Rev. Edward Norris, of Salem

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Rev. Edward Norris, of Salem

Also Known As: "Norris"
Birthdate: (80)
Birthplace: Tetbury, Gloucestershire, England
Death: circa December 23, 1659 (76-84)
Salem, Essex County, Massachusetts
Immediate Family:

Son of Edward Norris Vicar of Tetbury and Silverstre Norris
Husband of Elinor Norris
Father of Edward Norris and Mary Norris

Occupation: Fourth Pastor of the Salem Church during the "Witch Trials"
Managed by: Erica Howton
Last Updated:

About Rev. Edward Norris, of Salem


This link begins with the ancestors of Edward Norris in Gloucester, England, starting around 1450. It is believed that the Norris family is descended from the landed gentry of England through the family name "le Norreys". A younger son of the landed gentry "le Norreys" family was granted a vicarage (church lands and income from that land) in a parish at Tetbury, Gloucestershire, England. This "le Norreys" family held that vicarage for several generations. In the early 1600s Edward Norris was vicar of Tetbury, Gloucestershire. His son, Edward Norris II, after being educated in the best schools in England, became a pastor in his own right. He was an author of several books related to the troubling issues of his time that led eventually to his persecution by the estabilished Church of England. He lost his parish and escaped for a while to Holland, as many were doing at the time. Fearing further persecution he sent his congregation ahead of himself in 1635 to America, where they joined the young Puritans at Salem, Massachusetts. Then Edward Norris himself came to Salem in 1639. He became the fourth pastor of the Salem Church, and was pastor there during the infamous "witch trials" of the middle 1600s. Having sent his own son John Norris ahead of himself by several years the young son had already become successful in shipping by the time Edward Norris arrived. It is believed that the two had a falling out which led eventually to an abandonment of his son by the pastor. Clearly the opportunities for a young man were a great challenge against the Puritan way of life, and John Norris of Roxbury found those opportunities to be enough to cause him to leave his father and the church at Salem.

He was probably born in Tetbury, Gloucestershire, England. He was only four years old when his father died. No record of his mother's death has been found. Even without the presence of his father he managed to develop in the world. He must have had financial and supervisorial help along the way. Perhaps because of his father's influence in the church at Tetbury he was taken into the church and raised by the priests there. He undoubtedly received a good elementary education, since he matriculated at Oxford from Balliol College on 30 Mar 1599, and graduated with a BA degree from Madgalen Hall on 23 Jan 1606-7. He received his MA degree from that institution on 25 Oct 1609.

Edward Norris was rector of Anmer in Norfolk in 1624 (Joseph Foster, Alumni Oxonienses, 1891, Vol. III, early series, p. 1076). It was said by a contemporary, John Traske, that he lived at Tetbbury and Horsley, Gloucestershire, where he served as a schoolmaster and clergyman (J. B. Felt, The Ecclesiastical History of New England [2 Vols., 1855-1862], Vol I, 387). It is possible that he returned to those institutions because of a promise or indenture made by him with the vicar of the church in return for his education. His ancestors, as we have shown, had influence in the church for several generations in this area.

Edward Norris distinquished himself as an uncompromising opponent of John Traske and his followers. He published three works: Prosopopoeia in 1634, which was answered by Rice Boye in The Importunate Begger in 1635; That Temporal Blessings are to be Asked with Submission to the Will of God in London in 1636; and The New Gospel not the True Gospel; or a Discovery of the Life and Death Doctrine, and Doings of Mr. John also a confutation of the uncomfortable error of Mr. Boye concerning the plague, published in London in 1638. From the last book we learn that Edward Norris's congregation embarked for New England previous to the date of publication (actually before 1636), and that he intended to accompany them, but did not do so. He followed them, but not until after 1638, when he published his last work in England. John Traske was an antinomian in London, and Endward Norris mingled theological argument with coarse personal abuse. Edward Norris also showed no love for the "Jacobites or semi-separatists," believing evidently in remaining inside the establishment at this point. Because of his Puritan religious beliefs he suffered great persecution in his community. His persistence in shipping off to New England those of his parishioners who declined to conform brought him under the notice of Bishop Laud. In 1639 he had to seek refuge for himself in America as well.

Upon arrival in America Edward Norris first joined the church at Boston on 21 Jul 1639 according to the records of the town of Boston. In Dec of 1639 Edward Norris joined the church at Salem, with his wife joining in Apr. On 18 Mar 1640, he was chosen to be the fourth minister of the Salem church as a colleague with Hugh Peters, whose physical and mental condition in this difficult land had exhausted him. Almost all of the ministers of the colony were present for his installation. Governor Winthrop wrote in his journal regarding this installation:

Mr. Norris was ordained teacher of the church in Salem, there being present near all the elders of the other churches and much people besides.

