“Candy no witch”:

Two African Slaves Caught Up in the Salem Witch Trials of 1692

By Benjamin C. Ray
This is an image of Benjamin Ray

Benjamin Ray
Photo by Jack Mellott

It is not surprising, perhaps, that among the approximately 155 people accused in the infamous Salem witch trials of 1692, two of the accused were enslaved Africans, identified in the court records as “negro.” It’s arguable that, when most lay persons think of blacks and the Salem debacle, the legendary Tituba comes to mind. Still widely believed by popular historians and writers to be African-American or African, Tituba, the slave of Rev. Samuel Parris of Salem village, was actually Indian. Indeed, every single reference to Tituba in the court documents of the time, as well as in contemporary eyewitness accounts, classifies her as “Indian,” never as “negro” or “mulatto,” another popular Puritan term.

Recent scholarship has shown conclusively that the origins of Tituba’s mythical ancestry are to be found in embellished literary accounts dating from the late nineteenth century, well after the Civil War, when the institution of slavery and African-American ethnicity became closely linked. From the moment Henry Wadsworth Longfellow changed Tituba’s ethnicity from Indian to half-African and half-Indian in his play, Giles Corey of Salem Farms, popular historians and writers thereafter repeated the change, and sometime later Tituba evolved in the cultural imagination into a fully African slave, whose voodoo-like rituals caused the Salem witch trials and turned the Puritans of Salem village against themselves.

But what of the two women accused of witchcraft, who, unlike Tituba, were actually “negroes?” Both were female servants in Puritan households. One, Mary Black, lived in the house of Margaret Thatcher in the seaport town of Salem, Massachusetts. The other, Candy, lived in the home of Nathaniel Putnam in nearby Salem village where the witchcraft accusations began. The accusers of these two enslaved women were the same young females responsible for initiating the whole Salem debacle. Residents of Salem village, they turned out to be the only accusers of these African women whom they may have seen as easy targets if only because, in their minds, the devil was “black.”

The Salem court records reveal that the devil was repeatedly referred to as a “black man,” a widely known characterization imported from Christian Europe. It might therefore be assumed that the devil’s “blackness” carried an ethnically specific racial meaning. But the color black and its evil connotations also applied to Native Americans whom the early Puritans believed to be devil worshippers. After the devastating King Phillip’s War of 1676-77, in which hundreds of settlers were brutally killed, the Puritans greatly feared the Indians, and their fears were revived in 1692 after renewed attacks in1689. New Englanders described the Indians as tawny or black in color, especially the much feared Wabanaki of Maine who wore black face paint in their devastating raids upon the settler communities. Indeed, one of the court records tells of a woman who reported a frightening dream in which “she saw a thing like an Indian all black which did pinch her in her neck.”

In writing about the Salem witch trials Cotton Mather reported that New Englanders “suppos’d the Black man (as the Witches call the Devil) ... resembles an Indian).” It turned out that the “black man,” eventually identified as the leader of the witches in Salem village, was a disreputable Puritan preacher named George Burroughs, who always wore a black suit of clothes. Once Burroughs was identified, the witchcraft accusations proliferated all over Essex County, as people began to charge their quarrelsome neighbors with being Satan’s evil followers. Mary and Candy, the enslaved Africans, alleged to be members of this evil band, were charged with witchcraft.

The puzzling question, however, is why these two potentially vulnerable suspects were never brought to trial, and, indeed, why in the end, unlike most of the other equally innocent “witches,” they were cleared of all charges. The question is all the more interesting in light of the fact that, according to court records, both slaves were compelled by the magistrates to perform demonic practices in court to “torment” their young accusers and thus to provide “evidence” to incriminate themselves. The young accusers obligingly screamed out in pain to show they were bewitched. Such “evidence” was routinely produced in court by the screams and antics of the young accusers against nearly all the defendants, and for many, this kind of evidence led to formal indictments, jury trials, and in nineteen cases execution by hanging. Why not for these two black slaves? Why were the accusations against them never taken seriously? But more important, how did they get caught up in this hysteria in the first place?

