Authors: Ann Petry
Tags: #Juvenile Fiction, #Historical, #United States, #Colonial & Revolutionary Periods, #People & Places, #African American, #Social Themes, #Prejudice & Racism, #Social Issues
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Tituba of Salem Village
TO MY UNCLE
Frank B. Chisholm
“I cannot but condemn this method of the Justices, of making this touch of the hand a rule to discover witchcraft; because I am fully persuaded that it is sorcery, and a superstitious method, and that which we have no rule for, either from reason or religion. The Salem Justices, at least some of them, do assert, that the cure of the afflicted persons is a natural effect of this touch.”
LETTER OF THOMAS BRATTLE
Boston, October 8, 1692
There was nothing to indicate to the slave Tituba that this morning in November would be unlike other mornings she had known in Bridgetown. The sun was out. The island of Barbados lay like a jewel sparkling in the sea. Its yellow-white coral-encrusted coast line blazed in the brilliant light. Tituba could see part of the shore line from the windows of Susanna Endicott’s kitchen because the house sat on the edge of Carlisle Bay, just where it made a wide inward curve.
The slave John, Tituba’s husband, had been fishing and he was showing her the red snappers he had caught. He had carried them into the kitchen in a big hand-woven basket. The basket was a deep dark brown, almost as dark as his hands, and the fish as he took them out of the basket were silvery by contrast. He had covered the fish with leaves to keep them cool.
“Good eating,” John said, holding one of the big fish up for Tituba’s inspection. He was a tall, powerfully built man with broad shoulders. He wore only a pair of white cotton trousers rolled up to the knee. He was barefooted. He leaned over the basket and then straightened up with a fluid, easy movement that made the muscles on his back ripple under the dark brown skin. He smiled, and his face which had looked dark and severe in repose was lightened and brightened by the smile.
Tituba took one of the big fish in her hands and laughed. “It feels like I was holding a long wiggle,” she said and dropped the fish in the basket. She was short compared to John, but she held herself so erect that she looked taller than she really was. Her magnificent posture was due to the fact that she liked to carry baskets balanced on her head like the market women. Her hair was completely covered by a neatly wound white turban. She was wearing a pale blue cotton dress. The sleeves were rolled above her elbows revealing sturdy arms, the skin a smooth dark brown. She was barefooted, too.
They were so absorbed in their admiration of the fish that they both turned, startled, when Mistress Susanna Endicott came into the kitchen.
Tituba said, “You wanted something, mistress?” She had never known the mistress to be up so early in the morning. She glanced at her quickly and then away. The mistress’s dark hair was disordered. She was still wearing her night clothes. She had the rumpled look of someone who has slept badly. Her eyelids were reddened and slightly swollen, suggesting that she had been crying.
“I—uh—I,” she said and stopped. She patted her hair and then smoothed it with her hands. “I—uh—I should have told you yesterday—but—uh—I couldn’t—” She paused, sighed, making a tremulous sound, a shivering kind of sound in the absolute stillness in the kitchen. “I needed money. I had to have money. And so—uh—I have sold you. Both of you.”
Tituba made a sound of protest, “Ah———” The beat of her heart kept increasing. She could feel it thumping, thumping inside her chest. Her mind filled with questions. To whom had the mistress sold them? She was a wealthy widow. Why had she so suddenly needed money? Tituba wondered why she had had no feeling of foreboding to indicate that something dreadful was going to happen.
John said, frowning, “Who bought us, mistress?”
“I couldn’t help it,” the mistress said. “I couldn’t help it. I needed money right away.”
“Who bought us, mistress?” he repeated.
“’Tis a minister. The Reverend Samuel Parris. He’s been in trade here in Barbados. And he didn’t do well. So he’s leaving. He’s going to be a minister in Boston in the Bay Colony.”
“When did you sell us, mistress?” Tituba asked.
“Yesterday?” Tituba echoed the word, trying to think, to remember what yesterday was like. It was just another sunny, warm day. She had gone swimming in the inlet beyond the house. The water was so clear you could see the tiniest pebble way down at the bottom.
The mistress had been her usual self—nervous, excitable, restless. Tituba had belonged to Mistress Endicott ever since she was fourteen. She and John were quite accustomed to her ways. Tituba was nineteen when the mistress became a widow, rich enough to live as she pleased and own as many slaves as she pleased. When John’s master died, the mistress bought John at Tituba’s urging. Shortly afterwards she and John were married.
