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Rebecca Nurse (Towne)

Also Known As: "Salem Witch Trial"
Birthdate: (71)
Birthplace: Great Yarmouth, Norfolk, England
Death: Died in Town of Salem, Essex County, Province of Massachusetts
Cause of death: Hanged
Place of Burial: Danvers, Essex County, Massachusetts, United States
Immediate Family:

Daughter of William Towne and Joanna Towne
Wife of Francis Nurse, Sr.
Mother of John Nurse, Sr.; Rebecca Preston (Nurse); Sarah Bowden (Nurse); Samuel Nurse, Sr.; Nathaniel Michael Nurse and 5 others
Sister of John Towne; Susanna Towne; Edmund Towne; Jacob Towne; Mary Estey (Towne), Salem Witch Trials and 2 others

Occupation: convicted as witch, hanged in Salem Village
Managed by: Amy Campbell Moran
Last Updated:

About Rebecca Nurse

Rebecca Towne Nurse (1621 - 1692), daughter of William Towne and Joanna Blessing, was born in 1621 at Great Yarmouth, England, the second of eight children. She married Francis Nurse about 1645, with whom she had eight children. Rebecca Towne Nurse's conviction of witchcraft in the Salem Witch Trials, and subsequent 19 July 1692 execution of this extremely pious, frail 71-year-old woman, is credited as creating the impetus for a shift in public opinion about the validity of the witch trials.

Marriage and Children

  1. Francis Nurse (c.1618 - 1695)
    1. John Nurse (c.1645 - 1719)
    2. Rebecca Nurse (1647 - 1695)
    3. Samuel Nurse (1649 - 1715)
    4. Nathaniel Nurse (1651 - 1717)
    5. Mary Nurse (1659 - 1749)
    6. Francis Nurse (1661 - 1715)
    7. Elizabeth Nurse (1665 - 1734)
    8. Benjamin Nurse (1666 - 1748)
    9. Martha Nurse (died 1721)
    10. Sarah Nurse (died 1754)

Early Life

Although not known for certain, it is possible that the family emigrated aboard "Rose of Yarmouth" in April 1637. They settled in Salem Village in 1640. Around 1645, Rebecca married Francis Nurse, who had also been born in England. 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 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.

Accusation and Trial

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 23 March 1692 a warrant was issued for her arrest based upon accusations made by Edward and John Putnam. Upon hearing of the accusations the frail 71 year old, "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."

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. 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.

Her trial began on 30 June 1692. Witnesses testified to her respectibility 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 girls were hesitant to accuse Nurse.

In the end, the jury ruled Nurse not guilty. Due to public outcry and renewed fits and spasms by the girls, the magistrate 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. The jury took this as a sign of guilt and changed their verdict, sentencing Nurse to death on 19 July 1692.

Death and Aftermath

On 3 July 1692, Rebecca Nurse was excommunicated - "abandoned to the devil and eternally damned." Then on 19 July she was driven in a cart with four other women to Gallows Hill where she was hanged. Tradition says that at midnight Francis Nurse, his sons and sons-in-law found Rebecca's body in the common grave where it had been flung and carried it home for a proper burial in an unmarked grave.

On 2 March 1703 a "Petition to the Governor and General Court" requesting the reversal of Attainder "on thoses Executed and those Condemned in 1692" was made by "several of the Inhabitants of Andover, Salem Village, and Topsfield."

In 1710 Samuel Nurse made this statement: "We were at the whole charge of providing for her during her imprisonment in Salem and Boston for the space of almost four months. We spent much time and made many journeys to Boston, Salem and other places in order to have vindicated her innocence. Although we produced plentiful testimony that my honored mother had led a blameless life from her youth up, yet she was condemned and executed."

In March 1721at the request of her children, the notice of her excommunication was erased from church records.

Her accuser, Ann Putnam, Jr., publicly apologized to the Nurse family for accusing innocent people. In 1711, the government compensated her family for Nurse's wrongful death. In a bitter stroke of irony, the Nurse family homestead fell into the hands of Putnam family descendent, Phineas Putnam in 1784. The Putnam family maintained control of the property until 1908. Today, it is a tourist attraction that includes the original house and cemetery, on 27 of the original 300 acres.

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 is a verse from the poem "Christian Martyr," by John Greenleaf Whittier, "Rebecca Nurse, Yarmouth, England 1621. Salem, Mass., 1692. 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."

In 1892 a second monument was erected nearby recognizing the forty neighbors who took the risk of publicly supporting Nurse by signing a petition to the court in 1692.

Rebecca Nurse is a central character in Arthur Miller's play The Crucible as well as many other dramatic treatments of the Salem Witch Trials. The PBS film "Three Sovereigns For Sarah" features Vanessa Redgrave as Sarah Cloyce and depicts her sister Nurse and her family members as main characters. Nurse is also the subject of Lectures on Witchcraft, by Charles W. Upham.


