Salem is known for having a history full of witchcraft and wizardry. Read on to know the story of one of the important characters in the tragic story, Rebecca Nurse…
Rebecca Nurse was a 71-year-old mother of 8 children. She was a free-minded woman who was never afraid to say the truth. Being a very pious lady, she did not betray her faith in the lord even during the trial. Several times in the trial, when her innocence was questioned, she had a simple answer that she could confidently state before her Lord that she was innocent, and that He would see to it that her innocence was established.
Rebecca was tried in a rhetorical fashion and faced a death that most would never wish even for their enemy, at Gallows Hill on July 19th 1692. Her two sisters were also convicted for witchcraft, having tried to defend her, and were executed. Francis Nurse, Rebecca’s husband, was thrown into the slammer for supporting his wife’s arguments in court.
On the 28th of June, Rebecca wrote a petition to the court.
“To: To the Honour’d Court of Oryr and Terminer now Sitting In Salem, this 28 of June An’o 1692 The humble petission of Rebecca Nurse of Salem Village Humbley Sheweth That whareas sum Women did sarch your Petissioner At salem, as I did then Conceive for Sum Supernaturall Marke, and then one of the s’d women which is known to be, the Moaste Antient Skillfull prudent person of them all as to Any such Concernd: Did Express hirselfe to be: of A contrary opinion from the Rest And Did then Declare, that shee saw nothing In or Aboute yo’r Honors poare pettissioner but what Might Arise from A naturall Cause: And I then Rendered the said persons asuficient knowne Reason as to My selfe of the Moveing Cause thereof: which was by Exceeding weaknesses: decending partly from an overture of Nature and difficult Exigences that hath Befallen me In the times of my Travells:
And therefore Yo’r pettissioner Humbley prayes That you Honours would be pleased to Admitt of sum other women to Enquire Into this Great: Concerne, those that are Moast Grand wise and Skillfull: Namely Ms: Higginson sen’r Ms Buckstone: Ms: Woodbery two of them being Midwives: Ms: Porter Together with such others, as may be Choasen, on that Account: Before I am Brought to my triall: All which I hoape yo’r Honours: will take Into yo’r prudent Consideration, And find it requisite soe to doe: for my Lyfe Lyes Now In yo’r Hands under God: And Being Conscious of My owne Innocency — I Humbley Begg that I may have Liberty to Manifest it to the wourld partly by the Meanes Abovesaid. And yo’r Poare pettissioner shall Evermore pray as In duty Bound &c//. Rebecca Nurse hir marke”
(Source: Peabody Essex Museum, Salem, MA)
It is said that Rebecca and her husband were involved in land-related disputes with both the Putnam and the Williams family. Soon after, Ann Putnam Jr. started showing symptoms of being afflicted with witchcraft, she accused Martha Cory. Consequently, Abigail Williams announced that Rebecca was a wicked witch.
Rebecca was indicted for Physical examination on June 2, 1692.
The trial began on June 29, 1692, on the accusation of 4 girls, who are now known to have started the witchcraft hysteria in Salem.
Initially the charges were dropped and Rebecca was declared “not guilty”. However, one of the accused confessed to be guilty and then muttered about Rebecca, “she was one of us”. This statement was later clarified to mean that Rebecca was with her in the prison. She was again acquitted, but on insistence by her accusers, the acquittal was withdrawn.
On July 3rd, Rebecca was excommunicated.
On July 19th, her death warrant was issued, along with 3 others.
“To: To Georg: Corwine Gent’n High Sheriff of the County of Essex Greeting
Whereas Sarah Good Wife of William Good of Salem Village Rebecka Nurse wife of Francis Nurse of Salem Villiage Susanna Martin of Amesbury Widow Elizabeth How wife of James How of Ipswich Sarah Wild Wife of John Wild of Topsfield all of the County of Essex in their Maj’ts Province of the Massachusetts Bay in New England Att A Court of Oyer & Terminer held by Adjournment for Our Soveraign Lord & Lady King William & Queen Mary for the said County of Essex at Salem in the s’d County on the 29th day of June [torn] were Severaly arraigned on Several Indictments for the horrible Crime of Witchcraft by them practised & Committed On Severall persons and pleading not guilty did for their Tryall put themselves on God & Thier Countrey whereupon they were Each of them found & brought in Guilty by the Jury that passed On them according to their respective Indictments and Sentence of death did then pass upon them as the Law directs Execution whereof yet remains to be done:
Those are Therefore in thier Maj’ties name William & Mary now King & Queen over England &ca: to will & Comand you that upon Tuesday next being the 19th day of [torn] Instant July between the houres of Eight & [torn] in [torn] forenoon the same day you Elizabeth How & Sarah Wild From their Maj’ties Goal in Salem afores’d to the place of Execution & there Cause them & Every of them to be hanged by the Neck untill they be dead and of the doings herein make return to the Clerke of the said Court & this precept and hereof you are not to fail at your perill and this Shall be your Sufficient Warrant Given under my hand & seale at Boston the 12’th day of July in the fourth year of the Reign of our Soveraigne Lord & Lady Wm & Mary King and Queen &ca:
Anno Dom. 1692 —
Salem July 19th 1692
I caused the within mentioned persons to be Executed according to the Tenour of the with [in] warrant
*George Corwin Sherif”
(Source: Peabody Essex Museum, Salem, MA)
On July 19, she was taken in a cart to Gallows Hill, and hung. At midnight, her family found her body flung in a common grave. They pried it out and took it home to give her a more respectful burial.
In 1712, after hundreds had lost their lives, the church realized that the trials had to end. All the victims were compensated. It was then that the pastor who had approved of Rebecca’s excommunication, formally canceled it, and declared that she had been falsely accused.
Rebecca’s case has been a topic of much study and research.