Witches of Massachusetts – K-N

In October 1669 George Martin was sued by Christopher Bartlett because Susanna had called him a liar and a thief. The verdict was against George and Susanna; but, they had other problems to deal with. At that same court session, their son Richard was ” presented by the grand jury at the Salisbury Court, 1669, for abusing his father and throwing him down, taking away his clothes and holding up an ax against him.” The court found him guilty and sentenced Richard to be “whipped ten stripes.”

In 1671, George and Susanna (her sister Mary Jones would join them later) became involved in lengthy litigation over Susanna’s father’s estate. Both she and her sister Mary expected to inherit a large share of it. However, their step-mother produced what they considered a fake Will which left almost all the estate to her. In October 1674, their inheritance would be lost when the court found against them. After her husband George Martin died in 1686, Susannah was left a poor widow. Being poor always made individuals susceptible targets for accusations. Her reputation as a troublemaker, her previous witchcraft accusation, and litigious nature, made her even more vulnerable.

In 1692, it comes as no surprise that she was one of those to be accused. She was arrested in Amesbury on May 2nd, having been accused of afflicting Mary Walcott, Abigail Williams, Ann Putnam, Jr., and Mercy Lewis of Salem Village. She was soon brought to Salem Towne to be questioned by Judge Hathorne and Judge Corwin. During her questioning, the “afflicted” girls would display fits, cry out, and say that the had attempted to recruit them into witchcraft. A number of other people would bear witness against her including William Brown, John Pressey, Bernard Peach, and many others, including the infamous Thomas Putnam, Jr. Twice, she was required to undergo humiliating physical examinations in an effort to find a witch’s teet. During the entire process, Susanna quoted the Bible freely, something a witch was supposed to have been incapable of doing. Susannah North Martin was found guilty and hanged on July 19, 1692, in Salem Towne. Of her, the Reverend Cotton Mather would say: “This woman was one of the most impudent, scurrilous, wicked creatures of this world.” In 1711, the General Court granted compensation to many of the victims or their heirs, but Susanna’s children made no application to the authorities and they received nothing. Susanna was not among those whose attainder was lifted.

Mary Osgood Marston (1665-1700) – Born to Christopher and Hannah Belknap Osgood on July 5, 1665, in Andover, Mary grew up to marry John Marston on May 28, 1689. Just three years later, she was one of the many in Andover to be accused of witchcraft. A complaint was filed against her on August 25, 1692, by Samuel Martin of Andover and Moses Tyler of Boxford for allegedly afflicting Abigail Martin and Rose Foster of Andover, and Martha Sprague of Boxford. When she was examined, she made a full confession, admitting to seeing the “black man” and signing the Devil’s book. She was imprisoned. Her husband signed a petition on October 12, 1692, for her release, but, it would be to no avail. After she had spent some 20 weeks in jail, her case was finally brought to trial in early 1693. She was found not guilty and released after her husband paid all of the associated prison fees. She died of unknown causes at the age of 34 on April 5, 1700.

Sarah Murrell (1678-??) – The 14-year-old child of Peter and Mary Murrell of Beverly, young Sarah was charged with witchcraft along with several others on April 30, 1692. The complaint, filed by Jonathan Walcott and Thomas Putnam, Jr., allegedly that she had afflicted Mary Walcott, Mercy Lewis, Abigail Williams, Ann Putnam, Jr., Elizabeth Hubbard and Susanna Sheldon. The young girl was examined on May 2, 1692, and was taken to Boston’s jail the next day. Beyond her imprisonment, nothing more is known of her.

The elderly Rebecca Nurse is brought to the Salem Village Meeting House

The elderly Rebecca Nurse is brought to the Salem Village Meeting House

Rebecca Towne Nurse (1621–1692) – Probably the most famous of the Salem “witches”, she was one of three sisters accused and imprisoned for witchcraft. One of her sisters, Sarah Towne Cloyce survived. However, Rebecca and her sister Mary Towne Easty were hanged during the Salem witch trials.

The daughter of William and Joanna Blessing Towne, Rebecca was born in Great Yarmouth, England in 1621. Her family later immigrated to the United States, settling in Salem Village in 1640. She married Francis Nurse in about 1644 and couple would eventually have eight children. Her husband made a variety of wooden household items, a skill that was rare in the area, so he was much esteemed. He also rented a large 300-acre farm which he gradually bought over his lifetime. He was also often asked to be an unofficial judge to help settle matters around the village and in 1672, served as Salem’s Constable. The family was also regular church members and were held in high esteem by the community. However, they had, unfortunately, been involved in a number of land disputes with the powerful Putnam family.

On March 23, 1692, a warrant was issued for her arrest based on a complaint made by Edward and John Putnam. This took the village by surprise as Rebecca, who was 71 years-old at the time, had acquired a reputation for exemplary piety in the community. Upon hearing of the accusations, Rebecca said, “I am innocent 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.” A warrant was issued for her arrest on March 23, 1692, she was examined and sent to jail.

Although a large number of friends, neighbors and family members wrote petitions testifying to her innocence, she was tried for acts of witchcraft in June 1692. In her trial, she, like others accused of witchcraft, represented herself since she was not allowed to have a lawyer represent her. Though a number of community members testified on her behalf, the young Ann Putnam, Jr. and other “afflicted girls” broke out into fits, claiming that Nurse was tormenting them. The jury first returned a “not guilty” verdict, but was told to reconsider, and then brought in a verdict of “guilty.” Governor Phips pardoned her but was later persuaded to reverse his decision by several men from Salem. She was excommunicated from the Salem Village church and hanged on July 19, 1692. Her house in Danvers, the former Salem Village, still stands and is open to visitors. A large monument also marks her grave in the Nurse family cemetery on the grounds.

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