Posts Tagged ‘witch trials’

Did you know there is a water fountain just outside Edinburgh Castle dedicated to those executed as witches in the 16th and 17th centuries? The “Witchcraft Acts” codified witchcraft as a criminal offense. In 1541, The Act against Conjurations, Witchcraft, Sorcery and Enchantments defined witchcraft as a felony, punishable by death and forfeiture of property to the state. The 1563 Act further defined not just the practice of witchcraft, but the consultation of a witch, as punishable by death. King James VI (later James I of England) demonstrated a particular obsession with witches, even publishing a book, Daemonologie, and participating in the interrogation of accused witches. He took that interest with him when he assumed the English throne. In 1604, another law was passed that further bolstered prosecution of witches: An Act against Conjuration, Witchcraft and dealing with evil and wicked spirits, and hundreds of witches would be tried and executed.

Read Full Post »

During the women’s history roadtrip, we visited sites associated with the Salem witch trials, including the Rebecca Nurse Homestead and the Salem Witch Trials Memorial.

Rebecca Nurse home

Rebecca Nurse was a 71 year old woman at the time of the Salem Witch Trials.   Nurse was the matriarch of a large family and a respected member of the church and community.  She was vigorously defended by more than 40 residents of Salem (some of whom would later be accused of witchcraft themselves) who signed a petition to the court attesting to her piety and good character or wrote individual letters asserting the same.   The arrest of Rebecca Nurse for witchcraft has been noted by scholars as a significant moment in the witch trials – by acknowledging the possibility that such an upstanding member of the community could be a witch, the court was stating that anyone could be.   Nurse was initially acquitted, but then the magistrate asked the jury to reconsider their verdict.  The jury’s second verdict was guilty and Nurse was sentenced to be executed by hanging.   She, along with 4 others, was hanged on July 19, 1692.

The story of Nurse and her family is the focus of the film Three Sovereigns for Sarah. The Sarah of the title is Sarah Cloyce, and the film follows her quest to clear the names of her executed sisters Mary Easty and Rebecca Nurse. The reconstructed meetinghouse used in the film sits on the Nurse property and is part of the tour.

Salem Meeting House

According to descendants, Nurse’s children brought her body back to the property after her execution and buried her somewhere in the family graveyard on the property. In 1885, the Nurse family erected a monument in her memory.
Rebecca Nurse grave

The monument includes a poem by John Greenleaf Whittier:
“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.”

The other side of the monument reads:
“Accused of witchcraft she declared “I am innocent and God will clear my innocency.”
Once acquitted yet falsely condemned she suffered death July 19, 1692.
In loving memory of her Christian character even then fully attested by
forty of her neighbors This monument is erected July 1885.”

Rebecca Nurse grave

Another monument, added in 1892, stands to those who defended Nurse:
Salem Monument

Rebecca Nurse’s second memorial is the Salem Witch Trials Memorial. In Salem, there is a memorial that was dedicated in 1992 to the victims of the trials. A small park adjacent to the Charter Street Cemetery (or Old Burying Point)  is surrounded by a stone wall. A few trees provide cool shade. Jutting out from the stone wall are 20 rough-hewn slabs, each engraved with the name and date of death of one of those executed during the trials. The entrance is engraved with the protestations of innocence of those memorialized here- – but cut off, explained to “symbolize society’s indifference to oppression.”

Salem Witch Memorial

Salem Witch Memorial

Rebecca Nurse stone

Photographs of all the individual stones in the memorial can be found here. Documents from the Salem Witch Trials can be found here.  While researching this post, I discovered a 3rd memorial that includes Rebecca Nurse: the Salem Village Witchcraft Victims’ Memorial in Danvers.

By the time the Salem Witch Trials ended, over 150 people had been accused, and 25 had died – 5 in jail, 19 by hanging, and 1 by being pressed to death with stones.

Read Full Post »

%d bloggers like this: