There are such Devils in the Church: Not only sinners but notorious sinners; sinners more like to the Devil than others. . . . If ever there were Witches, Men & Women in Covenant with the Devil, here are Multitudes in New-England.1
With these words, preached before his Salem Village congregation at the height of the witchcraft controversy of 1692–1693, the Reverend Samuel Parris secured his place in infamy. But questions remain—and will always remain—concerning the minister’s specific role in precipitating and defending the accusation, imprisonment, and execution of inhabitants for the crime of witchcraft. A crucial source of information about Parris’s involvement in the affair is the manuscript notebook of sermons that he preached before, during, and after the controversial episode, in which the pastor discussed the origins and meaning of the calamity before his congregation. Those sermons are presented here in full for the first time.
Samuel Parris has received many sentences for his real and supposed crimes of conspiracy. Writing in the aftermath of the trials, a number of Salem Village churchgoers bitterly condemned Parris as “the beginner and procurer of the sorest afflictions, not to this village only, but to this whole country, that ever did befall them.”2 Later historians have been no more sympathetic in assessing Parris’s role in the controversy. Nineteenth-century chroniclers portrayed him as a “pitiless” individual of “insane passion,” even a “madman,” while the twentieth-century playwright Arthur Miller vilified him as a proto-McCarthyite. Only with Paul Boyer and Stephen Nissenbaum’s study and, most recently, with Larry Gragg’s book-length biography of Samuel Parris, have the efforts to indict the minister moved toward an attempt to understand and to explain his role in the affair in the context of his times.3
Scholars now agree that Parris by no means was the “cause” or instigator of the witchcraft hysteria. But this fact should not disguise the significance of Parris’s preaching in shaping the village’s interpretations of the “afflictions.” As would have been the case in any seventeenth-century New England community, the people of Salem Village turned first to their minister in seeking to understand the strange occurrences in the town.4 Parris offered his response to events in 1692–93, not in the courtroom, but from the pulpit. As recent scholars have pointed out, the sermon served as the primary medium of communication and the sole avenue of spiritual interpretation concerning community affairs. In times of crisis such as those during the witchcraft accusations, the sermon became that much more important as a frightened people gathered to determine the larger meaning of the events swirling around them.5
Fortunately for those interested in Salem witchcraft, one of the notebooks in which Parris recorded his sermons has survived. The notebook contains sermons he delivered from the period of his ordination in September 1689, over two years prior to the outbreak of witchcraft accusations, until May 1694, well after the executions had stopped and Parris’s position at Salem was in jeopardy. He probably copied the fifty-two sermons preserved in the volume from original “loose papers” for safe keeping. While this collection represents only a small number of the sermons that he preached during his six years at Salem Village,6 the limited sample is nevertheless of singular importance in understanding the religious and intellectual context of Salem’s witchcraft controversy, and in assessing the significance of Parris’s interpretations.
The notebook reveals that throughout his stay in Salem Village, Parris delivered sermons that responded to contemporary controversies within the town and had forebodings of the later witchcraft crisis. His preoccupation with the presence of hidden evil in the church, his frequent references to the struggles between the forces of Christ and Satan, his strong concern with distinguishing saints from reprobates, and his insistence upon the imminence of an invasion of “devils,” all helped to create a propitious climate for witchcraft accusations. These same themes served to reinforce and justify the interpretation of witchcraft once the accusations began. Parris’s role in the witchcraft episode, in short, was, in Larry Gragg’s words, “not just important, but decisive.”7
Parris’s early life would hardly predict the notoriety he would later attain. The ministry did not represent his first choice of profession. The son of a wealthy British merchant, Parris enrolled at Harvard College but never graduated. He left the college in 1673 upon the death of his father, who left him a substantial estate in Barbados. But Parris’s efforts to run an island plantation failed miserably and, having fared no better as a merchant in Boston, he decided in 1685 to seek a clerical position. In 1689, after prolonged negotiations, he accepted a call to Salem Village, a strife-ridden rural community that had previously shown little respect for either its ministers or its salary obligations.
The decision to hire Parris bitterly divided the town, serving to harden the lines of pre-existing factions.8 Parris’s years at Salem were marked by haggling between pastor and congregation over delinquent salaries, the provision of firewood, and the transfer of land to Parris for a parsonage. The yearly election of the rate committee, which established the minister’s salary, punctuated the see-saw rivalry between Parris’s supporters and detractors, as both sides struggled to control posts on the committee. For his part, Parris criticized the congregation for its lack of respect and characterized his opponents as the enemies of Christ and the church.
The Theological and Homiletical Contexts
No less than the social and local circumstances of Salem Village, the larger intellectual and religious concerns of the late seventeenth century offer important contexts for comprehending Parris’s response to the witchcraft crisis and the shape that his sermons took. At the very time that Parris came to Salem, ministers in both the Old and New Worlds accorded witchcraft serious attention as a philosophical topic and used the controversial subject as a means of drawing people into the churches. The latter half of the seventeenth century, the period when Samuel Parris lived most of his life, was a watershed in the history of Western thought. The materialism of Thomas Hobbes and the dualism of Rene Descartes upset the assumptions of classical thought and shocked Aristotelians and Platonists into action. One school of thought to arise was that of the Cambridge Platonists, who included apologists such as Henry More, Ralph Cudworth, and Joseph Glanvill. For these scholars, the denial of the existence of spirit, or suggestions that spirit was unextended and therefore not immanent in all creation, implied a denial of the immortality of the soul, a system of eternal rewards and punishments, the incarnation of Christ, and the very being of God. Determined to head off what seemed to undermine the then-current Christian moral system by reemphasizing the unity of science and faith, of spirit and matter, these scholars asserted the existence of a mystical, spiritual world as the first of certainties.
Intellectual historians have pointed out that it was not so much the last gasp of medievalism but rather the challenge of new materialist philosophies that sparked a renewed interest in angelology, demonology, and witchcraft at the end of the seventeenth century. More, Glanvill, and others concluded that the best way to provide proof of a supernatural realm was to provide empirical evidence. Ironically, Basil Willey has noted, “witchcraft . . . furnished the only available contemporary evidence of a tangible kind for the existence of supernatural activity.”9
Ministers utilized the issue of witchcraft for theological partisanship as well as for philosophizing.10 To the Dissenters—ministers of the Puritan tradition like Parris who refused to conform to the Church of England—any efforts to rationalize “legitimate” demon possessions or sorceries entailed a denial of the spiritual world, or at least removed it to a point where it no longer interacted with the natural world. English Dissenters such as Thomas Jollie, Samuel Petto, and Richard Baxter were part of a circle of divines who in the late 1680s and early 1690s preached frequently on demonism and witchcraft and acted concertedly in publishing accounts on these subjects. Together these ministers saw their efforts as volleys in a larger struggle to discredit their critics, the more skeptical and “rational” philosophers and clerics of the Church of England.11
The works of the Cambridge Platonists and the Dissenters quickly made inroads into New England literary life. At Harvard College, tutors Charles Morton and John Leverett were able to disseminate their writings and teachings. Though differing with the neo-Platonists in their specific interpretations of witchcraft, Increase and Cotton Mather read their works avidly and recommended them to New England audiences. Along with Samuel Willard, Massachusetts eminent systematic theologian, the Mathers joined forces with English Dissenters to use witchcraft cases as opportunities for revivalism. In 1689, Cotton Mather, in Memorable Providences, Relating to Witchcrafts and Possessions, detailed the case of the Goodwin children; while in England, Jollie publicly displayed Richard Dugdale, the “Surrey demoniac,” before thousands of people who flocked to witness Dugdale’s afflictions and the rite of exorcism performed on him. Both Mather’s and Jollie’s accounts enjoyed great popularity in New England among clergy and laity alike.12
We can only speculate that Parris viewed the witchcraft crisis in his own parish as an occasion to evangelize among his listless congregation, but given the measures taken by other dissenting ministers with whom he sympathized, any effort on his part to do so would have been fully endorsed. In this light, Parris’s willingness to expose the afflicted before the community by allowing them to attend services points more to a desire to proselytize than a desire to seek retribution against his critics.13
The transatlantic network transmitted witchcraft concerns to the very farthest reaches of the colonial world—even to the “poor litle” hamlet of Salem Village.14 Samuel Parris had prolonged exposure to all of these debates and personal contact with some of the figures involved, first as a student at Harvard and a member of Boston’s First Church, then as a citizen of Boston, and finally as the minister of Salem Village, where, in 1692, he obtained a copy of Baxter’s Certainty of the Worlds of Spirits.15 When the opportunity arose, it was understandable for Parris to adopt the language and strategies that his peers employed in explaining and exploiting these phenomena. In his sermons, he accepted the reality of a supernatural world, angelic visitations, “specters,” and “apparitions,” the admissibility of spectral evidence, as well as the possibility of devils being in the church, because these were common assumptions among many of his contemporaries.16
Beside apologetic and evangelical concerns, Parris also shared with his contemporaries a conventional understanding of homiletical composition and purpose. A cursory glance at the sermons is enough to convince any reader that Parris does not qualify as one of the great preachers of colonial New England. What he lacks in rhetorical grace he more than makes up for in dogmatism. No ethical preacher, Parris in his sermons attempts—not always successfully—to maintain the Calvinist doctrines of the total depravity of humankind, the necessity for atonement, free grace, eternal rewards and punishments, and the perseverance of the saints. His pleas for evangelical repentance are made, if not with great skill or subtlety, then with apparent great relish. His style is one that typifies the contemporary departure from the self-consciously non-academic and rustic rhetorical mode, or “plain” style, characteristic of early New England preaching. By contrast, late seventeenth-century New England preaching was characterized by an increasingly ornamented version of the inherited sermonic form and rhetoric. Parris studs his meticulously constructed points and subpoints not only with a plethora of biblical proofs, but also with Latin apothegms and with allusions to the patristic and Reformation writers—concealing the fact that most of his references are culled from a single scriptural commentary, John Trapp’s Commentary or Exposition Upon All The Books of the Old and New Testaments (1656).17 The product of a nominally trained, fledging minister, Parris’s sermons reflect a search for intellectual legitimacy and spiritual authority. Furthermore, Parris compensated for his limitations by affecting scholarly depths in his character and by repeatedly and explicitly emphasizing the power and sanction of God communicated to him in his role as minister.
Aside from the issue of Parris’s merits or demerits as a preacher, the types of sermons contained in his notebook confirm the distinctions historians have drawn between “occasional” and “regular” sermons. On the important differences between the two, Harry S. Stout has written, “On weekday occasions, the minister examined New England’s corporate meaning, but on Sundays his chief concern was the individual, personal pilgrimage from death in sin, to new life in Christ, to the hope of eternal life.”18 Occasional sermons were preached in conjunction with special events such as fasts, thanksgiving celebrations, or elections; these were the type most often printed. On the other hand, all but one of the sermons that appear in Parris’s volume are “regular” or Sunday sermons, which provide the clearest indication of the religious culture of the period because their emphasis was on personal salvation.
Parris’s notebook is also important for the specific type of regular sermons it contains. All of the compositions in Parris’s notebook—with the exception of the initial ordination sermon on Josh. 5:9, preached at the gathering of the church, and the first installment of the sermon on Jer. 48:10—are sacrament-day sermons, that is, sermons preached prior to or in the afternoons following celebrations of the Lord’s Supper. As such, this collection of sermons represents the largest of this kind dating from seventeenth-century New England. The first hint of the sacramental nature of the sermons appears in the benediction written on the flyleaf of the volume, in which Parris beseeches the blessing of God upon those “wo having been at ye Lords table, have had communion wth ye Lord at his Table.” Within the sermon texts themselves, Parris either specifically identifies the discourses as sacrament-day sermons, discusses the nature of the Lord’s Supper, or makes explicit mention to the ordinance (the “occasion”) being celebrated on that day. The sermons up until 1693 are dated five or six weeks apart, congruent with the church’s “universal” vote in November 1689 to observe the Lord’s Supper “once in about six weeks space.” By January 1693, the church “fully if not unanimously” instituted the very unusual practice of celebrating the Lord’s Supper “on the first Lord’s day in each month” so that communicants could more easily remember to attend.19 Accordingly, the dates of the sermons change at that point to the first Sunday of each month.
Sacrament-day sermons cast considerable light on the nature of colonial New England piety, for the celebration of the Lord’s Supper was at once the most personal and the most public ritual of that culture.20 Ministers employed the sacramental meditation, more than any other, to provide a unique blend of spiritual, ecclesiastical, and social direction to their auditors. In a given sacramental sermon, a minister could address the most private matters of personal faith, self-examination, and the nature of true conversion; the institutional role of the sacrament as a fortifier of the church on earth and type of the church triumphant; and the temporal relevance of the Supper as an inspiration to Christian living and federal holiness.
The intervals between observances of the Lord’s Supper varied from six to eight weeks in New England churches, but the ceremony was basically the same. On the Sunday prior to the sacrament, ministers typically delivered a preparatory meditation to begin the process of self-examination that communicants were expected to engage in before partaking. Following the service, ministers reminded listeners that the sacrament would be observed the next sabbath. In the “forenoon” or morning service of the sacrament Sunday, ministers mustered their rhetorical and pastoral skills to deliver a fittingly moving and exhortatory homily. After the service, most churches dismissed the non-communicants, who were ineligible for the Lord’s Supper, making the sacrament about to be administered a privileged event. The pastor then descended from the pulpit and stood behind a long table at the front of the congregation, where he would bless the bread and wine, which would be distributed by the deacons to the seated congregation.
Parris placed a great deal of emphasis on the Lord’s Supper. Apparently convinced that the physical accoutrements of the meal should reflect its purpose and his role, Parris proposed in a December 1690 church meeting that a “more open and liberal contribution” be taken to “furnish” the Lord’s Table with a new communion set, there being “aught else but two pewter tankards.” On the Sunday and Wednesday evenings before each sacrament day, he held prayer meetings to help his parishioners prepare themselves spiritually.21 For his divided parishioners, the sacrament could serve as a renewing and unifying religious exercise, while for Parris, the administrator of the table and chief guardian of its privileges, the sacrament could serve as a source of the spiritual power he sought. Also, Parris’s notes to himself in Latin reveal a hitherto undocumented aspect of sacramental discourse in colonial New England. From these asides we know that he composed “uses” or discreet heads of the application sections of his sermons to be preached “during the meal” and “after the meal” in order to obtain the maximum effect from the combined services of word and sacrament.
Unfortunately, in Parris’s hands the eucharist often became a means of exaggerating the cleavage between communicants and non-communicants, between his supporters and critics. Each time the minister dismissed the non-communicants from the Salem Village meetinghouse before the administration of the Lord’s Supper, the divisions of the church were palpably reenacted, as those who remained behind watched—and were watched by—their departing neighbors. A further consequence and proof of this division is that nearly all of the church members in full communion supported Parris throughout his tenure, while the vast majority of non-church members from the village came bitterly to resent him and eventually forced his resignation. In an apparent effort to overcome the cleavage in church membership, he encouraged hesitant non-communicants to stay behind to watch the sacrament be celebrated. In one sermon he advised “such as have any desires to be affected wth the bloody death & wounds of a Saviour (thô they do not partake) yet to stay, & behold him. I have known God has made the very sight of this Ordinance beneficial to some, And why may it not be so to thee?” (263).
Given the importance that Parris attached to the Lord’s Supper, it is highly significant that during the witchcraft controversy Parris chose the occasion of sacrament day to offer his first public and extended commentary on the “diabolical operations” that afflicted the town. After preaching his famous sermon of March 27, 1692, “Occasioned by dreadful Witchcraft broke out here,” Parris dismissed the “common auditory” and, prior to his administration of the Lord’s Supper, he called upon Mary Sibly to repent for her role in making a witchcake by which, Parris asserted, “the Devil hath been raised among us.” Later, Parris chose a sacrament day to publicly excommunicate Martha Kory.22 Such incidents demonstrate Parris’s presence of mind to exploit the sacrament day’s symbolism as a way to legitimate the witchcraft prosecutions.
Themes in the Notebook
After a particularly contentious period in the relationship between Parris and his parishioners, the witchcraft crisis began in Parris’s own house in February 1692. Parris’s daughter Elizabeth and his “kinswoman” Abigail Williams, along with several young women of the neighborhood, inexplicably began to throw fits. Parris responded in a standard fashion, summoning a doctor to analyze the situation, who concluded that the “evil hand” was upon the young women. From there, the afflictions continued to grow until they consumed much of the village and many of the surrounding communities.
Like most authority figures, Parris unquestioningly accepted the interpretation that witchcraft was at the root of the problem. His sermons contain several important themes that cast light on his role in the affair and help explain why his followers found the witchcraft interpretation so persuasive. These themes, developed within a sacramental context, fall into three distinct phases: the first from November 1689 up to the occasion just prior to the beginning of the accusations in February 1692; the second during the accusations, trials, and executions, March–December 1692; and finally the aftermath from January 1693–May 1694.
PORTENTS: NOVEMBER 1689–FEBRUARY 1692
Throughout the period from his ordination to the beginning of the accusations, Parris’s overarching theme on sacrament days is, fittingly enough, the doctrine of Christ. Taking William Ames’s standard text, Medulla Theologica (1623), as his model, Parris treats in turn Christ’s suffering and death, resurrection, ascension, and exaltation. Yet within this christological framework, his sermons reveal his preoccupation with the spiritual war between Christ and Satan, with distinguishing saints from reprobates, and with an impending demonic invasion.
Parris’s discussion of Christ’s travails reflected his larger concern with the development of a cosmic struggle between good and evil, one in which even the little Salem Village church was involved. He continually warns the elect to expect spiritual war with the forces of wickedness. In his very ordination sermon he cautions members to expect “laborious & hazardous combats both publick & private” (40), for, as he later warns, the elect often experience “hatred & persecution from those they act so contrary to” (183). Parris urges his listeners to take refuge in Christ “against all ruining attempts and purposes” of their enemies (184). He then prompts the elect in the church to prepare to “War a good warfare, to subdue our Spiritual enemies, if we would reign with Christ in his Kingdom” (190).
Parris saw himself as personally involved in this “war,” and the sermon book contains a number of references to his well-known battle with his congregation. He interpreted his ill-treatment at the hands of the villagers as part of this battle and portrayed his opponents as the foes of true religion. Only two months into his ministry, for example, he complains of the lack of attentiveness among his congregation. “Some sit before the Preacher,” he accuses (quoting John Trapp), “as senseless as the seats they sit on, pillars they lean on, dead bodies they somtimes tread on” (58). In May 1690, with a portion of the church falling farther and farther behind in its rates,23 he condemns the congregation again, noting that “Reviling & Reproaching” reflect “the worst of Spirits especially when our Reproaches are against such poor Ministers, whose desire is your best welfare, & whose endeavour is to be found faithfull” (98). In an intriguing passage in the February 1690/91 sermon in which Parris bald-facedly criticizes delinquent rate-payers, and which he tellingly marks “Omitted,” he states that “wicked men will be at more pains & cost to be rid of Christ. . . . For idolatry men will lavish Gold out of ye bag &c. 46. Isa. 6. They will not do so very rarely for ye maintenance of ye pure Religion” (126).
Throughout the sermons of the first two years, Parris identifies himself with Christ, who was similarly “rejected” and “despised.” “Whosoever shall be ashamed of me, & my words, in this adulterous & sinful generation,” Parris warns,
of him also shall the Son of man be ashamed, wn he cometh in ye Glory of his Father, with ye holy Angels. If you are ashamed to own Christ now, to profess him before ye World: To follow him in his Ordinances, in ye pattern he hath set you, what will be ye fruit hereof? Why hereafter Christ will be ashamed of you. You are now ashamed to own an humble, wounded, bruised, & crucifyed Saviour: Well shortly an exalted & Glorifyed Redeemer will be ashamed of you. (148)
In 1690, in a thinly veiled reference to himself, Parris makes a crucial connection between his personal battles with the congregation and the larger struggle with Satan. Once Christ came “to the sacred employ of his publick Ministry,” he points outs, “Satans instruments surrounded him, wth great fury & malice” (96).
