Many of the Salem Village farming families believed that Salem Town’s thriving economy made it too individualistic. This individualism was in opposition to the communal nature that Puritanism mandated. Thus, they were out of touch with the rest of Salem Village. One particularly large farming family who felt that Salem Town was out of touch with the rest of Salem Village was the Putnams.
The Putnams were the leaders of the separatist group primarily because they owned the most farmland in Salem Village. They hoped to solidify a separation from Salem Town by establishing a congregation unique from it. So in 1689, a congregation was formed under the Rev. Samuel Parris and began worshipping in the Salem Village Meetinghouse. However, the congregation only represented a select group since over half of its members were Putnams. If this action did not further strain already weakened relations between the two factions, the events concerning Parris’ contract did.
Contracts for ministers during this period often provided them with a modest salary, use of a house, and free firewood. Parris received this and much more. He not only got a modest salary and free firewood, but the title and deed to the parsonage and its surrounding land. Needless to say, this was a very uncommon perk to be included in a minister’s contract during this time. This perk especially angered the residents who wanted to remain a part of Salem Town. The Salem Town supporters showed their opposition by refusing to worship at the Meetinghouse and withholding their local taxes. This latter action was of important consequence because the local taxes helped pay the minister’s salary and provided his firewood.
In October of 1691 a new Salem Village Committee was elected that was comprised mostly of Parris’ opponents. This new committee refused to assess local taxes that would pay Parris’ salary, and also challenged the legality of his ownership of the ministry-house and property. These actions by the new committee caused Parris and his family to rely solely on voluntary contributions for sustenance. The Putnams were now worried of losing Parris and the soughted independence from Salem Town the congregation would help bring, and Parris was concerned about his job and providing for his family.
Cold Winter Days
The Rev. Samuel Parris had a relatively small family. He was married and had a nine year old daughter, Betty, and a twelve year old niece, Abigail Williams, who was an orphan. Abigail was expected to earn her keep by doing most of the household chores, and also care for her invalid aunt. Betty’s poor health prevented her from helping with the household chores, so much of the work feel on Abigail’s young shoulders.
After chores were done, there was little entertainment for Betty and Abigail. Salem Town was eight miles away, and Boston was a twenty mile journey over unforgiving roads. Thus, Samuel Parris only visited these places when business required it. He also opposed the girls playing hide-and-seek, tag and other childhood games because he believed playing was a sign of idleness, and idleness allowed the Devil to work his mischief.
Reading was a popular pastime during the winter months. There was an interest in books about prophecy and fortune telling throughout New England during the winter of