The Salem Witch Trials

As was probably inevitable in the small community in 1692, the Preston family was affected by the Salem Witch Trials.  Rebecca Towne Nurse, the mother of Rebecca Nurse Preston is a well remembered victim of the hysteria that gripped the towns of Salem, Ipswich and the surrounding communities in 1692 and 1693.  Two of her sisters were also accused,  Mary (Towne) Eastey and Sarah (Towne) Cloyce, with Mary Eastey being convicted and executed.  While men were less often accused, one of those who were was John Alden, son of John Alden and Priscilla Mullins.

The first few people who were accused in 1692 were women on the fringes of society, those not viewed as important in the community or people with mental illness or strongly vocal about the supernatural.  As a community, the people of the Massachusetts Bay Colony had a strong belief that Satan walked among the people and was always looking to do harm.  They were easily convinced of supernatural powers.  Some of this religious or superstitious zeal may have been at fault during the beginning of the Salem witch craze.   Regardless, it was easy for the public to get swept away in the craze when the women accused seemed different or “other.”

The “witches” mainly were accused of causing fits and other strange behavior in other people, mainly young girls.  “Spectral evidence,”  the display of the afflicted youngsters and their behaviors in the courtroom, was one a large part of the witch trials and the question of whether it was also possible that another factor in the ensuing hysteria was simply the boredom of teenagers and children who wondered how much attention they could garner by feigning affliction.  One of the key accusers was Ann Putnam.  There was a long standing family feud in Salem between the Putnam and Porter families that may also have been a factor in the events of 1692/1693.  The Porter family spoke up in great numbers for Rebecca Nurse.

Rebecca Nurse was an elderly woman at the time of her accusation and professed her innocence unwaveringly.  She was a prominent member of the church and community.  It was after her execution and the accusation of several other well respected individuals that the community began to think twice.  People began to wonder how reliable the “spectral evidence” was and eventually, in the trial of Rebecca’s sister Sarah Cloyce, the judge agreed to exclude it from the trial.  People had begun to believe that the devil could make himself appear in an innocent person and that it was possible that the accused themselves were not to blame.

During the years that followed, families fought to have excommunications reversed and names exonerated from charges.  In many cases, these things were granted and achieved as it was generally recognized that the community had not handled the whole situation well and that innocent people had lost their lives.  Several of the accusers, including Ann Putnam, made public apologies for their role in the witch trials.

 

SOURCES

Wikipedia Article:  Salem Witch Trials  – There are also individual articles on several of the victims.

Famous American Trials:  Salem Witchcraft Trials 1692 – Also includes transcripts of several of the trials as well as statements by witnesses

Salem Witch Museum – Official website of the Salem Witch Museum

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