Related to the barbs directed at his opponents are Parris’s many asides that reveal a concern with betrayal. Most of the first half of the volume consists of a sermon series (that is, a sermon on a single text preached on two or more preaching occasions) on Is. 53:5. This one sermon was delivered in twelve installments from December 1689 to April 1691. As Paul Boyer and Stephen Nissenbaum observe,24 in this and other sermons in the pre-accusation period Parris relentlessly pursues the subject of Christ’s betrayal and the “Devils & men” and “pretended freinds” who “peirced & bored through,” “ground & crushed to peices” their Savior (77). The larger lesson Parris seeks to pass on to his listeners concerns the “lamentable harmony between wicked men & Divels in their opposition of Gods Kingdome & Interest. As here Divels & wicked men, and wicked men & Divels agree to wound & bruise our Lord Jesus Christ” (76).
A large part of the lengthy composition on Is. 53:5 deals in great detail with Christ’s “wounds and bruises”—his sufferings, passion, and death—and implies an effort by Parris to identify himself as similarly the victim of betrayal and abuse as one of Christ’s ambassadors. In one of the sermons of that series, delivered in January 1689/90, Parris states that “there is no trust to a rotten-hearted person what ever friendship may be pretended. There are too many in this guileful & deceitful age wo have drank in that heretical notion, together with their mothers milk, qui neseit dissimulare, neseit vivere.” Later in the same sermon he observes that “wt ever ill usage [the saints] may meet wth from fellow creatures why it is no more than wt our Saviour did & yt from pretended freinds” (77).
Parris’s listeners could hardly have misinterpreted for whom such criticisms were intended. The next month’s sermon continues in a similar vein on the importance of friendship, and thereby constitutes a further indictment of those villagers who refused to take part in the church. Parris takes up the argument that “Christ was wounded and bruised by good men” by their deserting him at the time of his arrest and death. Parris reels offa list of popular sayings about the virtue of friendship through difficulties, concluding that “to be an intimate freind to one in prosperity, but to desert such a one in adversity, is a reproaching such a one, & as it were an accusing of such a one, as if somthing of evil were to be found in such a one, wch before no discovery was made of” (79). In applying this argument in the following sermon, Parris consoles “those yt in their deepest troubles may be forsaken of all freinds &c.,” observing, “It was so wth Christ” (127).
Betrayal and hypocritical friends were only some of the disappointments that the saints had to endure as part of their earthly pilgrimage. Just as they could expect the same “ill usage” as their Savior did while on earth, so they too could expect “afflictions.” Parris particularly dwells on this theme in December 1690 in the sermon entitled, “Great afflictions peculiar to Gods dear children.” In applying Christ’s sufferings, Parris states “yt ye dearest of Gods children may be called to drink deepest of ye most embittered cups of affliction.” Whether brought on the saints by evil causes or by God out of love, afflictions “especially . . . belong to the saints” (117).
While the perseverance of saints through trial was standard doctrine, in the context in which Parris preached it, the theme served as a vindication of him and his supporters and as an accusation of his detractors. In attempting to demonstrate how believers can know that their afflictions are from God, Parris points to “our dutifull carriage to men, thô our enemies & such as [sic] persecute & afflict us” (121). Parris enjoins his followers not to study revenge or to render evil for evil, nor should they “desire after, nor rejoyce in ye fall & calamities of enemies (i.e. private & personal enemies)” (122); they should instead, in keeping with Christ’s teaching, pray for their enemies. In fine, Parris encourages the faithful to take the moral high ground in their struggle with their discontented neighbors.
Beginning with the November 1691 sermon through February 1691/92, Parris focuses on the “enemies of Christ” and the church’s inevitable victory. The sermons during this critical period deal with “Christs Session at the Right Hand of God.” At the time when Parris faced his heaviest opposition to date, he chose as his text Ps. 110:1, “Sit thou at my right hand, till I make thine enemies thy footstool.” Again, the message to the congregation could not have been clearer. In this text, God promises Christ “Kingly Dominion” to which is “subjoyned a blessed Promise of the powerful administration of that Dominion by the Preaching of the Gosple, as by a Strong Sceptre.” The promise also signifies, Parris points out, that the church “should have progress even in the very midst of enemies. . . . Notwithstanding all thine enemies round about, yet carry thou on, thine own work & Government” (171). The final part of the promise concerns “the just & severe Revenge which Christ shall execute upon his enemies” (172).
This theme of spiritual war reaches an especially high pitch in the sermons of the earliest months of 1692. In January, Parris declares that Christ defends His church “against all the madness, rage, & fury, of their enemies.” The church can expect nothing but “hatred & persecution from those they act so contrary to. As long as there is a contrary Seed, . . . there will be opposition, more or less, open or secret. 4. Gal. 27. Hince it is that not Seldom great hatred ariseth even from nearest Relations” (184). Parris continues by affirming that Christ renews the strength of the church so as to prevent the Devil from pulling it down. In the end, Christ will assuredly vanquish and punish the Devil and those wicked and reprobate men who are his assistants in the world. By February, when the afflictions in the Parris household were beginning, the minister can state: “It is a woful peice of our corruption in an evil time, when the wicked prosper, & the godly party meet with vexations by & by to cry down divine Providence, as if God had forsaken the earth, & there were no profit in his service” (186). Yet he assures the faithful that they should not be worried about “the present low condition of the Church in the midst of its enemies. Oh shortly the case will be far otherwise” (191). He concludes with what may be an allusion to his daughter, asserting that the “great King will not suffer any of his sheep to be pluckt out of his hands. . . . The Church may meet with storms, but it shall never sink” (192–93).
Consistent with his understanding of a cosmic struggle, Parris emphasizes in his sermons as strongly as any minister the sharp line of demarcation that separated the elect from the damned, the godly from the wicked: “By the Preaching of the word, Christ gathers a Church by separating of the Elect from the rest of mankind as his peculiar Flock. 15. Joh. 19. I have chosen you out of the world, i.e. I have separated you from the world” (181). Conversely, Parris elsewhere describes the unchurched as “wicked & unconverted persons” who “are left to ye wickedness of their own wicked hearts” (126).
The sermons from Parris’s first two years contain many similar references to the distinctions between the elect, the souls God had chosen to save, and the reprobate, those who were destined for eternal damnation. Ideally, a church was composed wholly of elect souls. In colonial New England, the “saints” were identified through observance of their behavior and satisfactorily meeting the requirements of the entry process—examination by the minister and elders of the church and delivering a conversion narrative. However, since humankind was fallible and only God was the true “searcher of hearts,” Puritan orthodoxy taught that the church on earth—the “visible” church—was unavoidably composed of both true saints and hypocrites. Only with the Last Judgment would the members of the “invisible” church, all of Christ’s elect, be identified.
Parris recognized the distinction between the visible and invisible churches, but nonetheless determined from the start to make his as “pure” a church as possible. In his ordination sermon, he outlines his role as the guardian of the sacraments. “I am to make difference between ye clean, & unclean: so as to labour to cleanse & purge the one, & confirm & strengthen the other” (49). In November 1690, Parris dwells at some length on the doctrine of election. He points out that Christ’s death was “efficient only for some,” namely, “for us wo are part of ye Number of ye Elect” (113).