  • Wiki profile: Rebecca Nurse
  • Rebecca Nurse
  • Boyer, Paul and Stephen Nissenbaum. Salem Possessed, The Social Origins of Witchcraft. Harvard University Press, Cambridge, Mass. 1974. Pages 199-200.
  • [ the Nurse farmhouse, Danvers, MA, now a museum]

She was tried and hung as a witch in the Salem Witch trials.

Rebecca Towne Nurse was baptized on February 21, 1620/21 in St. Nicholas Parish, Great Yarmouth, Norfolk County, England.. Her parents were William Towne and Joanna Blessing.

She married Francis Nurse on August 24, 1644 in Great Yarmouth. Francis was a tray maker who probably also made other wooden household items. Francis was born in 1618 in England. He was Salem's constable in 1672.

They lived from about 1638 to 1678 near what is now Skerry Street in the city of Salem.

Their children were John Nurse (1645), Rebecca Nurse Preston (1647), Samuel Nurse (1648/49), Michael Nurse (1651), Mary Nurse Tarbell (1657), Francis Nurse (1659/60), Sarah Nurse (1662), Elizabeth Nurse Russell (1655/56), Benjamin Nurse (1664/65).

Rebecca was accused of witchcraft and was executed on July 19, 1692. She may have been targeted because her husband was a prominent citizen in Topsfield involved in the dispute over land along the border of Salem Village on the Putnam family land. Her husband was also an outspoken leader of a committee that believed the Reverend Parris should be removed as minister. The Putnams were the leaders faction supporting Reverend Parris.

Francis died on November 22. 1695.

In 1703, 25 pounds was paid to the heirs of Rebecca Nurse.

Birth: c. Feb. 21, 1622 Death: Jul. 19, 1692 Salem Essex County Massachusetts, USA

Convicted of practicing witchcraft during the Salem Witch Trials. In most cases, the bodies of those hanged or pressed were cast off into a shallow ditch, not deserving of a Christian burial due to the charge of witchcraft. However, the family of Rebecca Nurse, according to legend, got to her body, removed it from the ditch in Salem and buried it in secret on the family farm in Salem Village (now Danvers, MA). Where, exactly, is lost to history. Several years after her execution, it was agreed that she had been innocent of being a witch. She was the daughter of Joanna (Blessing) and William Towne.

Family links:

 William Towne (1598 - 1673)
 Joanna Blessing Towne (1594 - 1682)

 Francis Nurse (1618 - 1695)*

 John Nurse (1645 - 1719)*
 Rebecca Nurse Preston (1647 - 1719)*
 Samuel Nurse (1649 - 1715)*
 Sarah Nurse Bowden (1651 - 1754)*
 Elizabeth Nurse Russell (1656 - ____)*
 Mary Nurse Tarbell (1657 - 1749)*
 Francis Nurse (1660 - 1716)*
 Benjamin Nurse (1666 - 1748)*


 Susanna Towne Hayward*
 Rebecca Towne Nurse (1622 - 1692)
 John Towne (1624 - ____)*
 Edmund Towne (1628 - 1678)*
 Jacob Towne (1631 - 1704)*
 Mary Towne Easty (1634 - 1692)*
 Sarah Towne Clayes (1637 - 1703)*
 Joseph Towne (1639 - 1713)*
view all 85

Rebecca Nurse's Timeline

February 16, 1621
Great Yarmouth, Norfolk, England

Unfortunately, birth records are not available for Rebecca Towne, only baptismal records. Her actual birth may have been one or two months before her February 21 baptism. According to descendant Margaret Odrowaz-Sypniewska, she was the eldest of six children born in England (two other siblings were recorded as being born after reaching North America):

February 21, 1621
Great Yarmouth, Norfolk, England

Unfortunately, birth records are not available for Rebecca Towne, only baptismal records. Her actual birth may have been one or two months before this date.

(Note on the date: the baptism took place on 21 February 1620/21. In the English calendar, February 21 was the 12th month of the year, and thus was recorded by their calendar as 1620. Because this was recognized as problematic when dealing with just about every other country, all of which used January 1 as New Years Day, these were customarily "double dated," i.e., 1620/21. To prevent confusion in our computerized date system, which inflexibly maintains a change of year at January 1, the second year is used, e.g., for this case, 1621.)

Age 23
Town of Salem, Essex County, Massachusetts Bay Colony

The exact date of birth of eldest child John Nurse to father Francis and mother Rebecca Nurse is unrecorded, as is the date of baptism.

Age 25
Town of Salem, Essex County, Massachusetts Bay Colony, (Present USA)

The exact date of birth of eldest daughter Rebecca Nurse (future Rebecca Preston) to father Francis and mother Rebecca Nurse is unrecorded, as is the date of baptism. The infant has an older brother, a toddler named John (age 2).

Age 26
Town of Salem, Essex County, Massachusetts Bay Colony, (Present USA)

The exact date of birth of Sarah Nurse (future Sarah Bowden) to father Francis and mother Rebecca Nurse is unrecorded, as is the date of baptism. The infant has two older brothers (a young boy named John - age 6, and a toddler named Samuel - age 2) and an older sister (a young girl named Rebecca, age 4).