m. 25 APR 1620
m. 24 AUG 1644
Facts and Events
Rebecca Towne Nurse (or Nourse) (February 21, 1621 – July 19, 1692) was executed for witchcraft by the government of the Province of Massachusetts Bay in New England in 1692, during the Salem witch trials. She was the wife of Francis Nurse, with several children and grandchildren, and a well-respected member of the community. Although there was no credible evidence against her, she was hanged as a witch on July 19, 1692. This occurred during a time when the Massachusetts colony was seized with hysteria over witchcraft and the supposed presence of Satan within the colony. Her sisters Mary Easty and Sarah Cloyce were also accused of witchcraft, with Mary found guilty and executed.
Rebecca was 70 years old when she was tried by the Court of Oyer and Terminar (Hear and Determine), a fragile elderly woman who had lived a good life, even if on her own terms to some extent, was 'cried out' upon and hung at the Gallows Tree. Rebecca's house still stands and is now under the care of Salem Historical Society.
Rebecca's two sisters were also accused for many of the same reasons. Several years earlier Rebecca's mother had been accused of witchcraft. She was, however, never tried. Local gossip during the trials suggested the profession was passed down from mother to daughters. The trial itself was a sham and a virtual mockery of the judicial system. The complaint was signed by Edward and Jonathan Putnam. The charge was for afflicting Ann Putnam Jr. and Abigail Williams. Ann Putnam, Sr. testified that the ghosts of Benjamin Houlton, Rebecca Houlton, John Fuller, and her sister Baker's children (6 of them) as well as her sister Bayley and her three children came to her at various times in their winding sheets and cried for justice of being murdered by Rebecca Nurse. John Putnam, Sr. and his wife Rebecca (Prince) Putnam actually refuted charges that their daughter Rebecca Shepard and their son-in-law John Fuller had been murdered by Rebecca Nurse. Sarah Nurse (Rebecca's daughter) testified she saw Goodwife Bibber (an afflicted woman in the trial) pull pins out of her clothes and hold them between her fingers, and clasp her hands around her knees, and then she cried out and said, "Goody Nurse pricked me." On June 2, 1692, two physical exams to search for witches marks were performed by midwives. On June 28, 1692, Rebecca petitioned the court for another physical exam citing one previous examiner to be of contradictory opinion from the others. At her trial, testimonials regarding her Christian behavior, care, and education of her children brought a verdict of not guilty. William Stoughton then politely asked the jury to again retire and reconsider their verdict. So much for not being tried twice for the same offense. On July 3, 1692, the Reverend Nicholas Noyes had Rebecca brought from her prison cell to the church. When she arrived, the Reverend excommunicated her before the congregation. How shattering would this be to such a deeply religious person as she was known to be? A petition was drawn up and signed on May 14, 1692 by most of the richest and most influential people such as Israel Porter (his name appears first), Daniel Andrews, even John Putnam, Sr. and his wife along with 35 other were cosigners of the petition. The petition was sent to Governor Phipps who responded with a temporary reprieve. The reprieve ran out and Rebecca, along with four other ladies, was hanged on July 19, 1692. She was buried in such a shallow grave on that rocky hill that some body parts remained exposed. Her family came in the dark of night, collected her remains, and reburied her on the family's property. (Rootsweb.com Text by Dana A. Wildes )
She was considered intelligent, pious and devout. She bought some land in 1678 and had to go to court to fight for it against one Zerubabel Endicott, where he lost. This incurred his hostility. Part of the disputed land was made a portion of Ipwich, MA and controversies about boundries of Salem and Ipwich arose. John Putman and others of his large family met the Nurses and the Esteys (Rebecca's sister Mary who also was hung for witchcraft) on the land and angry words were exchanged. This controversy was long and bitter. It was the Putmans who lodged charges against Rebecca for "vehement suspicion of having committed sundry acts of witchcraft upon Mrs. Ann Putman, Ann Putman, Jr and Abigail Williams." A warrent was issued on 3/24/(1692?). She was arrested the next day and examined, where the Putmans and Abigail testified she had hurt them. Rebecca stoutly denied this. Asked if she believed the afflicted persons were bewitched, she said they were. She remained in jail until June 1. On June 2, 4 indictments were returned against her for afflicting persons on 3/24. The trial was delayed until June 28. Several witnesses testified they were afflicted by her, that her apparition pinched and chocked them and were threatened by death. Rebecca's body was examined for a "witchmark" which one was found. She asked for another jury to examine her but this request was apparently never granted. The trial jury returned a verdict of not guilty - whereupon her accusers cried out with renewed vigor and taken in the most violent fits, rolling and tumbling about, creating a scene of the wildest confusion. The judge told the jurymen to reconsider the testamony of one of the witnesses but the jury still could not agree upon a verdict of guilty. The jury requested she explain the remark of this witness. She made no response so the jury felt her silence construed a confession of guilt and returned a verdict of guilty. She tried to explain her remark after the verdict by saying she was hard of hearing and did not hear them ask her the question, but would have answered their questions. She was sentenced to be hanged. The governor granted a reprieve; she was excommunicated from the church immediately. (This was erased from the books in 1712) Immediately upon the reprieve being granted, the afflicted renewed their clamors, and their complaints. And the governor was influenced to recall the reprieve. She was carted to the summit of Gallows Hill and hanged on July 19th. In Danver MA, there is a monument erected to her memory. Grave charges have been made against the chief of justice in this case as he practically forced the jury to reverse their not guilty verdict. (Rootsweb World Connect Project, Jan Botkin Therkildsen.)
DEATH: On Gravestone: Written by John Greenleaf Whittier Rebecca Nurse Yarmouth, England 1621 Salem, Mass. 1692
O Christian Martyr who for truth could die When all around thee owned the hideous lie! The world redeemed from Superstition's sway Is breathing freer for thy sake today.
In the midwinter of 1691/92, girls living in Salem Village began to fall into horrid fits, and their parents tried to discover what was causing their distress. In late February, the village doctor concluded that the girls were being afflicted by witchcraft; and the girls, at the urging of their elders, named three witches-Tituba, Sarah Good and Sarah Osburn.
Then on March 19, 1692, the girls named the frail 71-year-old matriarch, Rebecca Nurse, as one of their tormentors. When informed of her being accused of practicing witchcraft, Rebecca exclaimed, "…as to this thing, I am as innocent as the child unborn, but surely what sin hath God found out in me unrepented of that He should lay such an affliction upon me in my old age?"
On March 23 constables arrested Rebecca in her bed chamber and took her away from her beloved homestead. In June, Nurse's trial took place with 40 of her neighbors signing a petition commending her exemplary character. Nurse was at first found innocent by the jury, but they reversed their decision when the afflicted girls began to go into terrifying torments, and after the presiding justice asked them to reconsider some of the testimony. Although her children continued to fight to save her life, Rebecca was finally hanged on July 19, 1692. After the execution, Rebecca's children secretly removed their mother's body to her homestead and thereburied it in an unmarked grave. from www.RebeccaNurse.org