The Salem Village church early on decided strictly to limit covenant privileges, a decision that manifested and exacerbated the division among the congregants. In a meeting of February 1689/90, the brethren agreed that only “Covenant professing believers and their infant seed” were “the proper subjects of baptism.” In a further vote that rejected the Half-Way Covenant, which extended baptism to the grandchildren of full members, they also decided that the “infant seed” included only those children who could count at least one of their parents in full communion.25 Those presenting themselves for communion were required, as Parris states in October 1693, to deliver a “profession of faith,” or an account of their spiritual experience, before the congregation (275). Later that same year, Parris affirms with threats the church’s policies, saying, “God is highly provoked, when known & visible unholy ones are brought into his house, & unto a participation of holy things. . . . They wo are unconverted are uncircumcised in heart, & therefore are not bidden, nor cannot lawfully offer themselves, or be received if they do offer themselves” (291). The distinction was to be maintained under peril of God’s curse upon the church.
In making such distinctions between the godly and the wicked, Parris of course sought to inspire those who were not in full membership to present themselves. However, in fact, the effect was to isolate those who enjoyed covenant privileges and alienate those who did not. In February 1691/92, in the face of the greatest opposition to him yet, Parris is categorical in his determination: “It teacheth Ministers to endeavour a true separation between the precious & the vile, & to labour what in them lyes to gather a pure Church” (190). By the beginning of 1692, Parris had succeeded in stereotyping any who opposed him as reprobate enemies of Christ and any who supported him as the chosen friends of Christ, members of the invisible church.
While demarcating the forces in the grand spiritual battle as the damned and the elect, Parris also made clear to the congregation that the minions of Satan would besiege the godly church members. The accumulated memory of such pronouncements provided a causal explanation for the inhabitants of Salem when the afflictions started. It is important to note that it was not unusual for Puritan preachers to mention or even to discuss Satan at length, and early in the notebook Parris routinely refers to the Devil. The difference in Parris’s case, as Larry Gragg has suggested, is that the Satanic theme dominates his sermons during the four months immediately preceding the witchcraft accusations.26 Thus on January 3, 1691/92, Parris warns that “Christ having begun a new work [in this church], it is the main drift of the Devil to pull it all down” (184). Perhaps even more ominously, Parris notes that the problems extended beyond to Satan’s human allies within the congregation, the “Wicked & Reprobate men (the assistants of Satan to afflict the Church)” (185). Parris’s concern with betrayal developed into an obsession with the idea that there were traitors within his church. As early as 1689 he warns that “oftentimes judgments begin at God[s] house. . . . And the destroying Angel begins at the sanctuary.” He goes on to espouse, no doubt unwittingly, an Arminian view of resistable grace when he affirms that it is entirely possible “for a truly godly person to fall fouly” (70).
Finally, on February 14, 1692, around the time when Elizabeth Parris was reportedly first afflicted, Parris, perhaps spurred by the sight of his daughter’s sufferings, makes a prophecy that was to have dire consequences. In his sermon for that day, he boldly warns his listeners that “for our slighting of Christ Jesus God is angry & sending forth destroyers” (188). The source of the attack, Parris explains, is nothing less than the Devil himself, “the grand enemy of the Church” (184). The reverberations of this prophecy would not cease before the lives of hundreds of innocent people had been forever disrupted or even violently ended in the attempt to find Satan’s confederates.
ACCUSATIONS AND TRIALS: MARCH 1692–DECEMBER 1693
Churchgoers later accused Parris of fueling the hysteria by preaching questionable doctrine throughout the affair, and two years after the hysteria had passed a ministerial council acknowledged that some of Parris’s comments, while hardly heretical, were “unwarrantable and uncomfortable,” and contributed to the atmosphere of fear and retribution.27 Some of those “unwarrantable” comments appear in Parris’s most infamous sermon, preached on March 27, 1692 and inscribed by Parris as “Occasioned by dreadfull Witchcraft broke out here a few weeks past, & one Member of this Church, & another of Salem upon examination by civil Authority vehemently suspected for shee-Witches, & upon it committed.” In this sermon, along with his famous sermon on Rev. 17:14, “These shall make war with the Lamb,” which followed several months later, Parris does not raise the issue of witchcraft as a possibility, but accepts it as foregone conclusion. The minister not only confirms that the strange afflictions in Salem Village are caused by witches, but also asserts that some of the witches are likely members “here in Christs little Church,” urging his listeners “To be deeply humbled for the appearances of Devils” in New England (197).
Though Parris seemed especially concerned with the fact that Martha Kory, a member in full communion in his church, was convicted of and condemned for witchcraft, his listeners could hardly have been surprised to hear that their church contained devils mixed in with the saints. In asserting, “There are Devils as well as Saints in Christs Church,” Parris offers only a shift in emphasis from his previous concerns with a conspiracy of evil within the church and the need to separate the elect from the damned. Likewise, in urging, “Let none then build their hopes of Salvation meerly upon this, that they are Church-members This you & I may be, & yet Devils for all that,” Parris again offers a “use” that follows logically from his preaching months before the outbreak. He thus observes, “Let none then be stumbled at Religion because too often there are Devils found among the Saints” (197). Parris had been placing strong—perhaps too strong—emphasis on this doctrine all along.
Similarly, in the sermon on Rev. 17:14, preached “after ye condemnation of 6. Witches at a Court in Salem,” Parris teaches that “The Devil & his Instruments will be making war with the Lamb & his Followers as long as they can” (200). As far as Parris’s supporters in the Salem Village church could see, his prognostications of the past two years had been fulfilled, imbuing him with all the more spiritual credibility and authority. He had long since urged his followers to prepare for such a battle, since “God was sending forth destroyers.” Here again Parris seeks to “Reprove such as seem to be amaz’d at the War the Devil has raised amongst us by Wizards, & Witches against the Lamb & his Followers” (202).
Parris also reinforced the witchcraft interpretation by cautioning his listeners against resisting or questioning authority. He leaves little doubt but that those who object to his interpretations and to the witchcraft proceedings are themselves likely devils. In a questionable application of what was otherwise acceptable Puritan doctrine, he asserts that “Resisters of Authority are Resisters of God.” Those who take exception to the magistrates’s actions are guilty of “Rebellion against Christ.” To “fight against the Lamb,” he concludes, is “to side with the Devil” (205).
In the March and September sermons, Parris also takes the opportunity to strengthen his criticism of his opposers and to equate them unequivocally with evil. Following numerous trial testimonies of a demonic conspiracy,28 he paints a grim scene in which there are “Multitudes, of Witches & Wizards” intent on the “overthrow of Religion” (201). In the face of such opposition, however, Christ and his followers will emerge victorious. Directly confronting his opposers in September, he states that there are but two parties, that of Christ and that of the Antichrist. “Here are no Newters. Every one is on one side or the other” (203). Parris’s point is obvious: his opponents are as much of the Devil’s party as the six witches just convicted.