On 13 May 1640, Edward Norris was admitted as a freeman into the community of Salem. The town granted him one hundred acres of land and sixteen acres of meadow on 21 Jan 1640. His first house in Salem was located on the northeasterly corner of Essex and Turner Streets.

Edward Norris II was also involved in the affairs of the church at Lynn, MA, and in particular in 1643 he gave a speech:

Much difficulty was occasioned, for several years, by an opinion which some of the people entertained, that the baptism of infants was sinful. Mr. William Witter (of Lynn) was presented at the Salem court for his conduct in this respect, and on the 28th of Feb, the following record was made: "William Witter--now comeing in, answered humbly, and confessed his ignorance, and his willingness to see light, and, (upon Mr. Norris, our elder, his speech,) seemed to be staggered, inasmuch as that he came in court meltinglie."

The issue of infant baptism was what led about forty of the Lynn families to leave Lynn and go to Long Island in 1649, where they founded the towns of Southold and Southampton. Edward Howell was among those who led the party from Lynn to Southampton, and our ancestor Robert Norris was apprenticed to his son, Richard Howell, in 1667.

In 1642 Edward Norris wrote a defense of the standing council in answer to a pamphlet by Richard Saltonstall. In 1646 he preached the election sermon..

The influence of Edward Norris in the early American communities of Salem and Lynn grew steadily. In 1647 he was named first of the seven ministers commissioned to draw up a confession of faith. The following record appeared on 27 Oct 1647:

Whereas there is a synod in being, and it is the purpose, beside the clearing of some points in religion questioned, to set forth a form of church government according to the order of the gospel, and to that end there are certain members of the synod that have in charge to prepare the same against the synod; but this Court conceiving that it is as fully meet to set forth a confession of the faith we do profess touching the doctrinal part of religion also, we do desire, therefore, these reverend elders following to take some pains each of them to prepare a brief form of this nature, and present the same to the next session of the synod, that, agreeing to one, (out of them all,) it may be printed with the other Mr. Norris, Mr Cotton, Mr. Madder (Mather), Mr. Rogers, of Ipswich, Mr. Shepard, Mr. Norton, and Mr. Cobbet.

That Edward Norris was listed first among these elders of the early MA churches is undoubtedly an indication of his influence in the community.

On 7 Jun 1649 Rev. Edward Norris purchased the Gerrish house opposite the City Hall in the town of Salem, where he lived until his death.

During the witchcraft delusion of 1651 to 1654, he used his influence to resist the persecutions. According to William Bentley he was successful in opposing accusations of witchcraft in Salem in 1655, and his influence was against violent means toward the Quakers, through he died before the Quaker troubles were at their height.

In 1651 Edward Norris was joined with John Cotton and John Norton to convince William Pynchon that his book, The Meritorious Price of our Redemption (1650), was heretical. In 1653 he urged the Commissioners of the United Colonies, by speech and letter, to prosecute vigorous war against the Dutch of New Amsterdam (the letter is quoted by Ebenezer Hazard in Historical Collections, vol. II, 1794, p. 255). In 1656 he received John Whiting as assistant in his ministry.

Edward Norris II was distinguished for his learning and talents as well as his good judgement. He was said to have been unusually tolerant, taking no part against the Gortonists or the Baptists, and never adopting into his own church the Cambridge Platform. Governor Winthrop wrote that he was grave and judicious. Edward Norris declined to join in the persecution of the Gortonists or Anabaptists, and, when a severe code of church discipline was adopted by the assembly of ministers in 1648, he persevered in his own rules of conduct for the Salem church. He diverted the fury of fanaticism by encouraging spinning in families, "he quieted alarms by inspiring a military courage, and in ... a well directed charity, with a timely consent to the incorporation of towns around him, he finished in peace the longest life in the minstry which had been enjoyed in Salem," (William Bentley, "A description and History of Salem," in Collections of the Massachusetts Historical Society, 1st Series, VI [1800]). Winthrop called him "a grave and judicious elder." He was certainly an able and learned theologian, but he does not appear to have been so commanding a personality or so formative an influence on the institutions of New England as were some of his fellow clergymen.

Edward Norris was married to Eleanor -----. In 1658 he was stricken speechless in the pulpit, a condition from which he never recovered. His condition was so serious that in May of 1659 the town voted to pay for his funeral expenses. He died in Dec of 1659, leaving the following will, written 9 Dec 1657 and proved 27 Jun 1660:

Will of Edward Norice of Salem, "minister of the gosple of Jesus Christ and teacher to the church of Christ in Salem, hauing an infirmytie upon me which may proue uery dangerous, and mortall," etc., Proved by Mr. Price, 27 Apr 1660:

I giue and bequeath my soule into the hands of Jesus Christ my deare Redeemer, in whose faith I haue lived preached, and now by His grace hope to dye in, as alsoe my bodie to the earth from whence it was taken.

Item I giue and bequeath unto my son Edward Norice (my debts being paid) and to his heires for euer my dwelling house (I now live in), with all the outhouses, gardens, orchards and arable land thereto belonging, and appertaining, together with all my household stuff, bookes, goods and chattles moueable and unmoueables, with all my debts, bills and bonds, and it is my will that my said sonn Edward Norice be my sole executor to this my last will and testament desireing and intreating my louing friends John Horne and Richard Prince decons of the church of Salem afore said to assist my sonn and be in place and steed of ouerseers of this my last will and testament as need requireth, unto which in these prsts I haue hereunto sett my hand and seale the 9 day of the 10 months: called Decem" one thousand six hundred fifte seauen 1657.

Edward Norice

witnesses: Walter Price and Elias Stileman

The records of the Roxbury church record the death of "Mr. Norrice, Teacher at Salem" in 1659. It is interesting that the Roxbury church would make this record, since Edward Norris was the pastor of the Salem church when he became ill. Perhaps he died at Roxbury, and if so, he may have been at his daughter's home there when he died. From the Rev. John Eliot's record of the church members of Roxbury, MA, comes this notice:

Mary Norrice, a maide. She came into the land. She was daughter to Mr. Edward Norrice, who came into the land. And was called and ordained to be teacher to the church at Salem where he served the Lord Christ.

It is somewhat surprising that Edward Norris left his daughter Mary out of his will, or her children, if she had any. It is possible that she died before he did, but the Roxbury records do not show her death (Note this would not be uncommon in Roxbury to not record the death of an umarried woman during this period). It is also interesting that while Edward and Eleanor moved to Salem shortly after arrival in America, Mary chose to remain at Roxbury (My note - we don't know that she chose to remain in Roxbury she came in advance of her father and there is absolutely not record of her after she left. In fact her father was warned not to send her alone as if they suspected she was too immature to be on her own. So she probably died right away and didn't choose to stay in Roxbury). The son, Edward III, joined the Salem church shortly after his parents. That Mary was not even mentioned in her father's will opens the possibility that other children were also ignored (My comment - no it doesn't it just means she was probably dead with no offsping). At about the same time (1635-1655) we find evidence of a John Norris having large land holdings at Roxbury as well. It seems likely that John Norris was the son of Edward Norris, and that he, like others of the Salem congregation, preceded the senior Edward Norris into America, having arrived in 1635 (My comment - why is this "Likely?" I think it unlikely because neither John nor William were in his will. Edward Norris was a man of very high stature and Wintrhop detailed is life carefully and said that every event regarding Edward Norris Sr was of great import. If he had two other sons surely some note would have been made of them. I think there were a lot of men in New England with the same surname and that is not evidence at all that they are related.) By the time his father arrived in Boston, in 1639, young John Norris had already begun establishing himself in international trade. He was even possibly so "worldly" that his father ignored him (speculative). He has only two proven children: 1) Edward and 2) Mary.

Finally, there is a record of a William Norris having lived in the same general area at about the same time. From his will we know that he was a kinsman of Oliver Norris, whom we believe was the son of John Norris just mentioned. William would have been Oliver's uncle (hence the term "kinsman"). (This provides not proof that either was related to Edward Norris).

The children of Edward Norris II, then, were Mary and Edward III for certain, and also possibly John and William (probably not).


The American Genealogist vol 84 p 200-11 does a glorious job on his pedigree. Ref:

Perley, Sidney, The History of Salem, Massachusetts, (Salem, Mass.: Sidney Perley, 1924) 2:82 has a concise treatment of his son Edward.

Robert Charles Anderson, Great Migration (series 2) Vol 5 p 266-67 covers his daughter Mary who arrived before her father and then disappeared in Roxbury.

Winthrop Journal Vol 1 p 331-2 and Vol 2 60, 227, 268 has a few observations of him. A very august man to be sure.

Perley, Essex Antiquarian vol 8 p 101 includes the will of Edward Norris in which his names presumably his only surviving offspring i.e. Edward Jr. This is also found in Essex probate records vol 1 p 34.

Essex Institute Historical Collections, (Salem, Mass., 1859+) Vol 1 p 93 has a note.

There are minor notes on admittance etc in Boston Church Record 24; Winthrop Papers vol 4 p 68; Salem Church Records p 9; Massachusetts Bay Colony Records vol 1 p 377

Morrison just says the Salem branch descends from Edward in about one paragraph and offers no evidence and does even name his children:

Morrison, Leonard A., Lineage and Biographies of the Norris Family in America from 1640– 1892. With references to the Norrises of England as Early as 1311 (Boston: Damrell & Upham, 1892) p 13

  • page 118 of Dictionary of National Biography, Volume 41 edited by Sir Leslie Stephen

Not a child of Sir Edward Norreys, MP, of Rycote who had no known children

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Rev. Edward Norris, of Salem's Timeline

Tetbury, Gloucestershire, England
December 23, 1659
Age 80
Salem, Essex County, Massachusetts