Rebecca Nurse

Rebecca Nurse

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My Dearest Niece Sarah,
I fear that this will be the last time you will ever hear from me. In fact, by the time you get this, I will probably be dead. You see, I live in Topsfield , but in the nearby town of Salem, the Salem Witchcraft Trials are going on. The Salem Witchcraft Trials are a series of trials of accused witches. Some people have already been hanged and I have recently been accused of witchcraft. You see, on March 21st, 1692, I was accused of putting young girls under spells by Ann Putnam Sr. and Abigail Williams. I was also accused by many other young girls, and even some older, married, seemingly sensible women. I believe that Ann accused me of this ridiculous crime because of the land dispute in our town. For over fifty years, the Nurse's and the Putnam's have been fighting over one piece of land. My father and Ann's father started this feud in 1639 and this is Ann's way of ending it. Also, us Nurse's are resented because we keep mostly to ourselves. Throughout the whole witchcraft accusations, our family has been staying away from the "bewitched" girls. The townspeople thought this was rude and that it proved my guilt. As you know, my dear mother was accused of witchcraft many a year ago, and two of my sister's have been accused before as well. The people in this town seem to have the notion that this craft is passed down through generations. In addition to this, the Putnam's head the Pro-Parris committee- they think that our minister should stay. But, my husband, Francis, is very much an outspoken member of the church. He leads the Anti-Parris committee. This is another reason why Ann is making up these ridiculous charges. I think that the people in this town are just looking for a scapegoat, or a person to blame things on when in reality it has nothing to do with that person. On March 24th, I was questioned by the authorities and I told them that I was praying for the victims, and that the other women accused were innocent. Well, I don't think they liked what I had to say, because they sent me to a jail in Boston. When I got there, I underwent an examination to look for a mark that would mean I was a witch. While I was being held in the jail, I learned that my lovely neighbors back in Topsfield, the Porter's, had written a formal letter proclaiming my innocence.

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Apparently, it hadn't done any good, because I remained in the jail, but I was happy to see that at least they didn't believe I could do something this dreadful. I also learned that on April 3rd, our minister, who I don't approve anyhow, condemned me and my family. On June 29th, I was put on trial along with Sarah Good, Susannah Martine, Elizabeth Howe, and Sarah Wildes. We were tried in the Court of Oyer and Terminar. The whole time, the court room was filled with a loud ruckus of people, defending my innocence. They were shouting things such as the fact that I had been in bed for 89 days prior to being accused. They also shouted things about how elderly I am, and how religious I am. I was baptized for goodness sake! Well I do believe that the people in the courtroom were so loud that the clerk had to have missed the entire testimony. Oh, but I sure didn't. I just sat there and listened to my former friends accuse me of horrible deeds. The Putnam's testified saying that I "tempted" them. Mary Wolcott testified that I had murdered many townspeople. Imagine that, your aunt, murdering people! The very thought of it makes me sick. I simply replied, "I don't know what to think of it…The Devil may appear in any shape". The whole time I just sat there looking shocked and confused. I was in fact, so surprised at the charges being brought against me that I didn't even shed a tear. The judge said that the reason I didn't cry is because "witches lack the ability to weep". During the trial, the charges against me started being shown for what they were, ridiculous. The girls who had accused me saw that I was looking very innocent. They then started squirming about spasmodically. They were screaming very loudly and acting like they were under some sort of a spell. They told the judge that I was sticking them with pins! Even if I was a witch, if I was being tried for witchcraft I wouldn't inflict pain upon my accusers in front of everyone because that would make me look even guiltier. The girls were displaying a form of spectral evidence, which seems to be common in these witchcraft trials, probably because the accusers don't have any real evidence. Spectral evidence is evidence presented in a court case that not everyone can see or feel. Because of the outbreak of pandemonium that these girls unleashed, the judges ordered that I not look at anyone but the judges, because they were afraid I would give the other people in the courtroom "evil glances". Despite all this though, I was acquitted of all the charges brought against me. But, one of the judges asked all the other judges to review their decision. The second verdict was returned and it stated that I was guilty of all the charges brought against me and that I was to be hanged. This created a huge stir in the town of Salem. Because of my age, kindness, and religiousness, a petition went around town to try to get me a reprieve, which would cause me not to have to be hanged. The leader of the petition was Israel Porter. He is a very influential person in Salem. Because of his high-up position in the community, many other high-up's signed it as well. In all, 35 people signed the petition, including Daniel Andrews and even the Putnam's themselves. I guess they felt bad for what they had done. Well I sure hope they did! My life was on the line because of a false accusation they had made. The petition caused the governor to issue a reprieve. I was very happy when I heard this news. But then, about two days later, the reprieve was revoked. I have no idea why, but this meant that I was still to be hanged. This reprieve was revoked just three days ago. I write to you from the jail I am being held in in Boston. My fate has been decided and I will probably never be able to talk to you again but just know that anything you may hear about me being involved with any type of witchcraft is completely false. Do not believe a word of it. Tell your mother and father I said goodbye.
Love Always,
Aunt Rebecca

Rebecca Nurse was hanged just five days later, on July 19th, 1692, along with the other four women she had stood at trial with. At first she was buried in a shallow grave, but was later reburied on her family's property with the following inscribed on her tombstone (written by John Greenleaf Whittier)-
Rebecca Nurse
Yarmouth, England, 1621
Salem, Mass.,1692

O Christian Martyr for who truth die,
When all around thee laid hideous lie,
The world redeemed from Superstition's sway,
Is breathing freer for thy sake today.
In 1699, the Nurse family was welcomed back to church, and in 1707, the excommunication was revoked. In 1711, the Nurse family was compensated by the government for Rebecca's wrongful death. But, Rebecca Nurse was only one of the first accused witches of Salem. By the time the chaos of the witchcraft had ended, 19 women and men had been hanged for witchcraft. One man had even been pressed to death with large stones. The Salem Witchcraft Trials are just one of many events in history that show just how quickly government can lose control, and chaos can ensue.
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