon or fall into fits. Neither accuser nor accused, I kept my secrets, that hidden mark, and this: for I too had gazed into the Venus cup, where I saw not ship, not plough, nor coffin. What I saw was a book. But I could not tell from the shape of it whether it was a Bible or that other book where the Devil made his minions sign their names in blood. I knew not whether I would marry a man of the cloth or pledge my troth to Satan. Lee Zacharias is the author of three novels, a collection of short stories and a collection of essays. Her most recent novel, Across the Great Lake, was named a 2019 Notable Michigan Book, took a silver medal in literary fiction from the Independent Publishers Awards, and won both the 2019 North Carolina Sir Walter Raleigh Award and the 2020 Phillip H. McMath Book Award. Her fourth novel, What a Wonderful World This Could Be, will be released in June 2021 by Madville Publishing.
Photograph by Andrew Sherman The Art & Soul of Greensboro