Rebecca Towne was born 21 February 1621 in Great Yarmouth, Norfolk, England, United Kingdom to William Towne (1599-1685) and Joanna Blessing (1595-1682) and died 19 July 1692 Salem witch trials of hanging (as a witch). She married Francis Nurse (1618-1695) 24 August 1644 in Salem, Massachusetts, United States.

As a result of the infamous Salem Witch Trials, Rebecca Towne Nurse was hanged on July 19, 1692. Her sister, Mary Towne Estey waas also hanged a few months later. A third sister, Sarah Towne Cloyes, was accused but eventually released.

There are various spellings of the Nurse surname, the most common of which being "Nourse." It appears the name changed back and forth several times. Nurse is an occupational name, such as "Baker", "Carpenter" or "Cook".

What was then known as Salem Village is now Danvers, MA.

Vital statistics


1637 Family Immigration to America

Sixteen year old Rebecca and her family left their home of Great Yarmouth in Norfolk, England in spring of 1637 to sell for America on the sailing ship Rose of Yarmouth. The parents were devout puritans and like many of their friends were seeking relief from religious persecution in colonial New England.[1]

There is much less information on Rebecca's husband Francis Nurse. He and Rebecca married August 24, 1644 at Salem. Francis had first appeared in Salem in about 1640 at about the age of 19. He was described as "a youth," possibly an indentured servant. The first mention of him in Salem, lightly crossed out in court records, (probably by a sensitive descendant), is the presentment on March 31, 1640, of "Francis Nurse a youth for stealing of victualls (food) and for suspicion of breaking (into) a house."After Francis and Rebecca married, they lived for the next 30 years in the more thickly settled part of Salem, "near Skerry's" not far from where the bridge now crosses to Beverley. By trade he was a tray maker and artisan and in addition, he worked a small farm.

Her husband was a "tray maker" by trade, who likely made many other wooden household items. Due to the rarity of such household goods, artisans of that medium were considered esteemed. In 1672, Francis served as Salem's Constable. Together the couple had eight children, four daughters and four sons. Nurse frequently attended church and her family was well respected in Salem Village. It was later written that she had "acquired a reputation for exemplary piety that was virtually unchallenged in the community," making her one of the first "unlikely" witches to be accused.

Rebecca Nurse Homestead

Rebecca Nurse Homestead.

The Rebecca Nurse Homestead is a historic colonial house built ca. 1700 located at 149 Pine Street, Danvers, Massachusetts. It had many additions through the years, eventually being historically restored and turned into a museum in 1909.

The house is believed built circa 1700 as a two-story First Period structure with central entrance and chimney, though portions may date to an earlier "mansion house" built in the 1630s for Townsend Bishop. A lean-to with kitchen was added sometime before 1720, additional extensions were made in approximately 1750, 1850, and in the early 1900s.

Her great-grandson Francis Nurse later occupied the house, marching from it to the Battle of Lexington and Concord in Captain John Putnam's Danvers militia. Francis had married Eunice Putnam in the 1750s and later the Putnam family purchased the property in 1784, and remained residents until 1905.

Salem Witch Trials

1876 illustration of the courtroom; the central figure is usually identified as being Mary Walcott

The Salem witch trials were a series of hearings and prosecutions of people accused of witchcraft in colonial Massachusetts between February 1692 and May 1693. More than 200 people were accused, nineteen of whom were found guilty and executed by hanging (fourteen women and five men). One other man, Giles Corey, was pressed to death for refusing to plead, and at least five people died in jail. It was the deadliest witch hunt in the history of the United States.

Twelve other women had previously been executed in Massachusetts and Connecticut during the 17th century. Despite being generally known as the Salem witch trials, the preliminary hearings in 1692 were conducted in several towns: Salem Village (now Danvers), Salem Town, Ipswich, and Andover. The most infamous trials were conducted by the Court of Oyer and Terminer in 1692 in Salem Town.

The episode is one of Colonial America's most notorious cases of mass hysteria. It has been used in political rhetoric and popular literature as a vivid cautionary tale about the dangers of isolationism, religious extremism, false accusations, and lapses in due process. It was not unique, but a Colonial American example of the much broader phenomenon of witch trials in the early modern period, which took place also in Europe. Many historians consider the lasting effects of the trials to have been highly influential in subsequent United States history.

Nurse and her family lived on a vast homestead which was part of a 300-acre grant given to Townsend Bishop in 1636. The family had been involved in a number of acrimonious land disputes with the Putnam family. On March 23 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, who is often described as an invalid, said, "I am 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."

In March 1692, Rebecca and two of her sisters were arrested and jailed based on accusations by the Putnam girls that claimed Rebecca's specter had attacked them. 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. On March 19th, Abigail Williams started the first claim against Rebecca and shortly afterwards, the other afflicted girls joined in. On March 24th she was arrested and brought to the village meetinghouse for questioning.[2]

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. [3] Her trial began on June 29, 1692. A widow accused her of killer her husband three years earlier by casting a spell on him. Another woman testified that Nurse's specter was sticking her with pins right in court. She had a bloody knee to prove it. However, the woman had been seen jabbing herself with pins.[4]

At one point in the proceedings, Rebecca's sister, Sarah Cloyse, stormed out of church one day in protest. She too was accused and arrested for witchcraft.

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 were hesitant to accuse Nurse.

Rebecca Towne Nurse and her sister, Mary Towne Eastey, were both hanged on July 19, 1692. A third sister, Sarah Towne Cloyes, was accused but eventually released.

Trial verdict

In the end, the jury ruled Nurse not guilty, probably because of the petition and her strong Christian repucation. Great public outcry and renewed fits and spasms by the afflicted girls when the not guilty verdict was announced. This uproar surprised and startled the magistrates who 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. Also when the innocent The jury took this as a sign of guilt and changed their verdict.

Governor Phipps granted her a reprieve, but public outcry scared him into recalling it and Nurse was hanged on July 19 along with Sarah Good, Sarah Wilds, Elizabeth Howe and Susannah Martin. Her sister, Mary Towne Estey would be hanged for witchcraft a few months later. A third sister, Sarah Towne Cloyes, was accused but eventually released.

Sample trial testimony

The following is taken from the transcript for March 24, 1692:

Hathorne: Tell us, have you not had invisible appearances more than what is common in nature?

Nurse: I have none, nor never had in my life.

Hathorne: Do you think these afflicted girls suffer voluntarily or involuntarily?

Nurse: I cannot tell.

Hathorne: That is strange. Everyone can judge.

Nurse: I must be silent.

Hathorne: They accuse you of hurting them, and if you think it is not unwillingly, but by design, you must look upon them as murderers.

Nurse: I cannot tell what to think of it.

Hathorne: Do you think these suffer against their wills or not?

Nurse: I do not think they suffer against their wills.


Rebecca Nurse and four others were sent to the gallows in Salem town on July 19, 1692. There a minister urged Nurse to admit her guilt. "You are a liar!" Nurse shot back. "I am no more a witch than you are a wizard!". Minutes later she and the others were dead from hanging. Many people labeled Nurse as "a of Christian behavior", due to her dignified behavior on the gallows. As was the custom, after hanging Nurse's body 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. In July 1885, her descendants erected a tall granite memorial over her grave in what is now called the Rebecca Nurse Homestead cemetery in Danvers (formerly Salem Village), Massachusetts. The inscription on the monument reads:In 1892 a second additional monument was erected nearby recognizing the 40 neighbors who took the risk of publicly supporting Nurse by signing a petition to the court in 1692.

One of Rebecca's sisters, Mary (Towne) Estey, was also hung on charges of being a witch. The last of the executions in Salem took place in September 1692. In all, 20 people were put to (including five men), and eight others died in jail. The trials ended perhaps because too many people of good reputation had been accused. By 1703 the General Court made payments to the heirs of the victims and 25 pounds was paid to the heirs of Rebecca Nurse. In 1706, Ann Putnam, one of the original four hysterical young women, made a written statement of remorse. She said that the devil had deceived her into accusing people and mentioned "Goodwife Nurse" in particular. In 1712 the pastor who had cast Rebecca out of the church formally cancelled the excommunication.

The family of Rebecca Nurse and other victims forced Reverend Samuel Parris to leave Salem in 1697.


Offspring of Francis Nurse (1618-1695) and Rebecca Towne¢
Name Birth Death Joined with
John Nurse (1645-1719) 1645 Salem, Essex County, Massachusetts 10 December 1716 Salem, Essex County, Massachusetts Elizabeth Smith (1652-1673)
Elizabeth Vary (1655-1684)
Rebecca Nurse (1648-1719)
Samuel Nurse (1649-1715) 3 February 1649 Salem, Essex County, Massachusetts 15 July 1715 Salem, Essex County, Massachusetts Mary Smith (1660-1716)
Michael Nurse (1651-)
Sarah Nurse (1652-1699) 1652 Marblehead, Essex County, Massachusetts 1 September 1754 Topsfield, Essex County, Massachusetts Michael Bowden (1651-1740)
Mary Nurse (1657-1749) 1657 Salem, Essex County, Massachusetts 28 June 1749 Salem, Essex County, Massachusetts John Tarbell (1652-1715)
Francis Nurse (1660-1716) 3 February 1660 Salem, Essex County, Massachusetts 5 February 1716 Reading, Middlesex County, Massachusetts Sarah Craggen (1664-1707)
Elizabeth Sawtell (1668-)
Benjamin Nurse (1666-c1747) 26 January 1666 Salem, Essex County, Massachusetts, United States 1747 Framingham, Massachusetts, United States Tamesin Smith (1671-1713)
Elizabeth Sawtelle (-aft1747)

Further Reading:


  1. ^ Hill, Frances Delusion of Satan-the Full Story of the Salem Witch Trials London Hamish Hamilton Ltd. 1996 p.88
  2. ^ Starkey, Marion L. The Devil in Massachusetts Doubleday edition 1989 p.82
  3. ^ "Petitions relating to the trial of Rebecca Nurse for witchcraft". Retrieved Mar 8, 2013.
  4. ^ The Salem Witchcraft Papers, original volumes edited by Paul Boyer and Stephen Nissenbaum (1977) / revised, corrected, and augmented by Benjamin C. Ray and Tara S. Wood (2010).

