Thursday, March 11, 2010

She's a Witch! She's a Witch! Burn 'er!

This past week, NBC started a new series called "Who do you think you are?" The first episode featured Sarah Jessica Parker who they traced back to ancestors that were accused during the Salem Witch Trials. Luckily for Sarah's ancestors they escaped the hysteria and survived. For more info on the series go to
Who Do You Think You Are?

Well this got me thinking, I know I had family that were in the Salem area in the 1600's but I never really paid attention and put it all together. So this past week, I dug into my records and did some searching. Turns out that I had many family members in Salem during that time period, and some were definitely affected and not in a good way.

My 9G-Grandmother was Rebecca Towne Nurse, wife of Francis Nurse. On March 23, 1692, a warrant was issued for her arrest based upon accusations made by Edward and John Putnam. Upon hearing of the accusations the frail 70 year old Nurse, often described as an invalid, said, "I am innocent as the child unborn, but surely, what sin hath God found out in me unrepented of, that He should lay such an affliction on me in my old age."

There was a public outcry over the accusations made against her, as she was considered to be of very pious character. Thirty-nine of the most prominent members of the community signed a petition on Nurse's behalf. At age 71, she was one of the oldest accused. Her ordeal is often credited as the impetus for a shift in public opinion about the validity of the witch trials.

Her trial began on June 30, 1692. By dint of her respectability, some testified on her behalf including her family members. However the young Ann Putnam and her siblings would break into fits and claim Nurse was tormenting them. In response to their outbursts Nurse stated, "I have got nobody to look to but God." Many of the other afflicted girls were hesitant to accuse Nurse.

In the end, the jury ruled Nurse not guilty. Due to public outcry and renewed fits and spasms by the girls, the magistrate asked that the verdict be reconsidered. At issue was the statement of another prisoner "[she] was one of us" to which Nurse did not reply, probably because of her loss of hearing. The jury took this as a sign of guilt and changed their verdict, sentencing Nurse to death on July 19. She was hanged that day, July 19th, 1692.

Many people labeled Nurse "the woman of self dignity", due to her dignified behavior on the gallows. As was the custom, after hanging Nurse's body, she was buried in a shallow grave near the gallows, along with other convicted witches, who were considered unfit for a Christian burial. Nurse's family secretly returned after dark and dug up her body which they interred properly on their family homestead.

On September 22, 1692, Rebecca's sister, Mary Towne Easty, was hanged as a witch. This was my 9th Great Aunt.

The father-in-law of my 8th Great Uncle, Thomas Very, was John Proctor. John Proctor was accused of being a Wizard (male Witch), and was hanged on August 19th, 1692. His wife, Elizabeth Proctor, was accused and sentenced but escaped death due to her pregancy. Apparently they would not kill a woman who was pregnant. She was imprisoned and gave birth to John Proctor III in January 1693, and both were released from prison in May 1693.

I have searched and to the best of my knowledge none of the extended family were accusers, jury or witnesses against the accused. It was definitely a sad time in our country's history.

My Vary/Very/Verry family lived in Salem at this time also. It was my 7th Great-Grandfather, John Very, who married Rebecca Nurse's grand-daughter, Hannah Nurse. John Very was the Grandfather of Samuel Very, who is discussed in an earlier blog "Marital Conflict, Pt 1" Somehow the Very family was not embroiled in this hysteria.

Hopefully we have learned our lesson, and know not to rely on false accusations to determine if someone is a witch or not, but rather to properly compare their weight to that of a duck!

Respectfully submitted,

Derek Green

1 comment:

  1. Derek..John Proctor is my 8th great grandfather...I just tripped over this blog while researching John Proctor..check out my blog and let's chat privately about family genealogy..I will check back here or on my blog as to how we can set this up....