It is a tragic reality that that several of our ancestors were involved in the witch trials at Salem in the late 17th century. Those involved were relatives whose lines decended through to the Currier line and the Pond/Dickie line.
Among our accused family members were three Towne sisters – Rebecca Towne Nurse, Mary Towne Estey, and Sarah Towne Cloyse. Their parents were William Towne and Joanna Blessing. Mary Estey’s husband Isaac’s parents are also ancestors, Jeffrey Estey (Esty) and Margaret Pott. Nicholas Frost was also accused, grandson of his namesake, an original settler of Kittery, ME.
Members of the Jury included, three members of the Fiske family, their cousins – Thomas Fisk (Foreman of the jury), William Fisk, and Thomas Fisk, Jr. It is interesting to note that their decendants, Ruth Fiske and Richard Estey, married. One would wonder if family resentments remained. Could theirs have been a forbidden love?
Officiating minister in the trials was no less than another one of our “esteemed” ancestors the Rev. Nicholas Noyes, pastor at Salem, and the son of founding settler of Newbury, Nicholas Noyes.
“The sheriff brought the witch up the broad aisle,
her chains clanking as she stepped.”
The above drawing illustrates a scene in John Musick’s book, The Witch of Salem, in which Rebecca Nurse is brought in chains to the meeting house where the Rev. Nicholas Noyes pronounces her excommunication before the congregation.
One must wonder who “the congregation” was. Those she once considered friends, neighbors, those whom she had worshipped with? Family members?
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On September 22, 1692 Rev. (I hate to even call him that!) Nicholas Noyes officiated as clergyman at the executions . It is reported that he turned toward the suspended bodies of the victims and said, “What a sad thing it is to see eight firebrands of hell hanging there.”
Witch or prophetess: Before the execution of Sarah Good, Rev. Noyes asked her to confess. Her famous last words were, “I am no more a witch than you are a wizard, and if you take away my life God will give you blood to drink.” Twenty-five years later Noyes died of a hemorrhage and literally did choke on his own blood.
Rebecca Towne Nurse & Mary Towne Estey were executed. Nicholas Frost was released as well as Sarah Towne Cloyse. Sarah and her husband, Peter, moved away to Marlborough, MA and joined a different church.
Later in life Rev. Noyes repented of his part in the witchcraft persecutions and did what he could to assist the dependent families. Jurors, Fiske, also confessed to their error in sending the so-called witches to their eternal damnation.
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This statue depicts Rebecca Towne Nurse, Mary Towne Esty, and Sarah Towne Cloyse, wearing shackles, being under arrest for witchcraft. The statue is located in the Salem Wax Museum of Witches and Seafarers, Salem.
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“O Christian Martyr who for Truth could die
When all about thee owned the hideous lie!
The world redeemed from Superstition’s sway
Is breathing freer for thy sake today.”
From “Christian Martyr,” by John Greenleaf Whittier.