Warrant for Arrest of Rebecca Nurse

To the Marshall of Essex or his deputie

There Being Complaint this day made before us by Edward Putnam and Jonathan Putnam Yeomen both of Salem Village, Against Rebeca Nurce the wife of Franc's Nurce of Salme Village for vehement Suspition, of haveing Committed Sundry acts of Witchcraft and thereby haveing donne Much hurt and Injury to the Bodys of Ann putnam the wife of Thomas putnam of Salem Village Anne putnam the dauter of Said Thomas putnam and Abigail Williams &c.

You are therefore in theire Majesties names hereby required to apprehend and bring before us Rebeca Nurce the wife of Franc's Nurce of Salem Village, to morrow aboute Eight of the Clock in the forenoon at the house of Lt Nathaniell Ingersoll in Salme Village in order to her Examination Relateing to the aboves'd premises and hereof you are not to faile Salem March 23rd 1692.

Response by Marshall:

March 24th 1692 I have apprehended the body of Rebeca Nurse and brought her to the house of Le't Na'th. Ingersoll where she is in Custody. George Herrick Marshall of Essex.

Petition of Rebecca Nurse to the Court

To the Honour'd Court of Oryr and Terminer now Sitting in Salem, this 28 of June An'l 1692.

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 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 bu what might Arise from a naturall cause. And I then Rendered the said persons asuficient knowne Reason as to My self of the Moveing Cause thereof: which was by Exceeding weaknesses; descending 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 wide and Skillful. Namely Ms Higginson sen'r Ms Buckstone, Ms Woodbery two of them being midwives. Ms Porter Together with such others may be Choasen on that Account: Before I am Brought to my triall; All which I hope your Honours will take into your prudent Consideration, And find it requisite soe to doe. for my Lyfe Lyes Now In your Hands under God; And Being Concious of my own innocency - I humbley begg that I may have liberty to manifest it to the wourld partly by the Meanes Above said. And your poare pettissioner shall Evermore pray as in duty bound. Rebecca Nurse. Her Mark. Peabody Es , Salem MA.

Famous Descendants


Offspring of William Towne (1599-1685) and Joanna Blessing (1595-1682)
Name Birth Death Joined with
Rebecca Towne (1621-1692) 21 February 1621 Great Yarmouth, Norfolk, England, United Kingdom 19 July 1692 Salem, Massachusetts, United States Francis Nurse (1618-1695)
John Towne (1622-1672) 16 February 1624 Great Yarmouth, Norfolk, England 31 December 1671 Topsfield, Essex County, Massachusetts Phebe Lawson (1623-1665)
Suzanne Towne (1625-1630) 20 October 1625 Great Yarmouth, Norfolk, England 29 July 1630 Great Yarmouth, Norfolk, England
Edmund Towne (1628-1678) 22 June 1622 Great Yarmouth, Norfolk, England 3 May 1678 Topsfield, Essex County, Massachusetts Mary Browning (1637-1717)
Jacob Towne (1631-1704) 11 March 1631 St Nichols Church, Great Yarmouth, Norfolk, England 27 November 1704 Topsfield, Essex County, Massachusetts Katheron Symonds (1630-1714)
Mary Towne (1634-1692) 12 August 1634 Great Yarmouth, Norfolk, England, United Kingdom 22 September 1692 Salem, Essex County, Massachusetts, United States Isaac Esty (1627-1712)
Joseph Towne (1639-1713) 1639 Salem, Essex County, Massachusetts 21 February 1713 Topsfield, Essex County, Massachusetts Phebe Perkins (1644-1715)
Sarah Towne (1642-1703) 11 January 1637 Salem, Essex County, Massachusetts 1703 Framingham, Middlesex County, Massachusetts Edmond Bridges (1637-1682)
Peter Cloyes (1640-1708)

Footnotes (including sources)

‡ General
¢ Children
  • AWT gives her 15 children, but the number of duplicate names suggests serious unreliability. For the record, the additional children are: Elizabeth NURSE b: 9 Jan 1664/5 in Salem Village, Essex Co., MA; Samuel NURSE b: ABT 1667; Sarah NURSE b: ABT 1669; Rebecca NURSE b: ABT 1671; Mary NURSE b: ABT 1673; Michael NURSE b: ABT 1675; John NURSE b: ABT 1677.

Robin Patterson, MainTour