After the September 11, 1692 sermons on witchcraft, the tone of Parris’s sermons shifts dramatically. By the time of the October 23 sacrament, the Boston clergy had denounced the permissibility of spectral evidence and made clear their intentions of putting a halt to the prosecutions. Several “disaffected” full members of the Salem Village church, including Thomas Wilkins, Peter Cloyse, Samuel Nurse and his wife, and John Tarbell absented themselves from communion. In response, Parris after a manner seeks reconciliation and healing with his congregation.29 Aware of the dissatisfaction with him, he delivers a meditation on Cant. 1:2, “Let him Kiss me with kisses of his mouth . . . Kisses are very sweet among true friends after some jars & differences, whereby they testify true Reconciliation.” “Manifestations of Christ[s] love,” he continues, “are exceeding sweet after there hath been a seeming breach & estrangedness, especially,” adding cryptically, “since they know the fault is wholly on their side” (211). This was, in short, an attempt at reconciliation without any effort to acknowledge his role in the affair. Even in offering the olive branch, Parris remains confrontational. “If you will not be kissed by him,” he declares, “you must be cursed by him. Now which will you choose, Christs Kisses, or Christs Curses?” (215).
Not surprisingly, Parris’s half-hearted attempt at reconciliation in October 1692 met with little success. The congregation grew increasingly divided over his role and responsibility in the tragedy; efforts by Parris and his supporters to negotiate with the dissenters failed completely. Throughout the period from January 1693 to May 1694, Parris refused to acknowlege the possibility of error. Instead, the sermons reveal how he continued to blame the dissenters, the victims, Satan’s minions, and everyone’s “pride” except his own. “Every one must acknowledge his own misery, & firstly & cheifly his own Pride,” Parris asserts (277–78). “Only by pride, cometh contention.” Again casting blame on the dissenters, he exhorts his congregation to pray that God “would bring back wanderers, confirm those that are right, & repress the enemies & calumniators of his truth” (278). These efforts failing, Parris even resorts to casting blame on the regular communicants—those who had supported him throughout—citing their “slighty” or careless partaking of the Lord’s Supper as a chief cause of Salem’s continuing problems.
With the January 15, 1693 sermon, Parris begins the longest sermon series in the notebook, twenty installments on 1 Cor. 11:23–31. Parris’s lengthiest homiletical effort expounds the Apostle Paul’s explanation of the institution and nature of the Lord’s Supper: the promise offered in the Supper, what the elements signify, the sin of partaking unworthily, and the importance of self-examination. The sermon-series also provides an index to Parris’s ongoing relationship with his church. The content of the sermons strongly suggests that Parris not only attempted to induce the dissenters back into communion, but also faced growing indifference and non-attendance among other communicants.
The commencement of this series coincided with an important turning point in the Salem trials and in Parris’s pastorate. Spectral events as legitimate court evidence had been thrown out only in the previous month, effectively ending the trials and discrediting their prosecutors. Also, the witchcraft crisis had brought admissions to full communion in Salem Village to a halt; no one had been admitted since August 1691. Parris embarked on this long exegesis in order to locate blame for the parish’s problems not on the management of the witchcraft proceedings but on abuse of the Lord’s Supper. His aims apparently were to affect reformation and unity by inducing the scrupulous and convincing the communicants to reflect upon themselves.
As Larry Gragg observes, in late 1693 Parris was still identifying his enemies in the church and town with the forces of Satan, long after others had abandoned such interpretations.30 In October of 1693, Parris avers,
When Sin & conscience, men & Devils accuse us, why then let the death of Christ appease our bleeding, wounded, & disquieted Souls. 8. Ro. 33. &c. We want not Accusers: We want no condemners: O but let Christs Death (applyed by faith) answere for all. (275)
Parris argues that the Devil “Perverted” the “holy ordinance”: “What has been the underminings of Satan whereby he has to the uttermost endeavoured to blow up & overthrow Gods purpose herein.”31 He then addresses at length the question, “What is to be done that we may prevent Satans purposes in these his Methods?” He concludes that the Devil
dos all he can to procure the distraction of Members. Christ designes the conjunction & concord of Members; but the Devil endeavors the distraction & discord of Members: One for this thing, another for that: One for that way, another for this. Nor are his endeavours in this matter, without great success, God by his just judgment punishing even of the godly for their ingratitude. Oh the divisions of Reuben! The Sharp contention between Paul & Barnabas! The miss-apprehensions, miss-conceptions, & miss-constructions, which in all ages more or less are to be found among the godly. (277)
Indeed, the dissenters later condemned Parris not only for his actions during the crisis, but for his continued “persisting in these principles and justifying his practices, not rendering any satisfaction to us when regularly desired, but rather farther offending and dissatisfying ourselves.”32
The very content and themes of Parris’s sermons played a role in his struggle with the dissenters. As time went on, Parris’s sacramental emphasis came under increasing attack, so much so that he addressed criticisms from the pulpit:
the Lords Death is to be shewed forth by the Minister, wo is by divine appointment the Dispenser of these holy things. At all times the Ministers great duty is . . . to speak much of Christs death the necessity of Christs death the necessity of the Souls getting an interest in Christs death. But now at this Sacrament is a speciall season for his so doing. Now Sermons concerning the necessity of an interest in Christs Death are eminently Seasonable. (273)
Such statements were to no avail. In summarizing their grievances against Parris and justifying their withdrawal from worship, the dissenters cited Parris’s “so frequent and positive preaching up some principles and practices . . . referring to the trouble then among us and upon us.”33
Parris’s later sacrament-day sermons are an index not only of his increasingly complex relationship with his congregation but also of the larger state of religious affairs in New England. Several historians have described the final quarter of the seventeenth century as a time of spiritual apathy in New England.34 Many communities suffered from languishing rates of church membership as growing numbers of baptized churchgoers refused to participate in full communion. E. Brooks Holifield, Charles Hambrick-Stowe, and Leigh Eric Schmidt have charted the clergy’s response to this problem, describing an increasing emphasis upon “external” forms of worship such as the Lord’s Supper, baptism, and covenantal renewal.35 To inspire hesitant laity, the clergy embarked on a proselytizing campaign that involved heightened efforts towards revivalism, “hellfire” rhetoric (including warnings about occult activities), pastoral counselling, and clerical actions coordinated through ministerial associations and correspondence networks.
The apathy could have been a function of lay baptismal piety. David D. Hall has pointed out that while New England clergymen were keen on the Lord’s Supper, lay people had their eyes on baptism as the key sacrament.36 In a religious culture that linked religion and family structure, the laity viewed baptism as the vehicle through which children were inducted into the covenanted societies of church and community. Consequently the goal of many parents in churches such as that at Salem Village, which refuted the Half-Way Covenant, was to become full members so that their children could be baptized; thereby the eternal fate of their souls as well as their social identification were safeguarded. Once the “initiating seal” was secured for their children, parents’ attention on the Lord’s Supper often diminished.