The first to be charged (on April 21, 1692) was Mary Black, a household servant to seventy year-old Nathaniel Putnam. Putnam was a respected leader and member in Salem village whose younger nephews and cousins were avid witchcraft accusers. During her preliminary examination the Salem magistrates pressed Mary Black to admit that she was a witch, and she steadfastly refused: “Mary, you are accused of sundry acts of witchcraft: Tell me be you a Witch?—Silent. How long have you been a Witch? I cannot tell. But have you been a Witch? I cannot tell you. Why do you hurt these folks? I hurt no body. Who doth? I do not know.” The judges then turned to Mary’s young accusers, 12 year-old Ann Putnam, Jr., Ann’s 18 year-old cousin Mary Walcott, and the Putnam family’s 18 year-old servant Mercy Lewis—all of whom were prolific accusers. “Doth this Negro hurt you? Several of them [the girls] said yes.” When one of the justices noticed that Mary was nervously clutching at her neck scarf, he asked, “Do you prick sticks?” apparently believing she was using the pins in her scarf to “prick” the girls. “No, I pin my neck cloth” said Mary. Then came the trick to make Mary incriminate herself. “Well take out a pin, & pin it again.” When Mary did this “several of the afflicted cried out they were pricked. Mary Walcott was pricked in the arm till the blood came, Abigail Williams was pricked in the stomach & Mercy Lewes was pricked in the foot.”

On the basis of this supposedly genuine evidence Mary was sent to jail in Boston. But unlike dozens of other witchcraft suspects, who were tried and convicted on similar evidence, Mary Black’s case was passed over and she was never brought to trial.

Why? This puzzling question persists. Perhaps one explanation is that her master, Nathaniel Putnam, never made any charges against her. Indeed, he might well have resented the accusations leveled by the younger Putnam family members. But more than this, it is significant that no one else in the village supported the girls’ charges with their own accusations against Mary. Despite the courtroom antics of her young accusers, which had helped to condemn so many others, no one else came forward with stories of torment or suffering supposedly inflicted by Mary Black. Thus on January 11th 1693 she was cleared of all charges “by proclamation.” Her owner Nathaniel Putnam paid her jail fees and took her back into his house.

Candy, along with her mistress Margaret Hawkes, was accused two months after Mary Black on July 1, 1692. Unlike Mary, Candy readily confessed to being a witch, although she accused her mistress and co-defendant of transforming her into a witch. Her examination in court began with the usual question, “Candy! are you a witch? Candy replied by saying “Candy no witch in her country. Candy’s mother no witch. Candy no witch, [in] Barbados.” Candy went on to explain that in “this country,” by which she meant Salem, Massachusetts, her mistress made her witch. Intrigued, the justices asked, “What did your mistress do to make you a witch? A. Mistress bring book and pen and ink, make Candy write in it. Q. What did you write in it?—She took a pen and ink and upon a book or paper made a mark.” Here Candy was making use of the Puritan concept of “signing the devil’s book,” an imaginary procedure by which a person made a covenant with the Devil and thereby gained demonic powers. Wanting to know more, the justices asked Candy how she afflicted her victims. One such means was called a “poppet” or puppet, made out of cloth to represent the witch’s intended victim. “How did you afflict or hurt these folks, where are the puppets you did it with?—She [Candy] asked to go out of the room and she would show or tell … and she presently brought in two clouts [cloths], one with two knots tied in it, the other one … “As soon as her young accusers saw them “they were greatly affrighted and fell into violent fits …” All of them said they saw the specter of the black man and Mrs. Hawkes and the negro standing by the puppets or rags and pinching them, and “then they were afflicted, and when the knots were untied yet they continued as aforesaid. A bit of one of the rags being set on fire, the afflicted all said they were burned, and cried out dreadfully. The rags being put into water, two of the forenamed persons were in dreadful fits almost choked, and the other was violently running down to the river, but was stopped.” The “evidence” of witchcraft must have seemed clear to everyone in the court room. And yet, as with Mary, the court chose not to follow through with this trumped up evidence, and Candy went free. On January 6, 1693 she and her mistress Margaret Hawkes were both found “not guilty.” Why?

The answer seems to be the same as in the case of Mary Black. No one else came forward with an accusation against her. The young accusers’ best courtroom performances of their alleged “torments” and “fits” led nowhere. In the context of the whole Salem witchcraft debacle and its flagrant miscarriage of justice, at least in the story of these two African slaves, it seems that justice was done.