During the ten years of their married life, they had been very happy with the mistress. They were used to her. She was always giving parties or going to parties. She liked to stay up late at night and stay in bed until late in the day. She liked to play card games. She liked to have her fortune told. She’d had a gypsy woman teach Tituba how to tell fortunes with cards.
Tituba said hesitantly, “When are we to leave Barbados, mistress?”
Mistress Endicott averted her head, fumbled for, and found a small white handkerchief which she pressed against her nose. She crossed the kitchen, looked out at the bay. “This morning,” she said in a muffled voice, “in a little while. Reverend Parris is leaving on the
. It’s in the bay. You can see its sails from the window.”
Tituba thought, If I had known I would have run off into the hills with John. Later we could have gotten a boat and gone to another island and lived free in the hills and woods of some other island. She says our new master is going to be a minister in Boston in the Bay Colony. Where is Boston in the Bay Colony? She reached for John’s hand and held it tight. At least they would be together in this strange land where they were going.
“Come,” the mistress said. “I have something for both of you. Brought from England. Never worn. We have to hurry. Reverend Parris will be here soon.”
They followed her into her bedroom. At the foot of the great bedstead there was a huge carved chest. The mistress opened it, then knelt down and took out a dark brown shawl, very soft, very thick, and handed it to Tituba. Then she reached farther into the chest and drew out a dark brown wool dress and a heavy cloak of deep dark green. “Wear the dress,” she said, “and carry the cloak and the shawl over your arm.”
She handed John a woolen cap, a greatcoat, and a pair of dark woolen pants and a jacket of the same dark, heavy woolen cloth. “Put these pants on. It will be cold.” She reached farther down in the chest. “Here are good stout shoes for both of you. You must wear them. There will be snow in Boston. You can not go barefoot in the snow.”
She fell to sobbing, still on her knees, her head resting on the edge of the great carved chest. “You were my jewels,” she said, “my friends—my dearest friends.”
“It is indeed a sorrowful thing,” Tituba said, shaking her head. We were her jewels? she thought. She still wears diamonds on her soft white hands and golden bracelets on her wrists, her slender neck is encircled by a turquoise necklace. We were her friends?
Tituba put on the heavy woolen dress, and felt her skin prickle, and sweat break out on her body. She wound a clean, white linen turban around her head and then went to pack their belongings in a bundle. John came into the kitchen, wearing the dark wool pants. He was fingering the fabric as though he were trying to keep it away from his skin. He was carrying the jacket and the greatcoat.
He was ready sooner than she had expected. She had planned to spend a few quiet moments sitting in the kitchen. She wanted to impress it on her memory—the big fireplace, the black iron cooking pots, the high ceiling, and the view of the bay like a part of the kitchen, and a glimpse of the little inlet where she went swimming early in the morning. She could ease her feet, too, as she sat—her feet pained in the shoes. She tucked the thunderstone into the front of her dress. It was wrapped in layers and layers of cloth just as it was when it was given to her by a very old man way up in the hills. She had begun to tie up the bundle she was going to carry when the mistress came into the kitchen with the Reverend Samuel Parris.
They said good-bye to the mistress quickly, and then she and John walked out of the house with the new master. Tituba felt herself short beside him, and because his skin was so white and unhealthy looking—no tinge of pink to suggest blood flowed in his veins—she felt her own skin to be very dark.
He was tall and thin and dressed in black clothes. He spoke abruptly, his manner as hurried as his speech. He headed towards the dock, walking fast. He said his wife was sickly and that she had already boarded the ship, the brig
, and that they would get aboard now immediately because the ship was to sail within two hours if not before. All signs were propitious; the weather was clear; there was little or no wind.
Before they got on the ship, they would pray for a safe passage. To her astonishment, he knelt right down on the dock and gestured to them to kneel, too. He began to pray in a loud harsh voice. People turned and stared at him, and stared at her and at John. She thought how foolish they must look, down on their knees, in the middle of all the hustle and bustle caused by the loading and unloading of ships, the comings and goings of sailors and slaves and traders. It was hot in the sun. Her feet hurt in the heavy shoes. She had the woolen shawl and the heavy cloak over one arm, and that arm was drenched with sweat—she could feel sweat pouring down her body. She looked at John, and his face and forehead were wet with sweat.
Finally the master said, “Amen,” and stood up.
A sailor standing nearby said, “Amen,” in a loud voice, and when the master turned to look at him, he added, “Thank God, Parson, it’s finally and at last ‘Amen.’ Your prayer was overlong. We’ve a use for that bit of dock you were using as a prayer rug.”