Parris’s sermons suggest that above and beyond the antagonisms raised by the witchcraft controversy, Salem Village also shared in the colony’s larger evangelical crisis. Much of Parris’s rhetoric is aimed solely at the conversion of the unchurched, many of whom had nothing to do with the witchcraft proceedings. Concerned with the spiritual state of his congregation, Samuel Parris, like most of his colleagues, attempted to cultivate a sacramental theology and a set of rhetorical and pastoral strategies in hopes that an emphasis upon meditation, external forms of worship, and emotional rhetoric would “soften” the hard-hearted sinners to whom he preached to take a more active interest in the Lord’s Supper.
Though capable of delivering “corrosives” when necessary, Parris saw the sacrament as an opportunity to try his hand at “affective” rhetoric, which might lead to the conversion of the unchurched. In one sermon that addresses the blameworthiness of the unconverted who “slight” the Lord’s Supper, Parris declares:
Here is love expressed to the life. . . . And here you are invited to behold this wonderfull love. . . . But oh how many slight it, never think of it, have no desires after, but turn their backs upon it, as not worthy to be taken notice of. . . . Why are you lost, are you undone &c. Why then sais Christ come, my body is broken for you, Take Eat &c. (250)
Such rhetoric was successful for Parris, at least initially; the Salem Village church witnessed a steady influx of members in full communion during the first two years of his ministry.37
Indeed, there is at least one concrete example in the church records that Parris’s sacramental emphasis enabled an individual to come forward and present herself for communion. On August 23, 1691, Hannah Wilkins was baptized by Parris, but dared not present herself for admission to the Lord’s Supper because she felt, despite the assurances of members of the church that she was a true saint, that she was not worthy. Parris’s advice quickly assured her otherwise. On August 28, she privately gave her profession of faith to Parris, saying that she found her desires “growing to the Lord’s Table,” and was afraid to “turn her back” on the ordinance any longer. She specifically cited the case of doubting Thomas, as found in John 20:26–29, as the immediate inspiration for her new-found confidence. Thomas, she said, “being absent from the disciples, though but once, lost sight of Christ, and got more hardness of heart, or increase of unbelief.”38 In his next sacrament sermon just two days later, Parris cites this very passage, in which Christ appears to his disciples after His resurrection:
And this apparition seems to be especially for Thomas his sake. Before Tho: was not with them: & he would not believe the report of the other Disciples, concerning Christs resurrection. Well now Christ will convince faithless Thomas himself. . . . If [thou art] diffident, remember Thomas here. (150–51)
It was to be nearly two years, however, before another person joined the church in full communion, a fact explicable in Salem Village by the animosities that arose in the church over the witchcraft episode, but nonetheless a pattern found in many communities for varied reasons. Parris’s sermons cast important light upon the nature of the spiritual crisis among the unconverted, a crisis that the minister believed bore little relationship to the witchcraft controversy. Rather, Parris maintained his belief that many potential members held off from seeking full membership out of fear of “partaking unworthily.”
Historians have long debated whether declining rates of church membership reflected an increasing secularization of New England’s religious culture, or whether youthful churchgoers were simply too scrupulous in judging the state of their own spirituality.39 Beside the documented case of Hannah Wilkins, Parris’s sermons lend considerable credibility to the latter interpretation. Parris insists that non-communicants are intentionally holding back from the Lord’s Supper, condemning “one, & all, wo have long had this Bread offered to them, & they intreated outwardly by the Word, & it may be inwardly by some strivings of the Spirit, more or less to accept of it, & yet will not” (235). Their timidity, Parris believed, rested in excessive scrupulosity. “They would come,” he asserts at one point, but for their belief that “they are not fit, they are not worthy, & the like” (250). Thus the minister singles out those who “thrô tenderness of conscience abstain frō this holy banquet, being terrifyed & thunder-struck.” Parris discovered that fear of partaking unworthily even frightened those who summoned the courage to join the church: “if they communicate, yet it is with some fear & fervor” (283).
For all of his stress on the Lord’s Supper, Parris did not ascribe to the notion of the sacrament as a “converting ordinance.” This view, advocated by Solomon Stoddard, the powerful minister of Northampton, was in the early 1690s still unpopular and would never gain adherents outside the Connecticut River Valley. Indeed, Stoddard’s nearest neighbors attempted to dissuade him from his views. Both Parris and Edward Taylor of Westfield believed, in conventional Puritan fashion, that the sacrament was a “memorial” of Christ’s death, a “seal” of a pre-existing faith, not a means to obtain grace. In his Treatise Concerning the Lord’s Supper, preached from October 1693 to February 1694, Taylor defended the orthodox position, shared by Parris, that to admit the unholy, those without a “wedding garment,” was to invite God’s judgment on the church.40 The sacrament sermons of Parris and Taylor invite comparison because of their proximity in time and their doctrinal similarities, but they arose from different contexts and were addressed to different audiences, demonstrating the complex issues surrounding the Lord’s Supper in colonial New England.
While Parris expended considerable effort in urging the unconverted to overcome their fears and join in at the Lord’s Table, he could not escape from the controversy surrounding the witchcraft calamity and his role in it. In his later sermons he castigates those members who had withdrawn from communion in protest of his refusal to acknowledge his actions in the affair. For months, Parris reiterates the “duty” of partaking at the Lord’s Table, upbraiding those who “dare live in the omission of this duty,” and warning that “It is not left to the meer pleasure of Gods Peoples to partake if they will, or to let it alone if they will” (219). Parris reminds his listeners that “God pronounced destruction to such as should neglect this ordinance” (230). The Lord’s Supper is “not to be neglected. O this holy Ordinance is not such an indifferent thing, as many by their practises, in standing off from it Seem to imagine” (267).
Parris adopts an important shift in strategy in September of 1693 when he states, “as this great Ordinance is not to be neglected, so it is not to be attended after any manner. . . . it is a Sin not rightly to attend upon it.” In the sermons that follow, he largely drops the subject of “neglect” on the part of the scrupulous and dissenters, turning his attention instead upon those members in full communion who abuse the Lord’s Supper by “partaking unworthily.” This shift is puzzling, for in so doing he risked alienating whatever support he had among the church members. Yet like so many ministers, Parris may have been confronted by his parishioners’s baptismal piety. His concern seems to have been at once to stir communicants out of indifference and to locate a cause for the continuing “divisions of Reuben.” In colonial New England, sermons citing unworthy and inconsistent partaking of the Lord’s Supper were a common and thoroughly plausible way of explaining God’s disfavor.
Parris elaborates his accusation of sacramental abuse by offering a theological distinction between those who are “habitually” unworthy and those who are “actually” unworthy. The minister defines the habitually unworthy as those churchgoers who remain unconverted. “Others thô they have an historical Faith,” Parris explains, “yet they have not saving Faith” and so “if they partake it must needs be unworthily, for they are intruders upon this holy banquet” (284). In the face of scattered calls for less restrictive communion policies, Parris warns against allowing “unholy ones” into sacramental privileges. Churchgoers must have “inward & Soul-worthiness,” he affirms, “in order to an Evangelical worthily partaking of the Lords Supper” (290).
In his sermons Parris demonstrates that his principal concern is with the “actually unworthy,” those members in full communion who had experienced regeneration but had not mortified sin:
There is an actual unworthiness; & that is when the com̄unicant indeed is a new-born soul, truly regenerated having had true grace wrought in his soul; but yet such a one thrô carelessness & negligence lives still hugging of, & under the power of some lust. (304)
Any among the habitually unworthy who partake of the sacrament, Parris explains, eat and drink eternal judgment upon themselves. The actually unworthy expose themselves to more immediate, temporal judgements by partaking despite their sinful behavior: “Losses, pains, sicknesses, Death & the like are Judgments which the truly godly may drink deeply of for their eating & drinking unworthily.”
For many reasons, Parris by this time believed that a number of his church members—all of whom he himself had admitted as supposed saints—qualified as actually unworthy. Too often he saw people during the sacrament guilty of “unnecessary gazing to & fro,” “useless whisperings,” and “noddings & nappings” (290). Too often he had to browbeat his listeners into thinking about their spiritual state: “Hince See the great stupidity of such as think it enough to be com̄unicants, howsoever they do communicate” (307). But most importantly, he castigates the church for its conflict. “Whilst you celebrate ye Lords Supper, & yet suffer divisions & Schisms to reign amongst you,” he asserts, “Ye do indeed eat unworthily of this Bread, & drink unworthily of this Cup of the Lord” (282). Later Parris repeats that “To eat with divisions, & sinful prejudices, marrs all our holy feasting” (292).
Parris’s emphasis on the sin of partaking unworthily must again be understood in the context of the witchcraft controversy and the minister’s unwillingness to address the objections made against him. He consistently strives to deflect attention from himself as a source of contention. For his sermon of April 1, 1694, Parris chooses the doctrine, “Plagues & punishments are the worthy fruits of unworthy communicating at the Lords Table.” Pressed for signs of repentance by dissenters within the church and many non-members in the congregation, Parris continues to position himself above the fray. The past and present controversies in Salem Village, in Parris’s view, result from “unworthiness”:
We need not then wonder at the many & sore judgments which do now & then befall the Church, & professors. If we consider how many communicate of the Lords Supper habitually unworthily, & what actual unworthiness is to be found in these lost & perilous times, we may wonder that punishments are not more, & that plagues are not sorer. How dos the love of many wax cold? Matth. 24. 12. And how do many content themselves wth forms only of Religion, denying the power of it? (312)
The minister later urges churchgoers simply to accept the witchcraft calamity as God’s will, “to justify God under whatsoever judgments or punishments we suffer. Shall not the judge of all the earth do right?” “God is righteous,” the minister concludes, “the fault whither we see it or not; lyes at our own door” (319).
Parris finally apologized in November 1694 in his “Meditations for Peace.” The confession prompted one member to exclaim, “If he had offered half as much some time ago, it never would have come to this.” But the minister’s relationship with Salem Village had been permanently ruptured. The majority of the church members stood by their pastor until the bitter end, voting unanimously to refuse his resignation, while dozens of non-members in the town remained bitterly opposed to him.41 In April 1696, he bowed to continuing pressure from both within and outside of Salem Village to resign. From the beginning of his ministry, Parris had succeeded too well in creating a sharp line of distinction between the members and non-members; his very presence determined who would and would not join the church. The sermons of Samuel Parris argue that at the center of Salem Village’s struggles lay not capitalist contention or family rivalries, but irremediable tensions arising from the constituency and practices that the church had assumed under Parris’s auspices.
Note on the Text
The purpose of this edition of Samuel Parris’s sermon notebook is to present the text as it appears in the original and in conformity with Parris’s intentions, while heeding certain stylistic constraints. To achieve this goal, editorial interpolation has been kept to a minimum.
The notebook in its original form is essentially what was then called a “fair copy.” There are a total of 292 written pages in the bound, octavo-sized volume, with only a few blank pages at the end, some of which are taken up by sermon notes in a later hand (possibly that of Ebenezer Parkman, a later owner of the manuscript whose granddaughter gave it to the Rev. Thomas Robbins, the founder of the Connecticut Historical Society). Parris probably transcribed the sermons into this volume for safekeeping and future reference from the original working drafts that he used in the pulpit. Consequently, the handwriting, while small at times, is very neat and presents, relative to most documents dating from this early period, few orthographic and editorial problems. There are very few deletions and interlineations, making it easy to present a clean and uncluttered text. In the interest of presenting Parris’s version of the traditional sermonic form, his use of marginal numbered heads and seemingly (to modern eyes) arbitrary spacing has been retained. Old style dating, as used by Parris in the notebook, has been preserved, as has his use of macrons (e.g. “rem̄brance” for “remembrance”). On occasion Parris used the symbol ⅌, meaning per (translated “through,” as in per totum, “through all”), in referring to entire chapters of Scripture; this symbol is retained in the text.
Certain features of the text have been changed for the sake of readability. Where there is an obvious transcribal error on Parris’s part, such as omitting a letter, a syllable or a whole word, the appropriate letters or word are supplied in square brackets ([,]). Where Parris obviously miswrote a word by putting too many letters or syllables in it (e.g. “detestestation” for “detestation”), the word is corrected in the text and the original given in a note. Deletions are not included, though deletions of substantial length are indicated in the notes. Also, any deletions deemed to be of some import are relegated to the notes. Redundancies are omitted. Interlineations and marginalia, the placement of which Parris clearly marked with carets and asterisks, are incorporated without comment.
This edition of Samuel Parris’s sermon notebook is published by the permission of the Connecticut Historical Society, Hartford, Connecticut. The editors would like to thank Harry S. Stout, David D. Hall, and Larry Gragg for making suggestions on various drafts of this volume. A preliminary version of the introduction was read at the Salem Conference on Witchcraft, Salem State College, in June 1992, the participants of which gave two church historians a most enlightening introduction to the complex world of witchcraft studies. Our appreciation goes out as well to Richard D. Brown of the University of Connecticut, Everett Wilkie of the Connecticut Historical Society, William LaMoy and the staff of the Essex Institute, and John Tyler of the Colonial Society of Massachusetts for their support and counsel. The Rev. Howard Steams, former pastor of the Danvers (Mass.) Congregational Church, now of Burlington, Vermont, generously and enthusiastically shared the results of his many years’s study of the person we have all come simply to call “Sam.” The Massachusetts Historical Society generously provided the portrait of Parris for the frontispiece to this volume. James Cooper benefited from funds provided by the Oklahoma Foundation for the Humanities and by the History Department of Oklahoma State University. Rebecca Streets and Lori Fast-Minkema assisted in entering and proofreading the transcribed text.